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From POW camp to Fargo; Former South Vietnam soldier retires from LSS

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FARGO—A Fargo man has quite the remarkable story to tell about survival.

It's what he learned in the jungles of Vietnam in the 1970's, that made him such a valuable employee at Lutheran Social Services for nearly three decades.

Tri Phan was a high ranking tank commander with the South Vietnamese Army when the U.S. pulled out and the communists from the north took over, promising harmony to the people defeated soldiers in the south.

"Everything will be peaceful, we forgive you for everything, we go back to normal life, I felt so good. The end of the war, I won't worry about it anymore," said Tri Phan, retiring from LSS.

Unfortunately, trickery came in the form of forced re-education camps.

"No contact with family, they had no idea where I was," said Tri Phan.

Tri was taken as a prisoner, and he and the military officers were held in the jungles of Vietnam for years.

He lost 40-pounds, surviving on little.

"We ate leaves, potato leaves, whatever we could find in the jungle. Crazy, crazy friends were dying every day," said Tri.

Tri eventually got out of the POW camp and was reunited with family.

"They did not have a good life because of my background, so I decided it was time to move and I applied for refugee status and came to America," said Tri.

He ended up in America in 1990, and came to Fargo, serving as an interpreter for LSS.

Later, he would become the face that all new Americans and refugees would see when arriving here.

He worked with 14,000 of them over the last 27-years.

"I have a connection to everyone in the community here," said Tri.

Tri knows his life story has inspired others, they know the key is working hard and education.

Tri and his wife raised three children here, where they all attended NDSU, all are now pharmacists.

Tri is looking forward to retirement and spoiling four grandkids.

"Now, I will step into a new chapter in my life, excited to spend more time with family but I will miss Fargo and LSS but I have a good memory about Fargo, peaceful and good place to live," said Tri.

Tri will be honored Friday at an open house at LSS.

Kevin Wallevand

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia and the Middle East. He is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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