June 20, 1997 - 02:45 EDT
   SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Vietnamese refugees who helped the United States
   in the Vietnam War have arrived in America to begin a new life after
   former Green Berets campaigned for their asylum.
   Several Green Berets greeted a group of 31 of the refugees and their
   families as they arrived Thursday at San Francisco International
   Airport. Small American flags were handed to the Vietnamese, members
   of the ethnic group known as the Nung.
   ``Now, I am free and alive. I feel very happy,'' said Tran Di Thoung.
   One of the reunions involved a 96-year-old Nung woman and her
   79-year-old daughter.
   ``It was a touching scene,'' said Don Climent, regional director of
   the International Rescue Committee, a resettlement agency. ``They're
   extremely overjoyed to be here. These guys really owe the Green Berets
   a great debt.''
   Another group of about 30 Nung were scheduled to arrive today at Los
   Angeles International Airport.
   The former Vietnamese commandos were left behind when the war ended in
   1975. They fled to Hong Kong from 1989-91, and languished in refugee
   camps until April, when a group of Green Berets pushed for their
   Retired Army Col. Jack Isler, a former Green Beret, led the fight to
   get the Nung resettled. Nearly 1,000 veterans got involved with a
   campaign of letters, phone calls and e-mails to Congress and the White
   ``They were great soldiers and saved a lot of our guys,'' Isler said.
   ``So I went out on the Net and hollered for help.
   ``If they had been sent back to Vietnam, it would have meant certain
   death,'' he added. ``And after July 1, the Chinese communists would
   have had them.''
   As political refugees, the Nung will be eligible for up to eight
   months of welfare benefits.
   ``But I suspect our folks will go to work, not go on public
   assistance,'' said Climent, who added that many of the refugees
   learned English in the Hong Kong detention centers.
   The Nung, originally from China's southern Guangxi province, initially
   served alongside French colonialists in Southeast Asia and then with
   Americans. They were praised for their loyalty and fighting ability.
   However, when the North Vietnamese overran South Vietnam in 1975, the
   Nung were left behind in the ensuing chaos. In the 1980s, they joined
   in the exodus of boat people to Hong Kong.
   Three weeks ago, Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York wrote
   Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and said the refugees would face
   persecution if repatriated.
   Nine of the Nung will live with family members in San Francisco and
   another eight will go to Sacramento. The rest will be settled in North
   Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.