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Physician serves to honor past, present

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS) -- Capt. (Dr.) Thanh Thao Le, a 66th Medical Squadron physician, learned from her father the importance of honoring those who serve in the military.

Her father, Minh Le, was a 1st lieutenant in South Vietnam’s Political Warfare Branch in the 1970s during the Vietnam War.

“When Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, my father was sent to communist prison along with other military officers, government workers and supporters of the South Vietnamese government that opposed North Vietnam,” said Thanh Thao Le, whose parents were married the day before her father went to prison.

After his release six years later, her father and her mother, Thach Le, started a family in a small Vietnamese village. Her father raised pigs and her mother taught language arts in a local elementary school to support their growing family.

“My parents always worked really hard to provide a better life for their children,” said Thanh Thao Le, the oldest of four children.

She said it was through their example that she learned about service before self.

“My parents always put their children’s needs first,” she said.

While her father did not discuss his prison experiences with his children, she said, he did often say how grateful he was to the service members who traveled halfway around the world to fight in a country they knew little about.

“He often spoke about the sacrifices of those who laid down their life during that war,” she said. “He’d always tell us that we needed to find a way to pay them back.”

When Thanh Thao Le was 12 years old, in 1994, her family moved to the U.S. via a program for former South Vietnamese.
“Government officials who went to prison for more than three years were able to move here with their family,” Le said.

They lived in a crowded one-bedroom apartment for the first six months and then a three-bedroom apartment in the projects in Houston.

“Despite the financial hardships we faced, my father always reminded us that we would not be here today if it were not for the sacrifices of those who served in Vietnam, both South Vietnamese and from the United States,” she said.
After graduating from the University of Houston with a Bachelor of Science in biology, Thanh Thao Le attended medical school at St. Matthew's University School of Medicine.
While in-residence, two classmates who were pursuing an Air Force commissioning program invited Le to do the same. She commissioned in 2011 at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, with her father by her side.
She had found her opportunity to give back to those who served in her homeland more than 40 years earlier, and those who continue to serve.
“Some of my most memorable rotations as a medical student were treating veterans,” she said. “In the case of those who served in Vietnam, I’m especially grateful for what they did so many years ago.”
Her parents still live in Houston. Her two sisters are civilian physicians, and her younger brother is in his second year of medical school at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.
Thanh Thao Le, who will pin on major in July 2017, treats members on active duty, as well as retirees and their families.
“In family medicine we take care of a wide spectrum of patients,” she said. “I love the challenge and helping those who have served, and continue to serve, this nation bravely.”
Le said when she meets with Vietnam-era patients, and the opportunity presents itself, she thanks them for their service and lets them know how much she appreciates their sacrifice.

“If they didn’t do what they did, my siblings and I wouldn’t be practicing medicine and helping those in need of care,” she said. “They inspire me to give back to those who came before us, and those who continue to serve this nation.”