Fifteen years after hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese immigrants fled to the Washington area and other parts of the United States, many continue to fight the war that sundered their homeland.

The Vietnamese American community rivals Miami's Cuban exiles in its anti-communist fervor, according to scholars and community leaders, who say that the simple act of writing, editing and publishing controversial articles has at times had life-threatening consequences.

Last week, Triet Le, a Vietnamese magazine columnist known for his acidic political writings, was gunned down with his wife outside their Fairfax County home. No motive has been established, but many of Le's colleagues believe his death was politically motivated.

During the past decade, at least a dozen acts of violence have been committed against prominent Vietnamese Americans, particularly journalists, according to police and other experts. Often, political extremists have claimed responsibility for the crimes, police sources said.

"We are talking about people who lost the war and their country," said Bill Herod, project director for the Indochina project, a private research group specializing in Vietnamese affairs.

"For some, this remains a very personal matter . . . . Some of them had their entire childhood and part of their adult lives dominated by warfare . . . fighting the evils of communism, believing their cause was just, noble. Some can let it go. Others cannot."

There are an estimated 1 million Vietnamese Americans, concentrated in Southern California, with smaller populations in areas near Dallas, Houston and Washington. Since that community is highly literate, journalists "become easy targets because they spread ideas," said Jane Werner, a Columbia University expert on Vietnamese politics.

Yen Ngoc Do, editor of the Nguoi Viet Daily news, which is published in Orange County, Calif., and has a circulation of 12,000, said he has been such a target.

In 1989, workers on a weekly television show produced by Do accidentally broadcast a picture of a mausoleum honoring Ho Chi Minh, former president of communist North Vietnam. Do's truck was burned and someone wrote an ominous message on a wall near the newspaper office stating, " 'If you are a V.C. {Viet Cong} we kill you!' " Do said.

Last March, Do and several other well-known Vietnamese Americans received death threats. Do said that his read: "You are a pro-communist. We kill."

"They think my newspaper has influence," Do said. "I am very anti-communist. But as a journalist, I must adopt a balanced view. But there are people that think the media should only be used for the cold war . . . . I try to explain to them, 'Let me do my job.' "

In 1987, a group called the Vietnamese Party to Exterminate Communists and Restore the Nation claimed responsibility for the death of a Garden Grove, Calif., magazine editor who was burned to death in his home. The group said the editor was killed "because he ran advertisements from Canadian companies shipping goods to Vietnam," said Garden Grove police Sgt. Phil Mason.

"A lot of people thought that these groups didn't exist," Mason said. "But in our case we were able to determine that a group exists . . . . Whoever these people are, they command a lot of fear in the community."

There has been other violence:

Eight years ago, a Houston editor of a Vietnamese-language magazine was shot to death. A short distance away from the man's body, police found a hit list. The names of Triet Le -- the columnist slain last week -- and his publisher were among those named, said Jim Badey, a former Arlington investigator and an expert on Asian crime.

In January 1980, the North Arlington home of the publisher of Tien Phong was firebombed. Nguyen Tranh Hoang and his 7-year-old daughter escaped the blaze, which did an estimated $125,000 in damage to the house. A letter, purportedly from an extremist group called "Action Squad," claimed responsibility.

The magazine continues to be the focus of unexplained violence.

Last year, another employee at Tien Phong was found shot to death in a car outside his home. The case has not been resolved.

To understand the depth of emotion of some first-generation Vietnamese Americans, their recent and sometimes tragic history must be studied, experts said.

Some of the Vietnamese who came to this country at the end of the war were military personnel or South Vietnamese government officials. Almost all were staunch anti-communists.

Those who came later, in some cases escaping the country on ragged boats, also shared little love for the communists.

Kim Oanh Cook, 48, a Northern Virginia clinical social worker who deals with Asian refugees coming to this country, agreed: "For Americans it was another war. For us it was a civil war."

Cook believes Le became a likely target because he wrote articles criticizing anti-communists as well as communists. Some people couldn't take the criticism, especially those who gave up everything for freedom, Cook said.

Tri Ngo, 35, escaped Vietnam 10 years ago by boat to Indonesia. He now lives in Arlington with his mother, a brother and a sister. He works for the Arlington school system as a liaison to the Vietnamese community.

How to end communism in Vietnam is a constant subject among Vietnamese living in this country, he said.

"There is a gap between the younger generation who has grown up here and the older generation," Ngo said. The younger generation's "view is a little bit different. Most of them do not like the communists, but anti-communism is not the thing for them. The older generation cannot accept that."