BEDFORD, Va. — Col. Lapthe C. Flora was promoted to brigadier general at the National D-Day Memorial June 6, 2016, in Bedford, Virginia. Flora, a native of Saigon, is the first Vietnamese boat person to be promoted to general officer in the United State Army and the second of Vietnamese descent. He most recently served as the commander of the Virginia National GuardÕs Bowling Green-based 91st Troop Command and will serve as the Assistant Adjutant General for Strategic Initiatives.
Flora’s wife Thuy and daughter Christine pinned on Flora’s new rank, and Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, administered the auth of office.
“I am keenly aware of the historical significance of today’s ceremony and am deeply grateful for the honor and recognition, but today’s event should serve as an affirmation of faith in the American Dream,” Flora said. “The possibility in this great nation is boundless; the American Dream is real, only if you dare to pursue it with laser focused, hard-work and perseverance.”
Following the Communist capture of Saigon in 1975, Flora and his brothers fled the city to avoid being drafted in to the North Vietnamese military. He spent more than three years in the jungle, then fled by boat to Indonesia where he spent a year living in three separate refugee camps.
“It seems like just yesterday that I had arrived in this country as a traumatized and penniless Vietnamese ‘boat refugee’ who spoke not a single word of English,” Flora said. “But what I had then and still have, to this day, is an enormous sense of gratitude and desire to give back to America for her priceless gift of freedom and a second chance in life. There are no words in any language that can adequately describe the euphoric moment I felt when we landed in the USA. Without a doubt, this is heaven on earth. To all my fellow Americans, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity, empathy and courage for welcoming us boat people into your communities as your neighbors, friends, colleagues, comrades and fellow citizens.”
Flora also thanked the veterans, especially the Vietnam Veterans of America and Vietnam Veterans of the Republic of Vietnam.
“We owe a great debt, one infinitely larger than can ever be repaid,” Flora said. “My fellow veterans, you are guardians of peace, a bulwark of liberty and the beacon of light for those in dark places. Your devotion to duty and dedication to serve your fellow men has inspired me and thousands of my fellow Vietnamese-Americans to follow in your footsteps since our arrival in this great country.”
When he arrived in the U.S., he quickly learned English and finished his high school education in only three years. After high school Flora attended the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington where he earned a bachelor’s degree and commission in the U. S. Army Reserve in 1987. He later transferred to the Virginia Guard where he served in every staff position within 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, including commander of the battalion.
Additionally, Flora served as the 116th IBCT executive officer, 29th Infantry Division’s director of operations and as the Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia director of strategic plans and policy. He has successfully completed three overseas deployments to Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
Flora’s adopted father was an officer in the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division who landed on Normandy 72 years ago, and part of the reason he chose to have his promotion in Bedford was to honor his father’s military service.
In his civilian capacity, Flora is the Senior Applications Engineer with Night Vision business of Harris Corporation in Roanoke, and holds six patent awards related to the AN/PVS-14 and AN/AVS-9 night vision goggles.
The National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford, Virginia — the community suffering the highest per capita D-Day losses in the nation. The Memorial honors the Allied forces that participated in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 during World War II.
View and download high resolution photos on Flickr:
Full Transcript of Brig. Gen. Lapthe Flora’s promotion speech:
MG Williams, Sir – Thank you so much for such a generous introduction and also thank you for hosting my promotion ceremony today. I am immensely grateful for this appointment and will do my utmost best to fulfill this responsibility with both honor and humility.
Before I begin my remark, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the following individuals who have worked very hard in the last few months to make today’s event possible: Event Project Officer – MAJ Lindsey; Mr. Martin Leamy; MSG (ret) Frank Dillon, 29th ID Army Band, CSM Motley, MAJ Blevins, MAJ Sheldon, Chief Robison, CPT Terry, CSM Kiser, Ms Harlow Sullivan, Ms Joy Marsico, LTC Noyes and his 267 EN team. THANK YOU all for your wonderful support!!
Deputy Secretary Cochran of Public Safety & Homeland Security, MG Williams, MG(ret) Long, BG(ret) Scott, BG Mercer, BG Griffin, BG Heiskanen, BG Epperly, CSM Johnson, Colonels, SGMs, Distinguish Guests, Families, Friends, fellow Citizen Soldiers, and Ladies & Gentlemen of the Press……….
I am blessed beyond belief to see so many of my dear friends and families here this morning. I want all of you to know that you have either directly and or indirectly paved the way for me to be honored here today, and I am profoundly grateful for your presence. This should serve as a testament that I did not reach this milestone on my own. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking your precious time off and traveling great distances to share this momentous occasion with both me and my family.
Many of you have traveled across the country and the Commonwealth to be here. In fact, most amazingly, the longest distance traveled goes to my dear friend and comrade-in-arms, BG Mikko Heiskanen and his lovely wife Pia, who flew all the way from Helsinki, Finland to be with us here this morning!
The promotion ceremony this morning is indeed a bittersweet event for me. I wish my parents, sister Cam-Lien and brother Minh-The were here to share it with us, especially my father, MAJ John Lewis Flora, Jr. of 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division that landed on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France 72nd years ago today. I know, he and my Mom Audrey are watching from heaven with amusement and pride that the poor little “boat refugee” boy they had adopted is now an American General.
I am keenly aware of the historical significance of today’s ceremony and am deeply grateful for the honor and recognition, but today’s event should serve as an affirmation of faith in the American Dream. The possibility in this great nation is boundless; the American Dream is real, only if you dare to pursue it with laser focused, hard-work and perseverance.
It seems like just yesterday that I had arrived in this country as a traumatized and penniless Vietnamese “boat refugee” who spoke not a single word of English. But what I had then and still have, to this day, is an enormous sense of gratitude and desire to give back to America for her priceless gift of freedom and a second chance in life. There are no words in any language that can adequately describe the euphoric moment I felt when we landed in the USA. And thus, Ladies and gentlemen, without a doubt, this is heaven on earth…
To all my fellow Americans, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity, empathy and courage for welcoming us boat people into your communities as your neighbors, friends, colleagues, comrades, and fellow citizens.
To our veterans, especially the Vietnam Veterans of America and Vietnam Veterans of the Republic of Vietnam, to you all….we owe a great debt, one infinitely larger than can ever be repaid. My fellow veterans, you are guardians of peace, a bulwark of liberty and the beacon of light for those in dark places. Your devotion to duty and dedication to serve your fellow men has inspired me and thousands of my fellow Vietnamese-Americans to follow in your footsteps since our arrival in this great country. The universal cry for freedom we are seeing in the world today is in no small part due to the example you set on those distant battlefields.
On behalf of my family, I thank you for your gift of liberty and the opportunity to pursue our happiness. Your patriotism, sacrifices and selfless service to defend our constitution, to preserve the freedom and our way of life, is honorable and appreciated.
We will never forget you. There is a proverb in Vietnamese that says…. “An Trai Nhoc Ke Trong Cay”, which loosely translates to, as you enjoy the fruits, always remember the people who planted it.
MG Williams Sir, with your permission, I would like to express my sincere appreciation in Vietnamese to Veterans of the Republic of Vietnam and their families for the sacrifice and bravery during the war and the atrocity committed against them after the war.
Kinh thua toan the qui vi dong huong,
Toi chan thanh cam kich va lay lam vinh hanh co su hien dien cua qui vi trong buoi le hom nay. Dac biet, doi voi nhung cuu quan nhan QLVNCH, toi xin thanh that co vai loi de tri an ho, qua su hy sinh cao ca va chien dau dung cam, bat khuat va kien cuong de bao ve toan ven lanh tho, cung nhu duy tri an ninh cho toan dan trong suot hon 20 nam.
Va dong thoi, toi xin neu len niem cam phuc cua toi qua su kien tri chiu dung trong bao nam luu day kho sai, khon kho va ly tan cua ca cuu chien sy cung nhu gia dinh ho sau cuoc chien tranh.
Mot lan nua, toi xin cam on qui vi hien dien hom nay va kinh chuc qui vi mot ngay tran day vui tuoi va thoai mai.
To my dear friends, brother rats, comrades and colleagues, I thank you for your friendship, guidance, support and encouragement. I could not have gotten this far without you. As people would say, it takes a village to raise a child, but in my case it took a Nation to raise this General. I am very grateful to all of you…
To my fellow Citizen Soldiers, I am so humbled and honored to have served with many of you for nearly 28 years. I am equally thankful for those valuable lessons and personal counsel. All of you have contributed significantly and are truly responsible for me being promoted here today. For that I am eternally grateful. The greatest honor for me when wearing this proud uniform is not the star on my shoulder or the ribbons on my chest, but having the privilege to have served with you all, the most dedicated, talented and patriotic Americans of our generation. I am asking for your continued support, guidance and wise counsel as I prepare to take on the next chapter of my military career.
I am also equally appreciative of the Virginia National Guard. It provides me the unique honor to protect my country in times of war and to serve my communities in times of peace while still allowing me ample opportunity to fulfill my civilian aspirations. Furthermore, I truly believe and must attribute much of my civilian success today to this professional organization where Team Work and Character are non-negotiable. The National Guard is truly the best kept secret institution in our country.
To my outstanding employer of 27 years – started out as ITT-Night Vision to Exelis Night Vision and now Harris Night Vision, I am so grateful for your support throughout my military career, especially my three overseas deployments. As I am taking on this new responsibility, I sincerely hope that you will continue to provide the same level of generous support, patience and understanding.
To all my families, I thank you for your love, guidance and encouragement. I could not have made it this far without your steadfast support, especially during my deployments.
To my dear wife Thuy, there are no words that can adequately express my love and appreciation for what you have done and continue to do for both me and Christine. Like so many military spouses, you are the unsung hero who altruistically works behind the scene to make her husband look good. You selflessly gave up a promising Mechanical Engineering career with ITT Night Vision, to be a stay-at-home Mom to watch over the home front. You have survived three deployments and experienced stress that no spouse should have to endure: from Sept 11, to cracked pipes and overflowed toilets, and to fallen trees stuck on the driveway… Those endless days of being away from home for training, deployment, and countless hours of professional military education, meetings and conferences, took me away from you and Christine. But, it is comforting to know that I continue to have your unconditional support to serve our country that we both cherish. As you reminded me during my last deployment to Afghanistan, family separation and combat stress are small prices to pay for the liberty we enjoy every day. I love you and thank you for your patience and encouragement.
Lastly, before I close, I would like to end with a quote by John F. Kennedy that says, “as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words,….. but to live by them. “
This quote, I believe, encapsulates the truest meaning of gratitude I have towards every individual who has made a profound impact on my life and continues to support me in both my endeavors and accomplishments. Again, thank you all so much for coming. God Bless!