Sunday, April 30, 2000

Vietnam: Chemist escaped to U.S. and P&G

Inventions helped create key products

        In April 1975, Toan Trinh was a chemistry professor at the University of Saigon.

[photo] Toan Trinh, upper right, his wife Nga Yen Tran and their three boys.
| ZOOM |
        He, friends and family members made emergency arrangements to leave the country — they rented a villa in the port city of Vung Tau and had a boat standing by.

        “Our plan was to sail, 50 of us, to Australia, which had already opened up to Asian immigrants,” said Mr. Trinh, a technologist and developer of consumer products at Procter & Gamble's Sharon Woods Technical Center.

        But he, his parents and three of his siblings didn't need the boat. On April 23, a week before the fall of Saigon, he and his five family members were among those flown to Guam aboard a U.S. military cargo plane.

        Some of his eight siblings were already U.S. citizens, and Mr. Trinh had earned a master's degree and a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He had returned to South Vietnam in 1972 to teach.

        “My intention was to give back to my country,” he said. “I could stand all of the misery of living in a developing country, but communism was something I just couldn't be under.”

        He returned to UW in 1975, winning a Ford Foundation grant to assist Vietnamese intellectuals who had fled Vietnam. He was recruited by P&G and came here in 1976.

        In his 24 years with the company, Mr. Trinh has invented or been co-inventor of a variety of fabric and home-care products — Bounce, Febreze and Downey Premium Care among them — that earned 125 U.S. patents.

        The Maineville man is married to Nga Yen Tran, an accountant who stays at home to care for their three sons. He is also a former president of the American-Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Greater Cincinnati.

        The anniversary of the fall of Saigon brings a flood of memories of “hectic and fearful” days.

        “People had the clear impression that the end was near,” Mr. Trinh said. “People did not know if there would be a rampage like there was in Cambodia,” where the pro-communist Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodians) killed 2.7 million people between 1968 and 1987.

— Mark Curnutte

Vietnam: 25 years after the fall
-VChemist escaped to U.S. and P&G
Precarious boat trip ended in freedom
Vietnam, U.S. mark anniversary Continuing coverage from Associated Press

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