15 Sep 2014
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Remembering Than Thanh Le

Although most Milpitas residents first heard of Le by how he died, in a car accident earlier this month, his family wants people to know something much more important—how he lived.

Remembering Than Thanh Le Remembering Than Thanh Le


It’s been more than two weeks since Than Thanh Le died in a car accident, allegedly killed by a drunk driver at 7 a.m.

Time has become an odd prism for the Le family—in some ways it feels as if time has stood still since the crash, while in other ways it’s as if the accident was a long time ago.

But this isn’t a story about how Le died, but rather how he lived and how he’ll be remembered for as long as a Le family member draws a breath.

Than Thanh Le was born in Can Tho, Vietnam in 1945. He was a recent immigrant to the United States, arriving just seven years ago as part of the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) for families of the post Vietnam War era. Le was an officer in the South Vietnamese Republic Army and fought alongside American troops. He was captured by the Communists and tortured in a concentration camp.

Le’s oldest daughter, who’s married and has two children, was already in the United States when Le and his wife arrived. As soon as a five-year waiting period was up for him to apply for U.S. citizenship, Le proudly became an American. This allowed him to apply for an ODP permit for his younger daughter. She arrived in the United States just a month and a half before her father’s tragic death. It was the first time she’d seen her parents in seven years.

Speaking for the Le family is his nephew, Chinh Vo, who grew up in Milpitas and now lives in Washington state where he works for Microsoft. Vo describes his uncle as a gentle man, “He was an avid reader and a great poet in his own right. People loved to listen to him speak and hear the stories he would recall from his past.” The prism of time affects Vo, as he slips into the present tense when referring to his uncle. “He can captivate an audience with his storytelling.”

Although he had only lived in the U.S. for seven years, more than 100 family members, friends and former co-workers attended Le’s funeral.

At its best, a funeral bestows upon family an opportunity to hear loving remembrances of their lost member. Vo says, “Many of them would recall how kind hearted he was and how he was always willing to help anyone in need from a friend, a co-worker, to a stranger on the street – he was always willing to lend a hand any way he could.”

While the Le family focuses on their loss, the Milpitas Police Department continues to focus on its .  Adam Kimball Close, 23, of Milpitas, was arrested for suspicion of vehicular manslaughter one week after Le’s death. The police department is hoping more witnesses to the crash will come forward. Le’s family is asking the Milpitas community to reveal any information they may have. They’re relieved that an arrest has been made.

Vo turns his attention back from how his uncle died, to how he lived, “He was a hardworking man, a loving husband, a caring father, a kind-hearted man, and a great uncle…His happiness was being surrounded by his family and friends and enjoying their company. He had a very contagious smile.”

A smile that will warm them for the rest of their lives.


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