Traffic slowed on as Sinh Tho Nguyen carried a U.S. flag down Ramona’s Main Street. In a one-man parade, the 40-year-old displayed a sign on his back that read “Shore to Shore: A Walk Across America to Honor Those Who Serve.”
Nguyen (pronounced “when”) waved to cars, took pictures and continued toward the end of his 2,600-mile journey.
received call after call as Nguyen walked from east of town to past the Mt. Woodson area west of town last month. Photos of him smiling, camera in hand and his sign on his back, were published on the
front page on Oct. 22. His story is published in this issue to coincide with Veterans Day.
Walking almost the distance of a marathon every day since June 10, Nguyen was on a mission “to remind Americans to have faith and take pride in this nation.”
Born in Vietnam in 1969, Nguyen was (in his own words) a “war baby,” the son of a U.S. soldier named Rodriguez, a man he never knew. No one knows if Rodriguez ever made it home, but Nguyen “always prays for him. I always pray he has a happy family, that he has a wonderful life.”
The Vietnamese native moved to this country at 24 years old, following a life of extreme hardship in Vietnam. Nguyen applied for a visa in 1992 during the Reagan administration, when the babies of U.S. soldiers born in Vietnam were welcomed to this country because “they were not forgotten, either.”
Once in the United States, Nguyen enlisted in the National Guard and Army. A U.S. citizen, Nguyen earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. While stationed at the Fort Meade Army Base in Maryland, Nguyen attended Bowie State University at night and earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology. He is working on a doctorate in educational psychology at Walden University.
When Nguyen interviewed for a job with Bemex as a meter reader in Fort Worth, Texas, he told the interviewer the job was to “prepare (him) for a walk across America.” They laughed, and Nguyen got the job.
As Nguyen planned the walk, a co-worker, David Dominguez, agreed to accompany him in a car.
“When I listened to Nguyen talk about this, I realized how much I took everything for granted,” said Dominguez. “I felt like I really wanted to give back and contribute something. I saw this as a way I could do that.”
Dominguez quit a job with Bemex to go on the six-month journey, but he has since been contacted by Bemex supervisors and been told they “both have a job to come home to.”
The two-man-team left Fort Worth on June 9, heading to Atlantic Beach, Fla., to begin the cross-country journey. Nguyen began walking on June 10 and did not stop for more than rest and pictures along the way. The self-funded walk has allowed the team to meet people in a way most never do.
“They have been so wonderful,” Nguyen said while in Ramona on Oct. 20. “American patriotism surprised me the most. I thought I was one of the few who really love this country, but I saw the core of patriotism on this walk. The way people showed us their support, saluted the flag as I walk by, the way they share and invite us into their homes ... American values are not gone. They are still there.”
When asked how, as a war baby left behind during the Vietnam War Nguyen can have so much love for this country, Nguyen paused and choked back tears before he could reply.
“I owe everything that I am to this country,” he said. “How can you hate a country that gives you wings so you are able to fly as far as you can?”
Discovering an even deeper love and respect for this nation during the cross country journey, Nguyen urges people to be thankful for America.
“If you feel like you are penniless, broke, or disadvantaged, do something for America!” Nguyen said firmly. “You should be thankful and happy for her.”
Nguyen stopped at Ramona Fire Station No. 80 at 829 San Vicente Road to sing an emotional rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. As Station 80 firefighters came out to meet for pictures, the look of admiration and joy on Nguyen’s face backed up the claim, “I live the national anthem every day. I speak English with a broken accent, but my love for America is intact.”
Nguyen walked to “salute all servicemen and women of San Diego County. This walk is about them and I feel fortunate to do it. It is for the paramedics, the border patrol, the firemen, police—everyone—all those who serve America and keep it safe.”
In a journey spanning nine states and in excess of 2,500 miles, Nguyen headed for Sacramento and San Francisco before returning to San Diego on Nov. 7, where members of the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in Balboa Park held a reception in his honor. He was scheduled to march in the Veterarns Day Parade in San Diego on Nov. 11.
“This walk changed my life; it transformed me,” he said. “I will never eat broccoli the same way. I will never eat an apple the same way. I will never look at a flag the same way, because America has never been so beautiful to me.”