Viet allies to resettle in U.S.
 Ex-Green Berets
 lobbied for Nung, who risked lives for
 Americans

 BY KEN MCLAUGHLIN
 Mercury News Staff Writer

 The first of nearly 200 ethnic Nung, some of America's closest allies during
the
 Vietnam War, began arriving Thursday in the United States for resettlement.

 Thirty-one of them were former commandos who served valiantly during the
 war but were left behind in the chaos when the war ended in 1975. Few
 believed their wild stories of dangerous intelligence-gathering and
 reconnaissance missions, so they languished in Hong Kong refugee camps for
 the last six to eight years until U.S. Special Forces took up their cause in
April.

 ``They were great soldiers and saved a lot of our guys,'' said retired Army
Col.
 Jack Isler, a former Green Beret who led the fight to get them resettled.
``So I
 went out on the Net and hollered help.''

 Isler and 1,000 other former Green Berets who lobbied to bring the Nung here
 got their reward Thursday when the first of 51 former Nung soldiers and
family
 members arrived at San Francisco International Airport about 9:30 a.m.

 ``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.''

 Nine of the Nung will live in San Francisco with family members, another
eight
 in Sacramento. The rest of the 51 who arrived on a flight from Hong Kong
 Thursday will be scattered around the country.

 One of the reunions Thursday involved a 96-year-old Nung woman and her
 79-year-old daughter, Climent said.

 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,''
 Climent said.

 He said many of the refugees should be employable because they learned
 English in the Hong Kong ``detention centers'' -- more accurately described
as
 prisons.

 The Nung, originally from China's southern Guangxi province, have had a long
 association with Western forces, first with the French and then with the
 Americans.

 Three weeks ago, Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York wrote
 U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and said the refugees would face
 persecution if repatriated.

 ``If they had been sent back to Vietnam, it would have meant certain
death,''
 Isler said. ``And after July 1, the Chinese communists would have had
them.''

 After Albright decided to intervene, Washington sent an investigator to Hong
 Kong to check out their stories.

 The Nung had fled in boats to Hong Kong from 1989 to 1991. But they were
 mixed in with other Vietnamese boat people, most of whom were denied entry
 to Western countries because they were considered ``economic'' migrants.

 A State Department official said Thursday that most of the Nung don't have
 families in the United States. Besides California, they will be settled in
North
 Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, the official
said.
 All the Nung will be here by Thursday.

 Isler, who lives part of the year in Palm Springs, will drive to Los Angeles
 International Airport tomorrow to greet a group of about 30 Nung, all of
whom
 will be resettled in Southern California.

 ``I hear they're tickled to death to be coming here, and I want to welcome
 them,'' he said.

 Published Friday, June 20, 1997, in the San Jose Mercury News
 

 return