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Ghosts Of The Vietnam War Haunt
The Lunar Year Of The Rabbit

By Yoichi Shimatsu
Exclusive To Rense

The talisman animal of the Lunar Year of the Rabbit is based on an ancient Chinese myth, shared by the much of the rest of Asia, of a beautiful young princess named Chang’e exiled for her indiscretion, perhaps for talking with a stranger, from the Emperor’s court to spend her remaining life on the Moon. On that barren rock, her loneliness was relieved by a white rabbit named Yu Tu (Jade rabbit, jade being most precious substance to the Emperor). The rabbit consoled her and romped around cheerfully to ease the loneliness of exile. During the spring festival, the Japanese folk tales have it that on the full moon a shadowy rabbit can be clearly seen swinging a wooden mallet to pound glutinous rice into mochi, a gooey soft cake for the forlorn princess to enjoy. The story has no ending since both the princess and the rabbit are presumably still up there, despite the extreme efforts of the Chinese space program’s rover named Yu Tu to explore its surface and craters even on the dark side of the Moon, perhaps in search of physical evidence proving the Chinese were the first to inhabit the Moon and therefore making China its rightful owner.

The Demographic Interstices of Asian America

To start with, Hu Can Tran aka Huu Khan Tran is an enigma, supposedly being of Chinese ancestry although his names are Vietnamese. During the late 1970s, I served as a counselor for young ethnic Chinese from Hanoi (by several generations of descent from China-based ancestors) who were seeking admission to Canada or the U.S. as exiles from northern Vietnam during anti-Chinese riots there by Hanoi city dwellers resentful of the lack of old-fashioned manners among these uncouth descendants of near-neighbors from across the border in Guangxi Province.

My task being an Asian American who is neither Chinese nor Vietnamese with rudimentary Chinese language skills learned at CUNY (City University of New York), whose only asset was being a neutral in this hate match. The city and state juvenile prisons were standing room only, meaning the Viet-Chinese kids had to turned out onto the streets and a big brother was needed to keep them on a leash and for job placement. So the Chinatown New Yorkers put me in charge of these wannabee gangsters in my spare time, which I had a lot of due to a scarcity of part-time jobs during the New York default during the Bicentennial era. Before any could threaten me with shooting, I explained over a Chinatown lunch that resident kids in New York could not read or write or add 2 plus 2, there were strong odds on Asians with brains to score a C on tests and then go to city college to gain a degree so as to earn more money in two years than their parents in Vietnam could in a lifetime. Sold, a success of social engineering. The lack of recidivism made me feel like Master Confucius, saving the masses from confusion. Then I had to go find a job as a warehouse-man toiling behind a paint store on Canal Street while wielding an iron rod to deter Mafia boys from robbing the inventory.

What was interesting is that their identity papers had been issued in Hong Kong as being Mainland Chinese whereas their Mandarin was horrible even to me, and I soon was able to wheedle out of these delinquents that they were actually from the Hanoi region and fled during the anti-Chinese riots to Hong Kong, which kicked them out with fake identity papers. Now here is where the case of the recent nightclub shooter gets interesting in that he’s way too old to be one of those “dual nationality” refugees. My later experience, during the 1980s as a refugee counselor and advocate for the Vietnamese boat people exodus from South Vietnam informs me that he was actually a demobilized ARVN (Army of Vietnam soldier) who was excluded from the list of elite military officers granted visas for passage to the USA and therefore faked the pseudo-Chinese personal history to slip past know-nothing immigration officials to reside in the USA. Driving through rather obscure parts of the USA, the Texas coast and New Mexico for instance, I have met others like him and respect their tenacity while pitying them as men without a country to call home.

Tran’s residence is in Hemet, a rural region to the east of the mountains that enclose the coastal Southern California communities, which is accessible from the beache communities on the sole road through Lake Elsinore, a former fishing area now with a large Black community displaced from Los Angeles under the “liberal” Democrat policy of Black Lives Matter outside of their former ghettos in major urban centers, into hellish desert towns like Lancaster in the high desert and Mojave, which speaks for itself, the new slave colonies run on welfare checks.

Tran worked as a truck driver, and the sprawling former village of Hemet is fairly accessible to U.S. I-40, a major east-west roadway and near to farming communities. On the other side to the east of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains, I toiled in my early childhood as a farmworker in Indio, a desert region near the Salton Sea. His earlier life is a cypher, although it’s reputed than he and his now divorced wife frequented the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, the site of the Lunar New Year’s massacre. Despite his effort to integrate into the local Chinese community, his Vietnamese-Chinese background, likely in Saigon’s (Ho Chi Minh City, HCMC) ethnic Chinese enclave of Cholon, haunted his residency in snooty California and indeed was the probable underlying cause of the killings.

The only clue for the motive about the mass shooting in the affluent Asian community of Monterey Park is that the lethal violence haunting Southern California’s Vietnamese community has spilled over onto a dance floor favored by newly affluent Chinese immigrant businessmen. Located on the eastern edge of greater Los Angeles in the morning shadow of the San Gabriel mountains, Monterey Park is a quiet upscale community rocked at the start of holiday celebrations of the Lunar New Year of the Rabbit by a targeted assassination (“mass shooting”) inside the popular Star ballroom with its predominantly Asian clientele.

The motive behind the gun assault, followed by the killer’s foiled attempt to enter a second nightclub in Alhambra, north of Monterey Park in the direction of posh San Marino, remains a mystery that goes with the assailant into a grave. The motive of the mysterious party-pooper, Tran, 72-years-old, has not been pinpointed by the police and likely never will be discerned from an otherwise ordinary life of a truck driver. Drug trafficking might be attributed as the cause but probably is not the motive in this case, other than as an earlier sideline during his younger days. As yet no evidence or testimony suggests his ex-wife by divorce was in the crowd; no prior record of his dealing drugs to party-goers has surfaced.

The suspect was recorded on a security camera’s video in the entry hall of his second target, the Lai Lai club (translated as: Come In) in Alhambra, tussling with a random attendee who was later backed up by a second interventer. Alhambra is an ethnically mixed community a few miles to the north in the direction of the posh San Marino suburb. The aged assailant grappled with a young patron Brandon Tse, who managed to wrest away his semiautomatic pistol. Tran appears on video to be extremely slim, of wiry built, with longish graying hair protruding from under an Arctic knit cap with ear flaps. He was wearing a black leather jacket and tight black pants that clung over high-top black leather boots, and judging from his tussle with two tough-looking youths less than half his age was in excellent physical condition, hardly a frail elder. His feisty behavior and gun handling suggest a former life as a soldier, indeed an elite paratrooper.

When the second young man emerged from indoors to join the fray, Tran gave up the struggle to retrieve his pistol and in a tactical retreat drove away in his van. On the following morning, after tracing the license plate of the van, Torrance cops approached the vehicle and heard a single shot in the suicide of the suspect, indicating he had no intention of harming an American police officer.

As a former Angelino, emphasis on past tense and prior life, I should note here that LA is a center for dancing since before the Great Depression when my father, a superb ballroom dancer who dazzled the Riviera during the U.S. military occupation in World War II, to continue, my dad spent hundreds of hours in taxi dancing halls for the price of a quarter for 3 hours with one of the Latina ladies. The disco trend sparked by Travolta’s “Saturday Night Fever” revived the dance scene, which notably was fueled by “Earth, Wind and Fire,” which institutionalized ballroom dancing as a major pastime replacing the 1950s obsession with bowling alleys. I personally was put off from dancing with darling girls after a Korean friend was shot in the chest in the middle of a dance floor by one of the Joe Boys (Chinese gang), although I did revive my steps whenever my Presbyterian pastor Norman Fong and his soul band played at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. At a certain point, I decided not to follow the heroic life of my father and instead carry out his demands to hit the books and become a serious scholar, with journalism being the next best thing since the latter is connected to reading crime reports and based in real life and the reality of death.

As yet, none of the patrons have indicated past encounters with or even vague recognition of the shooter. To further throw inquirers off this life path, Tran (that’s a family name being used since “Hu” can be confused for who-dunnit), Torrance is quite a distance along Highway 110 toward the southwest, between Manhattan Beach and Long Beach, north of the Palos Verdes cliffs. His white van was parked in the lot of a Japanese supermarket. My guess was that he was heading to meet with old buddies in Long Beach, a one-time center for former Vietnamese soldiers seeking revenge on the Hanoi’s communist regime. From there, he could head south on Highway 5 to San Juan Capistrano, famed for the annual arrival of swallows, to off-ramp onto state road 74 over the low ridge at Lake Elsinore and then soon thereafter into Hemet, his home base. From there his alibi could be driving truck along Hwy 5 to Bakersfield or toward Arizona, making a clean getaway. Or at least that’s makes sense.

The Rise of the Mainland Chinese in California

The motive for the shooting is in all likelihood related to demographic changes among the Asian community in the Los Angeles basin over the past half century. Many in the Asian community upon hearing the news were surprised that the shooter was not an African American thug, like the many perpetrators of assault robberies of elderly Asians throughout “tolerant liberal California,” where the police and courts refuse to manhandle any Black Voter to save an elderly Asian grandmother from a mugging. As compared to kid gloves treatment to African “American” looters and gunpoint robbers, Inter-ethnic divisions among Asian Americans is far lesser known by the wider public. Intra-Asian crime is the probable motive and also probably linked to rising geopolitical tensions following the economic crisis left by the COVID lockdown. What makes this cross-nationality violence such an aberration is that most Asian groups limit their violence to their own; assault and murder are not exported, as is the case among Latinos and Blacks, who comprise an inordinate share of the violent criminal class that the courts and politicians refuse to admit much less punish.

Before proceeding on the troubled background to that specific community, the reader should be introduced to that part of my background that informs this crime analysis. My father’s family were longtime residents of the LA basin; and granddad once owned a farm in the San Gabriel mountains that overlooks the LA Basin; my recently deceased uncle who was a landscape engineer with LA city and county was a resident of Monterey Park since the early 1960s, and one of my old friends was a Taiwanese widow whose highly educated ethnic group was much a part of the wider Asian community’s history and intellectual class prior to the mass immigration of Chinese nationals from the mainland since the 1990s. The more important factor in the more limited ethnic mix in the early 1980s I worked as a counselor with a rights group funded by Christian and Buddhist churches and lobbyist for newly arrived Southeast Asian refugees aka “the boat people” desperately fleeing Vietnam under communist control just a few years after the end of the Vietnam War.

The key clue about the suspected killer is than Tran is an ethnic Vietnamese (misidentified as Chinese) whose age indicates his immigration to the USA as a young adult in the wake of the disastrous American defeat in the Vietnam War. From official denial for entry into the USA under refugee status in that crisis, it can be assumed that during most intensive period of that brutal war, he served as either in the Special Forces or as a paratrooper (possibly both) in ARVN, the Army of Vietnam, the U.S. backed military forces of the conservative government headquartered in Saigon. Aside from M-14 rifles, many paratroopers were armed with .45 semiautomatic pistols, which are more readily fired during para-drops onto rice paddies surrounded by the heavy brush of jungles. This live-fire training accounts for his preference for a semi-automatic pistol with extended ammo clip. At other times, these special forces combatants were assigned to hunting down infiltrators from the Ho Chi Minh trail through a web of underground cuchi tunnels.

Most of the Vietnamese troopers who served in the interest of the White House and Pentagon were deliberately denied visas and transportation to the United States during and after the Fall of Saigon, a most despicable rejection thanks to that traitor Henry Kissinger and his henchman Colin Powell. (Excuse me for voicing the angry frustrations of my stepfather, who was a major Pentagon figure who created Air America to wage the secret war against Laos and the Agent Orange spraying over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a story for another time.) Never put you trust in those SoBs on the necessity of intervention in Ukraine or elsewhere, or risk ending up a madman like Mr. Tran.)

After the hectic American departure by helicopters from Saigon at the end of April 1975, while North Vietnamese regiments and Soviet-provided tanks moved unchallenged toward the capital, some of the South Vietnamese officers who possessed gold ingots to bribe the Embassy officials managed their escape aboard the last aircraft. All the other former combatants did not get farther than a communist reeducation camps in the jungle, abandoned to their horrific fate like the Ukrainian soldiers will soon be dumped overboard by the Pentagon and State Department bureaucracy.

Home Sweet Home in SoCal

The few escaping special forces fighters from elite units, with sufficient loot to pay for their escape, tended to congregate, much farther south than the majority of Vietnamese civilians, in the Long Beach area, near the large harbor that promised, in their minds, the way back to regain control over Vietnam. Similar to diehard Confederates after the Civil War, many of these former troopers held to a fading dream of a revival of democracy in Vietnam and this group launched several attempts to establish secret enclaves in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand to infiltrate Vietnam over the Mekong River.

I remember the day on the outskirts of Fresno which I spent sipping beer and watching TV with a former Laotian special forces colonel, who could not understand a word of English. As chief of commando operations for the CIA in the northern Mekong sector, he earned renown for his 20 secret missions by swimming across the wide river to slit the throats of North Vietnamese commissars, officers and schoolteachers trying to quell the rebellion in Hmong tribal country, putting fictional fools like Rambo to shame. In America, there was nowhere for him to go, no grateful visitors, no movie contracts and none of his own countrymen near his desolate tiny welfare apartment in the boondocks, rotting away as his Yank patrons and their arms suppliers among defense contractors moved on to the next losing war. I realized that this insider knowledge was the reason that I opposed that war, because how it would end in a pile of bodies and a mountain of mystery was preordained as those American “patriots” moved on to the next killing field and war vets suffered and died in VA hospitals. Loyalty to country? What about respect for American citizens being sent to their deaths so that the suits earn strong profit margins on Wall Street? I cast my lot with the unfortunate victims of mercenary mayhem and have no regrets about rejecting the offer to be a Special Forces colonel.

Refugee Resettlement Thousands of Miles from Home

I recall how early in the Boat People crisis a youthful Vietnamese community organizer in San Francisco openly boasted of his allegiance to Ho Chi Minh, the communist leader much feared and hated by the refugees. Alex was a friend of mine although I considered him to be a naive young fool who knew nothing about the brutality of the real world. Despite my repeated pleas to remove the Ho Chi Minh posters from his windows and moderate his language, he remained defiant against the reality of immigration of regime loyalists and was discovered shot dead in the Tenderloin district, San Francisco’s seedy ghetto, a murder that was never solved, meaning the execution provided a brief moment of satisfaction of revenge against the communists by the newly arrived Viets frustrated by America’s attitude of defeatism and memory loss.

I had to shrug off his folly since hundreds of Laotian and Cambodian children were being preyed on, kidnapped or “purchased” by homosexual pedophiles, many showing the early symptoms of AIDS. I often wondered if it might have been better for the refugees to have accepted the terms of surrender back home than come to this cruel perverted death trap gussied up some sort of democracy.

The coalition of Asian American Christian and Buddhist churches that sponsored the refugee support program dispatched me to Washington D.C. to lobby Congress for the right (or privilege) of family reunification, which even if narrowly limited to spouses, children and parents could alleviate the cultural dissonance and isolation of the refugees. My particular challenge was trying to regroup scattered Cambodians and Laotians, who were mysteriously dying in bed from alienation. Hearing and speaking their native languages, I presumed, might alleviate the intense loneliness of permanent exile.

While the results of the lobbying effort were often successful, thanks to the support of key Congressmen as well as encouragement from the prospective Democrat presidential candidate Gary Hart (whose was cheated out of the nomination by the crooked Jewish “Purple Gang” politicians allied with Walter Mondale), the family reunification project was too little and too late, as the Vietnamese authorities ordered relatives along with frontline ARVN officers to be confined inside reeducation camps in the jungles. The sense of grief and injustice was something I sympathized with but could do very little about, even a decade later on my visit to Vietnam. I pleaded for release and exit visas for widows and children of ARVN officers killed in the war, who were just a useless obstruction to the regime’s plan of economic revival, but was told by high-ranking officials that the postwar chaos in South Vietnam made it impossible to sort out specific cases, especially given the very few surnames in that society. I donated whatever money I could spare to the hospital that treated the children with birth defects from Agent Orange and left rather disconsolate but satisfied that the nation was trying to heal the psychological wounds of war and focus on economic development. The situation could have been a lot worse. A half cup of progress is better than nothing at all.

Rage at Ambitious Newcomers

At a meeting to report back with my Vietnamese contacts, I had no good news to report about their abandoned relatives. Perhaps this sense of loss and despair, helplessness and rejection explains the Monterey Park assailant’s rage at the flood-tide of new immigrants from China, which was the major arms supplier and political supporter of the North Vietnamese offensive against the South. There is also the strong possibility that the angry Tran consented to being a paid hitman for another interest group, the once-large Taiwanese community that had by many decades preceded the mainlander wave of immigration to California. The Taiwanese had been strong supporters of South Vietnam’s struggle for survival as a separate society from the North, much like Taiwan’s desperate bid not to be reincorporated into Greater China.

I had mixed feelings about this hard-headed attitude of resistance, which is based on Confucian ethics and an intact class system of a few wealthy families ruling over the mass of peasants and coolies. The nation-state is sacrosanct in modern-era political systems. Separatism by a disaffected region will be treated much like the Confederacy. Traditionalists, who put morality before logic, in places like South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Taiwan cannot comprehend the international demand for nationhood, regardless of the local political system. The communists are way smarter at modernization, basically economic subservience to the Western powers, and better at pretending to be democratic representatives of “the people” at least in their rhetoric and annual reports. By contrast, Europe societies had the benefit of the Protestant Reformation and the democratic experiment, and earlier the legacy of Roman law and Christianity’s doctrine of the inviolability of the individual soul.

In about that same time frame, my elderly Taiwanese lady friend in Monterey Park was the widow of Japanese soldier when Taiwan was a colony of Imperial Japan. Until many years after the U.S. normalization of relations with the People’s Republic of China by the Carter administration, Monterey Park was “the” Taiwanese community in the USA, all being supporters of the conservative China Lobby of Flying Tigers commander Claire Chennault, Time publisher Henry Luce and the indomitable Madame Chiang, advocating the heroic resistance of the Republic of China, based in little Taiwan against Mao’s red juggernaut.

As a consequence, Congress bowed to the legend, offering scholarships for Taiwanese at top universities, positions in the U.S. government and its national laboratories, and eligibility for loans, privileges unparalleled by any other foreign ethnic group. Earlier during my college days in the mid-1960s, at Purdue University there were more than 240 Taiwanese students on scholarships whereas U.S. raised Asian Americans included two Chinese Americans, a homely girl and a bass guitar playing engineering student from Indianapolis and me, a rare bird from California, working off-campus jobs to pay student expenses. The Taiwanese in America were a privileged class, strongly anticommunist and narrowly focused on technology and business, in other words the elite Asians in America, and sunny Monterey Park free of smog and crime is where they all wanted to retire.

Over the past two decades, however, a split developed among the Taiwanese, between those whose families were politically connected with the old KMT who had recently become allied with Deng Xiaoping’s economic development drive in the 1970s to set up factories in industrial parks. These modern factories were run by Taiwanese engineers and management experts. Then in the mid-1980s, China’s engineering students were sophisticated enough to work in high-tech industries, including computer assembly plants of Microsoft and Dell. The new rising class of Taiwanese from ordinary families able to score high grades in university, became the technology vanguard of chip-making plants and the cyber sector, there financial umbilical cords being linked with Silicon Valley and Tokyo. In short there emerged two factions vying for dominance in Taiwan, the KMT elite versus the DPP (Democrat People’s Party) innovators, both with hot tempers approaching a civil war. Who ever said that Chinese society is based on consensus? Question: How many civil wars have occurred in China’s 5,000 year history. The best estimate is 1, constant internal strife of the murderous sort since the beginning to now and into the future.

Monterey Park has been a battleground between dozens of Chinese factions and competing interest groups, bypassing the dwindling number of Taiwanese residents overwhelmed by a tidal wave since the early 1990s of new immigrants from mainland China, armed with loads of cash and completely ignorant of race relations in the USA. For a Vietnamese of ancient Chinese origin, Tran lost his wife by divorce nearly a decade ago in the shuffle steps, presumable to a younger immigrant dancer from a wealthy family in Canton or Shanghai or Beijing.

Turning 70 probably tipped the scale, he was now a has-been, yesterday’s glamour boy, a truck driver in the environs of Death Valley. (I can comprehend that feeling of losing one’s edge.) Presumably he asks questions about the new big boys on the block and the whereabouts of his ballroom ex-wife, and plots revenge for the insult of being a hardworking nobody. In honor of his ancestors and the family name, Chinese New Year’s is the perfect moment to strike back with the skill and speed of a paratrooper dropping from the sky on to shocked enemies to redeem Vietnamese honor and dignity, a society that has resisted Chinese invasions and threatening raids since 938 AD, more than a thousand years ago.

A Taiwanese Patron?

The attack on the dance club may have been a lone wolf attack, or it could have been intended as the first of a series of violent attacks on the wealthy Chinese newcomers and their scumbag drug traffickers and pimps preying on the Asian community. In common defense against the uncouth peasant invasions from the relentless North, certain old-timers specifically the Cholon Chinese-Vietnamese, those former ARVN soldiers and politicians, quietly may have formed an understanding with their “old” KMT Taiwanese counterparts. Only a united front could push back the China Wave to prevent loss of political influence in Congress and de facto eviction from California by the rising Red Tide, flush with money to pay off the Democrat politicians totally corrupting the political apparatus without any political agenda other than protection of the Motherland in the event of a world war.

Every morning another tired aging Vietnamese cook or waiter wakes up and realizes this is no country for old men or for his grandchildren. Joining the arrogant and educated newcomers is futile, so something must be done to turn the tide, to struggle for peaceable coexistence, even though it might be too late by now. If common action is not possible, then a man must stand tall to make the ultimate sacrifice for everything he’s fought for and sacrificed so much to preserve. They do not understand this decision but before long they will comprehend the necessity of what I am about to do. A Golden State overrun with crooked ethnic minorities and selfish newcomers without any intention of adopting American traditions and values is a jungle of dope-dealing, fraud, rape, illegitimate births, thievery and lies. The answer is, as in the past with napalm and Agent Orange, drastic action to force back the existential threat.

And so on arrival, the Vietnam veteran enters the dance hall, packed with well-to-do mainlanders and masked middle-aged female companions who are practiced dancers, graceful at salsa and the waltz, and heads toward the VIP table packed with bottles of champagne and brandy. He’s memorized the descriptions of key targets linked by business connections to the Enemy, and several are clustered around a bottle of Dom Perignon, who are so focused on a life of luxury that none notice his hand reaching into the black leather jacket. Pop! Pop! Pop! Shattered bottles blast champagne and splinters of glass onto the celebrants on this auspicious start of a new year of prosperity and hope. Perhaps it was a gratuitous gesture of his to fire on screaming dancers, but they are all guilty for their obscenely vacuous minds absent of morality and genuine faith. They do not belong here on Earth or even in a rotten California; they did not earn the right. Pop! Pop! Pop!

Calmly, with a sense of great satisfaction that he has not felt since his paratrooper days at a Viet Cong village leveled by artillery fire and incinerated by napalm, cleared of traitors, he walks tall, his backbone ramrod straight, knowing that From Now On the War has just begun and will never end, especially when there’s another dance party up north packed with communist spawn in need of soul cleansing. Whistling the national anthem of South Vietnam, he returns to his van, turns the key and the engine roars, as the old soldier heads off into the glorious darkness at the start of a New Year.

Business hours are not over yet. After abandoning Saigon, the gutless Americans switched sides profiteering with the communists to produce basketball sneakers in Vietnam for Nike. Damn those gutless American politicians who abandoned the good cause when the rising Red Tide had to be turned back; they are responsible for this awful mess and their children will no doubt suffer horribly for their fathers’ corruption and cowardice. I am showing those lost children that only way to a better future is a life of meaningful action. Now, at last, I have no regrets about this brief existence that I am prepared to depart forever. There is only happiness in my heart on this excellent start to the Year of the lunar-trapped Rabbit who in cold lonely exile pounds the grains of rice into a pulp.