A book penned by a Henry County woman chronicles the life of a Defiance man through fleeing South Vietnam when he was only 6 years old to later joining a gang and experimenting with drugs before changing his life.
“Thank You God, Thank You Jesus: The Story of Vu (Victor) Pham” was recently self-published by Konnie Meyer of Hamler and shares Pham’s journey.
Pham works at VIP Nails in Defiance, where Meyer is a client. One day, she spotted an old photograph of Pham, his brother and their parents and Pham said it was the only one he had. That led to Pham sharing more information about his past and the fact that he was planning to talk about his life for a church group, something he had been hesitant to do over the nearly 20 years he’s lived in Defiance.
“I was worried about being judged,” he said. “I was ashamed of my past so I changed my name and moved away.
“I wanted to bury my past,” he added.
Meyer said she encouraged Pham to give the talk, adding she felt people would like to hear his story. After giving some of the talks, Pham made the comment he wished someone could write his story so it could be shared with a wider audience.
Meyer, who has written a column for the Northwest Signal for the last 10-plus years, said that experience gave her the confidence to volunteer to write the book to share Pham’s story.
“You have a story that needs to be told,” Meyer said. “It’s a story of perseverance.”
Following the Vietnam War, violence continued in South Vietnam and Pham said between 2-3 million South Vietnamese fled the country, with more than 100,000 dying in the ocean.
In 1983, Pham’s parents paid a smuggler to help Pham, then 6 years old, and his 8-year-old brother out of the country on a fishing boat and they were in the ocean for five days.
“We were supposed to be dead in the ocean — without gas, food, oil, water,” he said, adding they had an encounter with pirates, which is often deadly. “The pirates just threw rice at us, we caught it, then they moved on.”
“I couldn’t even imagine,” Meyer said, adding she was a third-grade teacher for 36 years. “I know what kids are like so I just couldn’t imagine doing that first of all and then surviving it.”
The brothers made it to a refugee camp in Thailand and met up with an uncle and cousins, eventually relocating to Oakland, California, in 1985. But Pham found it difficult to fit in and didn’t speak much English so, following periods of bullying and abuse, he turned to a gang.
“It was hard, you look for love,” he said, adding that’s what drew him to the gang. “You feel like you fit in.”
While in the gang, Pham started using drugs. But with his brother sentenced to a lengthy prison term, Pham and his wife decided to leave California and start a new life, traveling for awhile before settling in northwest Ohio.
Pham also teaches mixed martial arts (MMA) and is in the MMA Hall of Fame in Indiana. Pham teaches and mentors youth, sharing the dangers of using drugs.
“Heroin kills, Jesus saves,” Pham said.
Pham, who is Catholic, said religion was a touchstone throughout his entire life, starting with going to church two times a day when he was a child.
“He never gave up on me,” Pham said of God. “He saved me many, many, many times.
“I want to let others know ... He never gave up on you, find a way to never give up on Him,” he continued.
The book is available on Amazon, and both Pham and Meyers also have copies, and they are also reaching out to area libraries. The book also includes a section of discussion questions, making it well suited for a book club or group discussion.
“God has a bigger plan,” Pham said. “With the book ... I can reach them beyond the nail salon.”
As for the title? Through their meetings and conversations, Meyer realized Pham frequently used one phrase when talking about his past.
“I came to Victor and said I’m going to call it ‘Thank You God, Thank You Jesus,’ and he said, ‘I love that,’” Meyer said. “And I said, ‘That’s because you say it all the time.’”