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Fang Wong has a unique perspective on the Cold War.
Wong, the national commander for the 2.4 million-member American Legion, was born in China one year before the communist takeover in 1949. He moved with his family to Hong Kong, then immigrated to the United States when he was 12 years old.
He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1963, served during the Vietnam War and retired from the Army in 1989 — the same year the Berlin Wall fell.
Wong will be the grand marshal for the Cold War Victory Salute on July 3 in downtown Omaha. The event, which features a parade and World-Herald fireworks show, is part of the College Home Run Derby at TD Ameritrade Ballpark.
He said he has no memories of his time in China but clearly recalls his family's reasons for coming to the United States.
“The United States is a dream for everyone who wants to have a better future and life,” he said.
When he enlisted in the Army in 1969, Wong was put to use as a Chinese-language expert during the Vietnam War.
The war's end brought “a mixed emotion,” he said.
“It was good to end that chapter of my life, but sad in the way it ended. I felt bad for the Vietnamese people in the way the United States pulled out,” he said. “We did not provide the support we promised when we left.”
Wong, 64, of East Brunswick, N.J., hopes to visit all 50 states during his year as national commander. As spokesman for the nation's largest veterans organization, he meets frequently with vets and has lobbied in Washington for legislation benefiting those who have served.
He expressed no bitterness over his own experience as a Vietnam veteran but said the war may hold bad memories for others.
“Vietnam is a very difficult period for our country,” he said. “A lot of Vietnam vets believe they were treated poorly by their own people.
“My feeling is that we have to bury the past. We have a new generation of veterans coming home, and we need to make sure that the same kind of treatment that happened 40 years doesn't happen again.”
Wong said he believes that the experience of Vietnam veterans coming home has helped persuade the country to provide better support to those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We all agree that (Vietnam vets' treatment) was unfair and have a strong belief that we need to do the right thing this time, so the returning warriors get a better treatment from the nation.”
He said he didn't think most Vietnam vets were bitter about the attention that U.S. military personnel have received in recent years when they returned home.
“Veterans don't have jealousy,” he said. “The frustration is targeted to the society that was back then in the '60s and '70s. We're just happy that we can welcome them home and that they can get back to their normal routine.”
Wong described a “tremendous feeling” in watching the fall of the Soviet bloc as his military career ended in 1989.
The way the Cold War ended is an achievement to celebrate, Wong said.
“When the nation accomplished the mission without shedding blood (in the final years), it showed that there are ways to achieve victories without young men and women on the line being sacrificed,” he said.
He said he has heard of few events that have celebrated the Cold War's end, such as the one next month in Omaha, but he welcomed “the opportunity to take part and say thanks to all the veterans who served in the Cold War.”
That goes especially for those who served in Korea and Vietnam, he said.
“I certainly believe all generations of veterans deserve credit, because they put their lives on the line,” he said. “Those that served should get some credit and recognition.”
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