On the show

Vietnam vets reunite with translator who helped them in war 

May 3, 2014 at 7:08 AM ET

More than 40 years after he fought in Vietnam, veteran Tom Polston decided it was time to reunite his former Army platoon.

"When I came out of the service I put everything behind me. I got on with my life, my marriage, my career,” he said. “And two years ago I decided, ‘You know, I wonder if some of these guys are still around.'"

Polston reached out through email and Facebook and reconnected with many from the the old gang. But one person remained missing.

It was Phan Siu, a member of the Montagnard tribal community, tapped by the U.S. Army for translation and intelligence during the Vietnam War.

“He was our eyes and ears,” Polston told NBC's Gabe Gutierrez.

Siu’s absence from the group prompted Polston to search for him.

"I knew there were enough people out there that could point me in the right direction,” he said.

Poltson, who lives in Texas, eventually found Siu’s name on a directory for a North Carolina church, but couldn’t find an email or phone number for him. He did, however, find his former employer, Tom Robertson, a Charlotte factory owner known for hiring people from the Montagnard community.

Robertson met Siu 15 years ago and immediately was struck by his patriotism.

"I've never seen anything like it,” he said. “I wish that I demonstrated my love for America the way he does.” 

It turned out Siu had been imprisoned over 12 years by the North Vietnamese because of that patriotism. In 1991, the U.S. Department of State was able to get Siu, his wife and one of his three children out of Vietnam, and they were relocated to North Carolina where he got the job at the factory working for Roberston. 

With Robertson's help, Polston tracked down Siu, who is now battling advanced stage liver cancer and resides in an assisted living home. Polston called up his friends and the group traveled to North Carolina for an emotional reunion that took place at Robertson’s factory. 

It had been more than four decades since Siu had seen any of them.

"I'm so happy. I believed that I would not see you no more," he said at their reunion.

Polston said he felt like time had stopped when he saw his old pal.

"When Phan Siu came in the room I thought he looked fabulous, I really did,” he said. “And I could see, after we embraced and started talking, I could see that same old smile that was in the pictures going back to 1970."


TOP