K Ben Nash doesn’t go long without hugs. It’s been that way since she arrived in Greensboro with a group of Vietnamese Montagnard refugees in 1992.
“As soon as she landed, we recognized each other,” says Greensboro’s Mike Linnane, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces major. “She still had her unique smile.”
Neither one was smiling when they first met in 1969 — on the other side of the globe during the Vietnam War.
“I was posted at Ben Het Special Forces Camp in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. We monitored and interdicted traffic on Ho Chi Minh Trail,” Linnane says. “The North Vietnamese didn’t like us to the point of sending tanks to take our camp out.”
Linnane was wounded and evacuated to Pleiku as a litter patient.
“K Ben was the first nurse to get to me,” he says.
Fast forward to 2019, K Ben is married to Steve Nash, a retired Navy SEAL who served four combat tours in Vietnam.
“I didn’t meet her in Vietnam,” Steve says. “We met in Asheboro.”
As associate members of the Greensboro Marine Corps League, the Nashes help with fundraising activities at Belks in Friendly Center.
“I’ve received lots of hugs there!” K Ben says. “At least six soldiers in the past few months have thanked me for treating them in Vietnam.”
To the combined Nash family, Steve brings three children and five grandchildren. After retiring as a Navy SEAL, he traveled the world as a professional photographer for The Associated Press for 23 years.
K Ben has five children, 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“All are American citizens,” she says.
Steve’s first wife and a son were killed in an auto accident, and K Ben started her family during the worst of political turmoil and war in her country.
Both of her brothers were killed in combat while serving with the South Vietnamese navy. She joined the army first but found her true calling as a field combat airborne medic.
Assigned to U.S. Army Special Forces, her team operated trauma stations for personnel wounded while operating from small outpost camps in the Central Highlands near the borders of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam — think Ben Het.
She was wounded twice after being inserted into landing zones to treat wounded personnel on the ground.
“Small pieces of shrapnel are still coming out of her body,” her husband says.
The Montagnards continued to fight against communist forces long after allied forces pulled out of Vietnam. Eventually, the Montagnard were almost left without a country.
“The North Vietnamese never liked us, and the South Vietnamese grew to dislike us because we resisted so long,” K Ben says.
“North Carolina has the largest Montagnard population outside Vietnam,” Linnane says. “And Greensboro probably has more than any other city.”
That isn’t by accident.
“Fort Bragg, Special Forces and Montagnards — you can’t have one without the other,” Linnane says. “We couldn’t have done without them in Vietnam. At Ben Het, we had 12 Green Berets and 400 Montagnards!”
To K Ben Nash’s chagrin, space doesn’t permit identifying the many people who helped her and her family acclimate to America and become citizens.
“I could never thank them enough for what they did,” she says.
It was an uphill battle.
“I worked for Southern Foods 17 years,” she says. “I often got up at 3 a.m. and worked three jobs.” Even so, she kept house, continued to raise her children as a single mother and volunteered at Lutheran Family Services.
“My grandchildren graduated from Northeast Guilford High School and UNCG,” K Ben says. “They have good jobs. One is a nurse, another’s wife is a doctor, and he will soon become a doctor himself.”
As part of Vietnam War commemoration ceremonies on March 30, Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields, U.S. Marine Corps (retired), presented K Ben Nash with a citation and her personal Vietnam veteran lapel pin in appreciation for her service.
She had previously received the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, as well as several unit and personal awards.
After two retirements and his personal family tragedy, Nash spent four years in China and almost 10 years driving a motor home throughout the U.S.. He often visited veterans he knew from his Navy SEAL service.
One such visit was to a Green Beret medic from Asheboro who was heavily involved in helping Montagnard refugees assimilate in their new country. He introduced Steve to K Ben,
K Ben and Steve Nash — their marriage had to have been made in heaven.
And the rest is history.