WASHINGTON, D.C. –
Brig. Gen. Lapthe Flora, the Virginia National Guard Assistant Adjutant General for Strategic Initiatives, shared his personal journey of living for three years in the jungle to avoid being drafted into the communist Vietnamese military after the fall of Saigon to seeking refuge in the United States and attending Virginia Military Institute to becoming a general officer in the U.S. Army at a Congressional reception recognizing the history of diversity in the Army since World War I held May 3, 2017, at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.
“Today I stand before you as a humble servant who owes a great debt of gratitude to America,” Flora said. “As for me, I journeyed from the deprivation of human dignity and true hunger to living the American dream, many times over.”
Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Sen. Joni Ernst co-sponsored the event, and Duckworth and Maj. Gen. Laura Richardson, Chief of Army Legislative Liaison, provided opening remarks. Sen. Tim Kaine and Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran joined Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, for the reception.
Following the Communist capture of Saigon in 1975, Flora and his brothers fled the city to avoid being drafted in to the North Vietnamese military. He spent more than three years in the jungle, then fled by boat to Indonesia where he spent a year living in three separate refugee camps. When he arrived in the U.S., he quickly learned English and finished his high school education in only three years.
Flora said he is often asked how he kept his sanity through the ordeal of his escape from Vietnam and time in the refugee camps, and his answer is always “tenacity.”
“My unyielding resolve to stay alive motivated me to endure three and a half years of harsh life in Vietnam with no electricity and no running water where we grew and hunted for our own food,” Flora said. “Through it all, I survived. My determination to be liberated from tyranny motivated me to escape from Vietnam.”
He said he is also frequently asked how he transformed from a refugee into a commission officer who achieved the rank of brigade general in the U.S. Army, and his response that question is “opportunity.”
“It is only in American that someone like me, homeless, destitute, but with a burning desire to survive, can thrive,” Flora said. “America is not perfect, but she still is the land of endless opportunity. With opportunity and self determination to serve our nation, anything and everything is possible.”
After high school Flora attended the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington where he earned a bachelor’s degree and commission in the U. S. Army Reserve in 1987. He later transferred to the Virginia Guard where he served in every staff position within 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, including commander of the battalion.
Additionally, Flora served as the 116th IBCT executive officer, 29th Infantry Division’s director of operations and as the Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia director of strategic plans and policy. He has successfully completed three overseas deployments to Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
Flora’s adopted father was an officer in the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division who landed on Normandy 72 years ago, and part of the reason he chose to have his promotion in Bedford was to honor his father’s military service.
In his civilian capacity, Flora is the Senior Applications Engineer with Night Vision business of Harris Corporation in Roanoke, and holds six patent awards related to the AN/PVS-14 and AN/AVS-9 night vision goggles.