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Vietnamese Accept Apology by Councilman

Times Staff Writer

Leaders in Orange County’s Vietnamese community accepted an apology from Westminster City Councilman Frank Fry Jr. on Tuesday, ending a recall effort initiated after he made “insensitive remarks” at a council meeting last week.

“Instead of demonstrating against him, we’re going to circulate his statement of apology,” said Chuyen V. Nguyen, chairman of an ad hoc committee formed to represent more than 30 Vietnamese organizations.

Mai Cong, president of the Vietnamese Community of Orange County Inc., especially praised Rusty Kennedy, county Human Relations Commission executive director who helped negotiate and draft Fry’s apology.

Kennedy, however, downplayed his role as mediator: “What they wanted the most was the same thing that Fry was willing to do. He was sincere in his apology.”

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The uproar began last week when the South Vietnamese Armed Forces Day Committee was denied a parade permit on a 4-1 vote of the Westminster City Council. At a meeting televised on a local cable channel, Fry told the veterans that they should commemorate their war dead on a U.S. holiday.

“If you want to be South Vietnamese,” the councilman had said, “go back to South Vietnam.”

Fry was on vacation Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. But his apology was issued at a Santa Ana news conference conducted by Dr. Daniel H. Ninburg, Human Relations Commission chairman.

“I would like to apologize for my statements that have caused this outcry,” Fry’s apology read.

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“In my (council meeting) statement, I did not intend to insult the right of all people to take pride in their ethnic, racial or national heritage. I did not intend to belittle the sacrifice made by our allies, the South Vietnamese, during the Vietnam War, nor did I mean that those who died in the war should not be honored.”

In recent days, more than 5,000 flyers and 500 posters critical of Fry were printed in Vietnamese by the ad hoc committee for circulation in the city’s Little Saigon district. The posters carried a smiling photograph of the councilman, a retired grocery clerk, and the words, “We voted for you last year. We feel sorry for you this year! . . The Vietnamese community is being insulted.”

“Let (Fry’s apology) serve as a positive step towards restoring peaceful community relations,” Ninburg said.

Westminster Mayor Charles V. Smith, the lone council official to vote for granting the parade permit, said he had feared that the controversy would unearth strong emotional feelings and divide the community of 75,000 residents, 15% of whom are Vietnamese.

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“There’s always some tension between any minority ethnic group,” Smith said. “That tension is always there, with the blacks, the Hispanics, the Irish.”

Smith said he has informally polled his fellow Westminster council members to find “some acceptable ground” that might now result in the granting of a parade permit.

“But I don’t think the council will re-evaluate unless the (South Vietnamese Armed Forces Day Committee) came up with another request,” Smith said.

Tien Nguyen, who is a spokesman for the armed forces day committee and no relation to Chuyen Nguyen, said the military group is expected to discuss the matter Friday.

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Santa Ana Mayor Daniel H. Young said council members in that city have discussed inviting the South Vietnamese veterans there. And Councilman Miguel Pulido said he would support such an invitation.

“There’s got to be something better than kicking them out of town,” Pulido said. “I’ve run into Irish people who enjoy having their own parade in New York, African-Americans who have a ‘Black Pride Day’ in Chicago and Hispanics who enjoy the Cinco de Mayo festivities we have right here.”

For Orange County’s Vietnamese, “saving face” was the “all-important thing,” Cypress businessman Phong Tran said.

“We Vietnamese are a very forgiving people. But we have a lot of pride. All we wanted from Fry was an apology,” Tran said.

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Chuyen Nguyen agreed. He said that members of Orange County’s Vietnamese community regretted Fry’s remarks but added, “It’s forgivable. It’s forgettable.”

“It takes a big man to apologize and Councilman Frank Fry appears to be one,” Nguyen said. “With this apology, we hope to promote greater harmony between the Vietnamese and Americans. The Vietnamese people are a peace-loving people who are pleased with this outcome.”


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