Retired Navy Captain Hung Cao — the top Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Virginia — caught up with Breitbart News on Monday for an exclusive interview, in which he detailed his family’s harrowing escape from communist Vietnam, his ascent to United States Navy Captain, and the “calling” to serve his country in the Senate amid what he sees as an absence of strong leaders.
Having spent his first four years of life in war-torn Vietnam, Cao retains snapshots of memories of his early life. Speaking with Breitbart News, Cao described recalling those days as being similar to “flipping through a photo album.”
“You just remember things like snapshots or photographs, like you’re flipping through a photo album, you’re looking at pictures; that’s what I remember, images. You remember feelings too,” Cao recalled.
Cao — who noted in his opening campaign ad that his grandfathers were taken in hostile fashion from their homes into the night, never to reunite with their loved ones — and his family escaped the communist rule in Vietnam days before Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army in 1975. The lead-up to the exit was immensely stressful, Cao recalled. He described his parents panicking about the possibility that American forces might not take all five of their children.
“They had to talk it out and say who they were going to take. ‘Who do we leave behind? Do we leave the oldest, the ones who can fend for themselves?’” Cao said. “Those are scary times for parents to realize, ‘What if I can’t bring all my kids? Who do I leave behind? Who do we leave them with? How do we go back and get them?’”
Cao also noted there were worries his father might be unable to flee with the rest of his family.
“I remember at one point my dad, they didn’t want to put him on the plane because they wanted to just get the women [and] children out first, and unfortunately, because he had a mark on his head, they had to get him out too,” he said. Even on the plane, war was at the top of everyone’s mind, with refugees being instructed not to lower the blinds for fear of sniper fire.
After serving 25 years in the U.S. Navy, I recognize that our country has real problems and we need real fighters in Washington. I’m running for United States Senate because I’m not done fighting for us. pic.twitter.com/IYVmIh1V2c
— Hung Cao (@HungCao_VA) July 18, 2023
Suddenly, he and his family had left their native country and were refugees. After staying in America for a year, his father took a job in Niger in sub-Saharan West Africa, as it was the only job he could find, Cao said.
It was there Cao attended French schools for seven years during his adolescence and grew an admiration for the U.S. Marine Corps until his family made another difficult decision when Cao’s mother brought him and his siblings back to America in 1982 so they could learn English while his father remained in Niger for 15 years. Cao told Breitbart News his family had a sharp focus on education throughout his childhood, which persisted when he arrived in Virginia.
“My parents always pushed in us that they can take away your money, they can take away your position in life, but they can’t take away the knowledge that’s in your head, and that’s why education was so important to us,” he explained. “They pushed this very hard, and so I applied for the first class of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology because it was a brand new school that had just formed here in Northern Virginia, and I got accepted into that school.”
“From there, I’d always wanted to serve in the military because when I was in Africa, it was the U.S. Marines that really just enamored me. I just fell in love with what they stood for [and] who they were. I mean, in 1979, when the Shah of Iran was overthrown, and they had to look at potentially evacuating every country that was of the Muslim faith — where we lived was one of them — they had to bring us to the embassy for possible evacuation. Thank goodness that never happened, but just the Marines that stood watch over us that day to make sure we were safe, that’s what I wanted to be like. I wanted to be like those guys, and so that’s why I wanted to go into the military, and the Naval Academy was something that I actually fell in love with.”
Cao, who graduated from the academy in 1996 and became a Harvard and MIT fellow, served for more than 25 years following his graduation and saw countless deployments.
“It’s hard to tell,” Cao said of his number of deployments. “Sometimes you have a year of deployment, six-month deployment; sometimes it’s two weeks here, three weeks there. It’s so countless,” he told Breitbart News.
“I’ll just tell you this: in my 25 years of marriage, I was gone for probably half of that from just being on call and going on exercises,” he continued. “People forget, like, ‘Okay, well, you deploy every two years, that’s not bad, or two years or one year, whatever, it’s not bad,’ but it’s the workups, it’s the training exercise that leads up to it that takes you away from your family also. You go away for a week here, three weeks there, four weeks there, but then it’s also the the small trips overseas, especially in my last job. In my last active duty job, I was going in and out of Afghanistan and Somalia quite a bit in those three years. I did a deployment — a full deployment — then also had many trips to the battlefield and back.”
Cao was a special operations officer (Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Deep Sea Diving). One of his top non-combat assignments was at the Pentagon, balancing the Navy’s $140 billion budget.
“That was a tough feat in itself, too,” Cao told Breitbart News. “But that taught me that it can be done, and so that’s what needs to be done in Congress is to live within our means and balance the budget.”
Considering Cao’s unique collection of experiences, from being a Vietnam refugee to spending formative years in West Africa, as well as his many deployments around the globe, Breitbart News asked for his perception of America compared to his lived experiences in other nations.
“There’s no place like America. I’m telling you right now that I’ve been to 40 countries in my lifetime, and there’s no place like the United States of America where you have the freedom to do whatever you want to do, say what you want to say, live life the way you want to live, and it is truly the land of opportunity,” Cao said. “I don’t want it to be a cliche thing, but really, in America, you can be whatever you want to be; you just need to roll up your sleeves and do it.”
“And people that don’t appreciate what we offer as a country, to them, I say you need to travel more, you need to see what the world is really like and to truly appreciate the United States for all the gifts that it gives you and everything that you could possibly be and grow to be in the United States,” he added.
Cao retired from the Navy in 2021 and launched a candidacy for Virginia’s Tenth Congressional seat in a close race against incumbent Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), falling by a margin of 46.7 percent to 53.3 percent. Now, he seeks to take on former Democrat vice presidential nominee and longtime Senator Tim Kaine (D) in 2024’s U.S. Senate race.
The retired Navy captain told Breitbart News that it is “more of a calling” summoning him to run for public office amid a void in strong leaders. He noted it is an endeavor “not for the faint of heart.”
“It’s nothing that anybody wants to ever do, to be honest with you,” he said of running for Congress. “You should not want to run for office. It’s more of a calling. Just like I never wanted to go to war, but it’s what my country asked me to do. I work for a company right now. I’m an executive at a company, and I’m making pretty good money, but the fact is that this country needs strong leaders; leaders who will put the country first before themselves, and that’s why I ran for Congress; that’s why I’m running for Senate because it’s a calling that is definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s a calling that your country is asking for service in a different manner, and you do it to the best of your ability and leave. You’re not supposed to spend your entire lifetime in there; just do it for a few years and then hand it off to the next person.”