Moments in Bank History:  

Hong Lien Nguyen:
Before and After Black April

Introductory Note by Ralph White, author of Getting Out of Saigon (Simon and Schuster, April 2023): Ms. Nguyen, formerly head of Customer Services at Chase Saigon, was evacuated during "Black April" – the 1975 fall of Saigon in a Chase-sponsored rescue mission. Many Vietnamese employees of American companies who were unable to escape spent up to eight years in prison camps in the jungle, where they faced physical and psychological torture as retribution for having collaborated with Americans. The mortality rate in those camps was 30 percent. The group photo shows the original staff of the Chase Manhattan Bank’s Saigon branch in 1966. Hong Lien Nguyen is the second from the left. Mr. Van Thiel is the general manager in the back row. 

Hong Lien Nguyen writes: I sometimes believe in how I came to work for The Chase Manhattan Bank, N. A. Saigon Branch. It was, actually, of pure coincidence. 


In 1966, I was working for Pan American Airlines (see photo, left), where Denis Frères Compagnie was the agent.


My girlfriend told me that an American bank was going to open its branch in Saigon, and the General Manager of Operations was recruiting its employees. She had an interview with the General Manager of Operations in a villa in Tân Định but was afraid to go alone. So she asked me to accompany her, which I did.


We met Mr. Henk Vreedenburg, who interviewed my friend and accepted her as one of the tellers of the Bank.


Then he turned to me and asked whether I would like an interview. I thanked him but said, "No," because I had a job with Pan American Airlines. My girlfriend insisted that I be interviewed. I didn’t see any inconvenience, so I let him interview me. 


He showed an interest in all my replies in that interview, especially of the fact that I spoke English, French and Vietnamese fluently. He offered me a job with Chase Manhattan Bank. I thanked him but didn’t accept his offer even with an extra increase to my then salary at Pan American Airlines.


However, after that interview, he kept calling me and offered to send me for three months' training at The Credit Commercial of Viet Nam (Việt Nam Thương Tín), the number one bank in Viet Nam, before the inauguration of the Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A.


I talked it over with my mom, who went around to investigate the whole thing, as a mother would do.  It was my mother who convinced me to take the job at the Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A., as she said that the bank usually lends its employees money to purchase houses, etc. That rang a bell in my head!


So, at the next call from Mr. Vreedenburg, I was accepted for a real interview to take the job.


I was sent to Credit Commercial of Viet Nam for three months' training to be working in the Import/Export Department at Chase.


That was how my career with Chase started.


As the saying goes, everything happens for a reason. I keep thanking my stars for the blessings I have received till this day and part of it is with Chase Manhattan Bank N. A, with Chase officers and employees who have taken us into their great Chase Family, especially Mr. David Rockefeller.  This, we will never forget.  


After Black April - April 30, 1975


On April 26, 1975, when we left Saigon with Ralph White's help, I was seven months pregnant. Our group arrived in New York on May 6, 1975 and was received by a group of Chase officers who helped us settle down.


Each of our families was assigned to a Chase officer who volunteered to make our first few months in New York comfortable. These generous and kind Chase officers received our families in their families. They helped us find apartments to live in and most of all taught us how to cope with the new life in America by showing us where to buy food, cloth, furniture, etc. Some of us received a lot of clothing for grown ups and our children, old furniture and food during the first few weeks.


Some of our husbands who did not speak English were given classes to learn English and later on to find light jobs to help the budget of our families.


Most of us were given jobs at One Chase Manhattan Plaza and New York Plaza, depending on our capacity to cope with the new way of working at Chase locations.


I was given a job as an administrative assistant in the Asia Pacific Departmentat in the Chase headquarters at One Chase Manhattan Plaza. I worked in this department from the day we arrived until 1982. I used to say to myself: No light at the end of the tunnel. Ha! Ha!


However, in April 1982, Mr. Cor Terminj, who had been Manager of our Chase Saigon Branch, met with me and said that he was now the Manager of Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A. in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, West Africa. 


He had Mr. Cuong Vu working there as the Operations Manager after Joe Carrolls left the Bank. Cuong Vu had been our Operations Manager at the Saigon Branch. Cuong Vu knew branch operations and could speak a little French. I, however, knew the operations of a branch and could speak and write French fluently. 


So Mr. Terminj asked if I could come and work with them in the Ivory Coast, a francophone country that used to be a French colony.


I discussed it with my husband, who was working for JC Penney at the time, and who took accounting courses at the Community College in Brooklyn. 


In 1982, we had two sons, one seven years-old and the younger two years old.  We saw some opportunities for better jobs and a better life, so I accepted the job that Mr. Terminj offered as assistant to Cuong Vu.


Cuong Vu could not speak enough French to scold the Ivorian employees. I, on the other hand, could speak French with a better accent than them (modesty permits!) and I could scold them if need be!


So I worked as assistant to Cuong Vu and was promoted to Assistant Treasurer in 1983. I continued to work there until the end of my assignment in November 1985.


I returned to One Chase Manhattan Plaza and worked in the Africa Department until it was dissolved at the end of 1986.


I contacted Mr. Jim Bish (who used to say that Chase stole Hong Lien from Pan American Airlines), who was the Head of Investment Banking, and got a job in one of his departments with Mr. Ben Jinks as Manager, handling the Trade Finance department until 1987.


Then I was transferred to the North America Trade Division under the direction of Mr. Nick Perrell. My boss then was Mr. Joseph A. Nielsen, who has remained my close friend until this day.


In that department, I handled the approvals of Letters of Credit up to $25 million and was the guardian of the last gate before releasing a Letter of Credit out of Chase.


In 1993, when Chase wanted to return to Viet Nam and open its Branch in Hanoi, I was the one who translated all documents and correspondence between Chase and the Hanoi government.


Mr. David Baggs was sent to Chase Branch in Hanoi as the Manager.  He wanted me to come to Hanoi and work with him, but I had to refuse because I was then a single mom and had to take care of my two sons who were 18 and 13 at the time.


So I remained in our North America Trade Department, working under the direction of Mr. Joseph A. Nielsen until 1996, when there was a retirement package that came out; it was too tempting to ignore. I took that package, ending my career of 30 years with Chase, during which time I made a lot of good friends and accumulated tons of good memories.


Chase has been my family in America, and the friends I met remain members of my family forever.  They had opened their arms and hearts to receive us and we are forever grateful.  May God bless all of them and our giant savior Ralph White!

Below: Hong Lien and her second husband, Ngoc, with whom she moved to Houston, Texas, and Hong Lien with other friends there:

Send comments, your own corporate culture reminiscence or unrelated "A Moment in Bank History" stories to
 The New York Times, July 19, 1966
Johannes (Jan) van Thiel, manager of the new branch:
More on this website about Chase and Vietnam:
About Ralph White's book (Getting Out of Saigon)