Wednesday was cold, gray, dreary, and damp. At 3 p.m. about one hundred people gathered on the corner of Winthrop and Winona. They were there to celebrate the life of a young man who died too soon.
Winthrop, between Winona and Argyle, was dedicated to John Vietnam Nguyen. Nguyen was born and raised on the block. He was a local poet and hip hop artist.
In the words of Henry Justin Smith, John Vietnam Nguyen was "a young man going someplace".
John Vietnam lived and played on the gritty streets of Uptown. He did not get swallowed up in the gangs, drugs, and violence so prevalent in the area.
John Vietnam lived for his arts. He involved himself in various art and community organizations in Uptown. He flourished.
John was a good student and athlete with a bright future ahead of him.
John Vietnam attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison on a scholarship.
The sophomore drowned after rescuing a young woman in Lake Mendota, near the campus.
Mary Schmich wrote about John Vietnam Nguyen in her Chicago Tribune column.
John's parents, Joe "Saigon Joe" Hertel and Rose Nguyen unveiled the sign. Hertel is a Viet Nam veteran. Ms. Nguyen came to Chicago from Viet Nam in the 1990 with her four children. They met and John was born.
Mr. Hertel brought a shopping bag containing books of his son's poetry. He said he brought them for the children at Goudy Elementary School, which sits across the street from Honorary John Vietnam Nguyen Way. John Vietnam attended Goudy.
Mr. Hertel remarked he was told John Vietnam was the youngest person to have a street named after him. He related that was not true. The youngest person from Chicago to have a street named after him was Emmett Till. Emmett Till Rd. is a seven mile stretch of 71st Street.
On a cold, dreary, damp day on the gritty streets of Uptown, a bright and shining star was remembered. John Vietnam will live through his poetry, his music, the young people he mentored, and on a single block of Uptown.
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