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From Vietnamese boat person to brigadier general, Virginian living the American Dream

By Cotton Puryear | Virginia National Guard | June 21, 2016

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 thought to be 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 Guard's 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 oath 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 into 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.