Dressed in spiffy tennis togs, he fits nicely into middle-class Orange County. His Huntington Beach, Calif., home is modern-mostly white, with a glass coffee table. He is articulate and charming. His appearance is youthful, and only a few gray hairs in his moustache show his 48 years. The former premier and vice president of South Vietnam, Nguyen Cao Ky, is at home in America. At red lights people pull up beside his car, smile and shout his name. His sister runs a liquor store he owns, and he occasionally stops by to visit customers, many of whom, he says , are police officers who used to be American soldiers in Vietnam.
"Most of the time people are very kind," Ky says, but he prefers to remain unrecognized: "Anonymity, that's what I need."
In April 1975 Ky spoke at a Saigon rally as his countrymen began a frantic rush to leave Vietnam.
"Let the cowards who are leaving with the Americans go, and let those who love South Vietnam stay and fight," he said them. "No matter what happens, you should stay here. Even if the Communists win, you should stay because at least they will be yellow-skinned Communists. If we must die, it is better to die a heroic death in Vietnam. Why should we evacuate to foreign countries? To do what? To be servants? To be prostitues? To be kitchen hands?"
Three days later his wife and family were aboard an evacuation flight to the Philippines. Ky followed within days, then in May 1975 settled in the Washington area with his family. He told reporters he had *30,000 in assets.
For Ky, life in this foreign country was kinder than he apparently expected. After a lecture tour and writing a book, he joined other Vietnamese refugees in the sunny clime of Southern California, where he invested in the liquor store.
Unlike some of his countrymen, however, Ky says he doesn't work much, spending a good amount of time tending a rose garden in his backyard. The man who used to play tennis at Saigon's exclusive Cercel Sportif says that since coming to America and watching protennis on television, his game has improved considerably.
Ky worries that his children "have adjusted too well to American life." In Vietnam, he says, the family stayed together. Now his two teen-age daughters live at home, but his four sons (ages 21 to 25) do not. In Vietnam students respected their teachers. Now, he says, his children seem more concerned about grades than whether they respect their instructors. But he notes that for the first time in their lives, his children "can go to shcool in peace."
"I am not Americanized yet," says the man who was once this nation's hope for democracy in Vietnam. "I do not wash dishes."