MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO --
Private First Class Hoang Cao, Platoon 3243, Company L, was drawn by his father’s experiences to the brotherhood of the Marine Corps.
Cao, born in South Vietnam, joined the few and the proud because of his father’s relationship with Marines during the Vietnam War.
His father, Chien Cao, was trained in survival tactics by Marines prior to being held captive in a North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp. Chien credits the training he received from the Marines as the sole reason why he survived the 20 years of torture and starvation.
As repayment from the United States for being in the POW camp for so long, Chien was allowed to move to this country and bring his family with him. The Cao family arrived in America when Hoang was seven years old and has lived in Des Moines, Iowa ever since.
While attending Central Campus High School, Cao explored his interests in foreign language and cars, as well as options for his future. He took two years of Japanese and Automotive Technology for college credit.
The stories Cao’s father told him about his training from the Marines and what he went through in the POW camp inspired him to join. Because of his father’s encounters, he has always wanted to be a Marine.
He joined at 17 to repay America for everything the nation has done for his family; providing a better place to live and enough money to start a new life.
"I’ve been given a lot of opportunities that I would have never had in Vietnam,"said Cao. "I have learned so much being in the states and because of the Marines. I would never trade this experience for anything."
He said the Marine Corps appealed to him because the Marines are the best of the best and he felt they were always more distinguished and disciplined. He wanted to be just like them and have the courage they displayed on a normal basis.
"Any Marine would sacrifice himself to help another Marine,"said Cao. "They are a group that will never leave a man behind, and that is the best kind of group to be part of."
Cao enlisted for the brotherhood and the challenge. He said the most challenging parts of recruit training were the hikes and the Crucible. Shortly before the Crucible, he sprained his ankle, but he did not let that stop him from accomplishing his mission. He also acted as a squad leader for some of the obstacles during the Crucible.
"He stuck out because he is one of our smallest recruits but he has one of the biggest hearts,"said Staff Sgt. Shay Henry, Cao’s senior drill instructor. "He tried hard at everything he did and never let anything bring him down."
Henry, originally from Lewiston, Idaho, said he believed Cao was so determined to get through training because of his father’s history. His father had lived through so many hardships and Cao wanted to do something to honor his father and make a good name for his family and himself.
Further inspiration to finish training came from Cao’s drill instructors. Staff Sgt. Henry and Staff Sgt. Michael Stout served together in Iraq and would tell the platoon stories of their experiences. They would also read citations of Medal of Honor recipients.
"The citations motivated me, but the drill instructor’s stories of Iraq provided the most encouragement,"said Cao. "Their actions embody the Marine Corps’ core values and make me want to be like them and uphold the standards as admirably as they have."
According to Cao, the speeches get the recruits pumped up and excited to be going through training. They get the chance to hear the realities of combat and know they will have the opportunity to band together and fight for the same causes as their mentors, the drill instructors.
Cao said his decision to join the Marines has benefited him in many ways and his aspiration to be the best gradually gave him more confidence.
"When Cao arrived at the depot he was very timid,"said Henry. "The difference in his confidence level is like night and day. He has come out of his shell and become a motivator to other recruits."
Henry said Cao has all the characteristics that make a good Marine. His will to do his best at everything and continue to improve wherever and whatever he can will take him far in the Corps.
After a relaxing 10 days of leave following graduation, Cao will further his military instruction at Marine Combat Training in Camp Pendleton, Calif. He will then go on to learn his military occupational specialty of Motor Transportation, which he chose because of his interest in cars.