UNCG Campus Weekly

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His wife and three kids safely out of Vietnam, Hre Rhalan counts his blessings

Photo of Hre Rhalan speaking about his life in Vietnam, in the UNCG Grounds building.April 5 was a special night for Hre Rhalan (UNCG Grounds).

At Piedmont Triad International Airport, he saw and embraced his wife and three of his children for the first time in more than a decade. Montagnards, they had all lived through many years of persecution in Vietnam.

He was flown to the U.S. in 2002. In 2003, he began work at UNCG Grounds. He started to learn English, at first a few nights a week with classes at GTCC. After a lot of studying, he became a U.S. citizen in 2009.

In addition to his full-time UNCG job, he took a full-time job at Koury Convention Center. As he says, he hasn’t been able to sleep much anyway, with his family in harm’s way halfway around the world. What he could do was work hard and save his money.

In April 2008, the Vietnamese tried to arrest his wife, saying she was hosting a religious service in her home. In 2009, she was arrested. “And I didn’t know where she was – alive or dead. 2010, 2011, 2012. I did not hear from her.”

She was in prison. She refused to sign a note denying her religious faith. “Her mother, who’s very old, looked after our children,” Rhalan says.

“In July 2012, she got out. I tried to get her to here,” he explains. He used the money he’d saved on lawyer fees, transportation for his family for a harrowing journey to the airport (some police smashed the bus’ windows, he says, to try to keep her from leaving), and the plane tickets.

There are now more Montagnards in Guilford County that anywhere aside from Vietnam, he explains. (He and two other Montagnards are part of UNCG Grounds.) Lutheran Family Services helped many – including Rhalan – resettle. “In 1977, so many died among the Montagnards.” The war had ended – the U.S. forces, which his father had aided, had left.

And many Montagnards have died or been imprisoned since.

“Our group left,” he explained, in the 1970s. They headed toward Cambodia. “”Everyone that stayed, they all died.” His stories of the following years are hard to fathom. Seeing women being forced to dig what they were told would be their own graves, before being released. His being put to hard labor by the Vietnamese. At one point, running from the Vietnamese for 12 nights in the jungle, with no food aside from one snake.

He is hopeful he will be reunited with his oldest son, his daughter-in-law and his grandson.

For now, he is counting his blessings.

Hal Shelton, interim director of UNCG Grounds, recalls when Rhalan first joined UNCG, translators helped with the communication. Soon, that wasn’t needed. At UNCG, he found a supportive environment.

Each December, UNCG employees have their Angel Tree, to help ensure every employee’s family has a good holiday. He learned he and his family were selected this past year to receive holiday gifts. The presents remained unopened – until last month. And they actually received a tree, he adds. It will go up next December, a reminder of his co-workers’ support.

The village Plei Bang was once his home. Greensboro is now home. His school-age kids are enjoying their new school, Newcomers School. They are learning English and a new culture. “Now they’re very happy. No more danger.”

And he can sleep better. “I’m very happy.”

By Mike Harris
Photo: Hre Rhalan speaks about his life in Vietnam, in the UNCG Grounds building.