Hayslip, Le Ly
Le Ly Hayslip
Born December 19, 1949
Ky La (now Xa Hoa Qui), Vietnam
Director of the East Meets West Foundation and author
"Working together to heal the wounds of war."
L e Ly Hayslip experienced and survived the horrors of war. She persevered through many hardships and became a force for uniting once bitter enemies by creating the East Meets West Foundation. Building clinics, schools, and rehabilitation centers in Vietnam with the assistance of American Vietnam War veterans and other donors, the East Meets West Foundation improved life in Vietnam and promoted understanding and respect between people in her native country (Vietnam) and her adopted country (the United States).
Hayslip is also well known for her two memoirs, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (1989) and Child of War, Woman of Peace (1993). The first book shows the effects of the Vietnam War (1954–75) from a Vietnamese perspective. The second book covers her life in America beginning in 1970 and her return visits to Vietnam after the war.
"Nourished by God"
Born Phung Thi Le Ly on December 19, 1949, she was the youngest of six children of Phung Trong (her father) and Tran Thi Huyen (her mother). The family lived in a village called Ky La (later Xa Hoa Qui) that was near Danang, a port city on the South China Sea. From the beginning of her life, Le Ly faced great challenges. She was born prematurely and weighed only two pounds, but she survived in difficult conditions. Villagers nicknamed her con troi nuoi ("she who is nourished by God") as she struggled to live against great odds.
Le Ly was raised in the Buddhist religion and attended a village school. Her studies were cut short by war when she was eight years old. The war conditions made it impossible to hold classes. Vietnam had been a colony of France, but when France abandoned the area in 1954, Vietnam was divided into two countries, communist North Vietnam and democratic South Vietnam. A civil war was being fought in the South, where Le Ly's village was located. Communists of the North were aided in the South by allies called the Viet Cong.
Le Ly's two brothers served with the Viet Cong: Bon Nghe was the leader of a reconnaissance team, or a group of soldiers exploring enemy territory, and Sau Ban was a soldier who was killed after stepping on a mine. In 1961, the United States began sending military advisors to assist South Vietnam. In 1965, the United States entered full-scale war by sending over 150,000 soldiers to Vietnam. By 1967, almost 500,000 American soldiers were fighting in Vietnam.
Hayslip as an Infant
In an excerpt from When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, Le Ly Hayslip recounted her family's lack of connection to her as an infant:
Because villages shun anything that's odd, my family avoided me as an infant and only my mother would hold me and tend to my needs. They said later it was because they did not want to become attached to anything so unlikely to stay in this world.
In her autobiography, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, Le Ly describes how the people of her village were caught in the war between the North and the South. Sometimes they were forced to assist South Vietnamese soldiers by day, and then the Viet Cong by night. Both sides recruited children as spies. As a girl, Le Ly was imprisoned and tortured by South Vietnamese soldiers for having been a lookout for the Viet Cong. When she was fourteen, she received a death sentence by the Viet Cong. Two Viet Cong soldiers were ordered to take Le Ly into the jungle and kill her. Instead, they raped her and left her there.
Le Ly left her village to take a job as housekeeper for a family in Danang. Then, she and her mother traveled to Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, where her sister Lan was living. Le Ly and her mother found positions as servants to Anh, a wealthy textile factory owner. At sixteen years old, Le Ly became pregnant, and Anh was the father. Before the child, James (Hung), was born in 1967, Anh paid for Le Ly and her mother to return to Danang.
Le Ly's father, Phung Trong, had remained in the village of Ky La to keep watch over ancestral land and shrines. He became depressed over the effect of war on the village and his family and committed suicide.
Returning to Danang, Le Ly worked as a nurse's aide and later as a cocktail waitress. She met and married Ed Munro, a sixty-year-old American construction worker. He promised education for her son and the opportunity to escape from Vietnam. After Le Ly's second son, Tommy, was born, the family left for the United States in 1970.
Between Vietnam and the United States
Munro failed to find work in San Diego, California. The family returned to Vietnam and Munro worked on a construction job in the town of An Khe. When a major battle occurred there in 1972, an American officer helped Le Ly and her children flee An Khe. Soon afterward, the family was reunited and they returned to the United States.
Munro soon died of pneumonia. Le Ly struggled to support her family. She met and married Dennis Hayslip, an American who had served in the Vietnam War. He made a heroic trip to Vietnam to rescue Le Ly's sister, Lan, and her children as South Vietnam fell to the communists in 1975. Le Ly Hayslip's third child, Alan, was born into an unstable home life. Dennis Hayslip had become abusive, and he and Le Ly argued over whether to raise Alan as a Buddhist or as a Christian. After the couple separated, Dennis Hayslip kidnapped Alan, but the child was recovered and a court order banned Dennis from his wife's home. Dennis Hayslip died accidentally in 1982.
After Dennis Hayslip's death, Le Ly Hayslip sought solace in Buddhist rituals. Through community college courses, workshops, and spiritual retreats, she educated herself and learned business skills. During her years in the United States, she worked in a factory, bought real estate, invested in stocks, started a delicatessen, and then became a partner in an Asian restaurant. While meeting and talking with American veterans who ate at the restaurant, Le Ly realized that many veterans needed emotional healing because of their experiences in Vietnam.
Le Ly Hayslip traveled to Vietnam in 1986 to visit her family. "I wanted desperately to complete some unfinished business: to return to my home village of Ky La—to burn incense at my father's shrine and sleep in the house he had built with his own two hands," she wrote later in Child of War, Woman of Peace. Her home region was without access to quality sources of food and medicine. Using money from a trust fund left by Dennis Hayslip, Le Ly established the East Meets West Foundation in 1987. With the help of donors, many of whom were Vietnam veterans, the Foundation purchased medical equipment and supplies and built a clinic in Vietnam's Quang Nam province, her home region.
Books stun American readers
Le Ly Hayslip became nationally famous in the United States when her first book, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, was published in 1989. The book chronicles her experiences as a girl growing up during the Vietnam War. The book was stunning to many Americans, showing how many innocent villagers were oppressed, or persecuted, by both sides during the war.
Hayslip's second book, Child of War, Woman of Peace, was published in 1993. It picks up her story upon her arrival in the United States in 1970, showing difficulties she encountered as an Asian wife of an American citizen as well as her work to support her family and improve their opportunities. The book follows her return trips to Vietnam, including one she took with her sons. Her oldest son, Jimmy, was over twenty years old and met his father, Anh, for the first time. Child of War, Woman of Peace concludes with Hayslip's triumph in establishing the East Meets West Foundation.
The two books were adapted to film, Heaven and Earth, in 1993. Directed by American filmmaker Oliver Stone (1946–), it forms the third film in his Vietnam trilogy, following Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). Stone also helped Le Ly to establish a 20-acre rehabilitation center for homeless and handicapped people at a site called China Beach in Vietnam. This was the place where 3,500 U.S. Marines landed in 1965 to begin the American war effort in Vietnam.
Le Ly Hayslip settled in San Francisco, California. In addition to serving as executive director of the East Meets West Foundation, she raises funds through lectures and newsletters. The East Meets West Foundation grew into the largest humanitarian organization in Vietnam. "Working Together to Heal the Wounds of War" is the motto of the foundation.
In the late 1990s, Hayslip wanted to help children in rural areas of Vietnam who were unable to attend school. Their parents made little money working in rice fields and could not afford to buy their children schoolbooks or uniforms. Many of the rural schools were also in poor shape. In 1999, Hayslip formed the Global Village Foundation (GVF) to address that need.
Le Ly Hayslip's best-selling books are used in Asian studies, literature, women's studies, and Vietnam conflict courses at many universities. They have been published in seventeen different languages.
For More Information
Hayslip, Le Ly, and James Hayslip. Child of Peace, Woman of War. New York: Doubleday, 1993.
Hayslip, Le Ly, and Jay Wurtz. When Heaven and Earth Changed Places. New York: Doubleday, 1989.
Ho, Khanh. "Le Ly Hayslip." In Words Matter: Conversations with Asian American Writers. Edited by King-Kok Cheung. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.
Klapwald, Thea. "Two Survivors Turn Hell into 'Heaven and Earth.'" New York Times (December 19, 1993): p. H22.
Talbot, Mary. "East Meets West for a Good Cause: Group Aids Poor Vietnamese." New York Daily News (December 16, 1993).
"Le Ly Hayslip: Author and Philanthropist." Global Village Foundation.http://www.globalvillagefoundation.org/thefounder.htm (accessed on March 15, 2004).
"Le Ly Hayslip." Womens International Center.http://www.wic.org/bio/lhayslip.htm (accessed on March 15, 2004).