Contact: June Malone
Media Relations Department
(256) 544-0034

RELEASE: 00-167

She was just 17 when she ran away from her parents – and
communism – looking for a future. He left Vietnam about the same
time and their lives became entwined. This is the story of Diep and
Huu Trinh, and dreams coming true.

They grew up in the same small town of BacLieu in South Vietnam,
and went to the same high school. They survived the Vietnam War,
the fall of Saigon in 1975 and an Indonesian refugee camp.

Today, Diep Trinh is a structural materials engineer at NASA’s
Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where she works
on a variety of projects including surface and chemical analysis for
X-ray telescope mirrors. Huu Trinh is an aerospace engineer,
working on technologies designed to help make future space travel
safer and less expensive.

“I left Vietnam in 1979, before Huu,” Diep says. “Then, suddenly we
met again in the refugee camp.”

Diep told Huu that when she arrived in the United States, she would
try to find a sponsor for him. She did, and they eventually reunited in

“I was the only Vietnamese girl, and he was the only Vietnamese
boy in Alton, Ill.,” Diep says.

“About a year after Huu arrived in the United States, we started
dating,” she recalls. “In 1986, we married. Now we have three girls
— ages 12, 9 and 2.”

“Huu is more to me than my husband. I consider him my best

“Even today, we can talk for hours, about everything,” adds Huu. “It
was natural for us to wind up together because of our histories, our
similarities, and because of our goal — our drive — to earn an

When Diep left home in 1979, she knew she had to leave Vietnam
to follow her dream of getting an education. Her parents – then as
now – are typical Vietnamese farmers, without formal education.
They did not understand why their daughter so desperately wanted
to go to school.

Diep, 37, arrived in the United States in 1980 — one of the
Vietnamese “boat people,” accompanied by her brother and
nephew. She spoke no English, and had not a penny in her pocket.
It was eight months before she could telegraph her family that she
was safe.

A family in Alton sponsored her, and another Alton family sponsored
Huu, providing caring homes, guidance and legal advice as they
made the transition from Vietnamese to American culture.

Huu’s sponsors, David and Linda Thies, are patient, generous
people, he says. “They are both teachers, and they showed me
much kindness, trying to make my transition comfortable. I
remember David cooking breakfast for me every morning to let me
know I was a part of the family.” Huu spent nearly a year with the
Thieses before moving into an apartment and preparing to go to

To this day, Diep calls her sponsor, Bud Hardman, “Dad.” Her
children call him “Papa.” They visit him, and the Thieses twice a

They are a family. Hardman even attends figure skating
competitions when two of the Trinhs’ daughters compete. The girls
hope to become Olympic skaters.

With Hardman’s help, Diep learned English and worked part time.
She passed the high school equivalency test and headed for

Speaking only halting English, college was not easy for Diep. “I had
to work 10 times as hard as the American kids to understand and
remember what I needed to learn,” Diep said. She earned her
bachelor’s in chemistry at Southern Illinois University in Edwardville,
and her doctorate in chemistry from the University of Missouri at
Rolla. Huu has a master’s in engineering from the University of
Missouri at Rolla and is working on his doctorate.

While in college, Huu accepted a co-op position with NASA’s
Marshall Center. When he returned to the university to complete his
master’s, Diep was hired at Marshall. Finishing his degree, Huu
followed Diep to Marshall, where they both have worked nearly 13
years. “Working for NASA is incredible,” says Huu.

U.S. citizenship is required to join NASA. “We took our citizenship
oaths in 1986,” says Huu. “We knew we would never again live in
Vietnam, but once we became American citizens, we really knew
America was a second homeland to us.”

But neither has forgotten their Vietnamese roots.

“When we decided to get married, Huu wrote to his family in
Vietnam,” Diep recalls. “The two families got together and had a big
traditional Vietnamese wedding — although the bride and groom
were in the United States.”

The Trinhs send money to their families in Vietnam, and last year
Huu took Hardman to Vietnam for a three-week vacation to
celebrate the Chinese New Year – and get to know the Vietnamese
side of the family. Diep says she “is a dutiful daughter.”

Families on both sides of the Pacific are proud of Diep’s

“My sponsor is so proud of me for what I have achieved,” Diep
says. “I look back at the hard work and sacrifices I had to make to
get to where I am today. People look at us and see a successful
family. But they may not understand what we had to overcome to
get to where we are.”

As America marks Asian-Pacific Heritage Month in May, Diep and
her family pause to reflect on its meaning to them.

“I have taken my children to Vietnam twice so that they can see
how it is there, and appreciate the advantages they have in

April 30 marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

“When I watch the news, it always brings back the memories of
Vietnam,” Diep says. “Some of them are good, some not so good. I
am glad I came to the United States. But I hope some day I can go
back to Vietnam to help the people there.

“As one of the Vietnamese refugees, who have found a permanent
home in the U.S., I believe refugees appreciate very much what the
American people did to help them settle in the new land
half-the-world away from their motherland,” Diep said. “I know the
Americans have good hearts. They have given me a chance to
follow my dream of going to school and being successful. I would
not have been able to do that if I had stayed in Vietnam.”