Maverick personified

Alumnus Sinh Tho Nguyen walks across America to show support for troops

By Sherry W. Neaves

The American flag drew them in, and, welcomed by his warm smile, the students began peppering the slight man with questions. “What’s this about? Why are you doing it?” The sign he wore gave a partial explanation, announcing his “Shore to Shore” walk across America in honor of his adopted homeland and the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sinh Tho Nguyen (‘99 BBA) visited UT Arlington

Sinh Tho Nguyen (‘99 BBA) visited UT Arlington during a respite from his coast-to-coast walk.

But like dozens of others who have greeted Sinh Tho Nguyen as he travels the country, the students in front of UT Arlington’s Central Library that late summer morning wanted to know more.

It all began with a simple desire to say thanks.

“I’m a war baby,” Nguyen says. “My biological father served in Vietnam, but he never even knew that I existed. Once I grew up and learned that the American government was bringing war babies home, my mother and I decided that I should come to the U.S.

“I came here with only a handful of English vocabulary, and I never met my father. But I felt that I was already in debt to America.”

Within a few years Nguyen moved to Texas, where he began studying at Tarrant County College. He joined the National Guard and served a tour of duty in the Army. Financial aid from the military enabled him to enroll at UT Arlington, where he completed a bachelor’s degree, and later at Bowie State University in Maryland, where he earned a master’s.

Sinh Tho Nguyen (‘99 BBA)

“I always wanted to do something for this country, something bigger than myself.”

He’s working on a doctoral degree in educational psychology from Walden University, but that’s on hold for now, while he says thanks.

“My life’s goal is to be an educator,” he says, “but I owe America too much. I always wanted to do something for this country, something bigger than myself to reflect my love for America and my respect for the troops. But I don’t have any special talents; I couldn’t do anything big enough.”

It was while working as a meter reader that Nguyen had his walking idea. Since in an average day he was already walking more than 10 miles, he decided to use the job as a training opportunity.

For almost two years he worked and saved to fund the project. Although people have made contributions along the way, mostly Nguyen has supported the effort himself.

He initially intended to walk west to east along the interstates, then he learned that he wouldn’t be permitted on those highways. So he went east to west, and on state roads.

Wearing a homemade sign and carrying his flag, he began the long, long walk in June, in Florida, and achieved his goal of reaching San Diego before Thanksgiving. He’s grateful that the initial plan was scrapped, because the state highways showed him small-town America.

He says the journey has been deeply rewarding, not in a financial sense but in the patriotism he sees in the people who line the streets to greet him.

“With this trip, I am sort of a thermometer to measure just how patriotic Americans are, and it’s beyond words. I carry the flag and wave at everyone I see, and they all wave back. I never loved and respected the American flag like I have on this trip. She connects people. This is not really about me after all, it’s about America.”

And about American generosity.

“People see me on the news, and they’re waiting for me. One family waited three hours and still didn’t see me, so they came to find me and then insisted that I come and stay with them to rest and take care of my feet.”

Indeed, Nguyen’s biggest problem on the trek was his feet. He spent two weeks at home in Fort Worth in August getting them back in shape before hitting the road again.

With his only on-road support provided by friend and co-worker David Dominguez following in a silver Ford Focus, Nguyen averaged between eight and 30 miles a day, depending on the weather, road conditions and the number of people who came out to meet him.

“At first, this was a personal mission—it belonged to me,” he says. “Now it’s about the troops, and it’s about the people of America.”

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