Lance Corporal Victor Lu’s friends in his Marine unit—the 3rd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment, part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force that fought in the brutal battle to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah from insurgents in late 2004—used to call him “Buddha.” The young Vietnamese-American man was 6 feet 3 inches tall, a black belt in Ju Si Tang Chinese kung fu and among the physically strongest men in his unit. But the imposing strength and physique belied a gentle, affable nature. Hence the nickname, which Lu liked so much he scribbled it onto the back of his Kevlar vest.
He had grown up in Los Angeles, not far from the University of Southern California, the eldest son of six children born to Nu and Xuong Lu, his mother and father. His parents had fled the country in the wake of the 1975 American withdrawal—and Communist takeover—of that country. Roughly 800,000 Vietnamese left the country from 1975 to 1995, with more than half of them settling in the United States.
Like many other young Americans, he had enlisted in the Marines after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and hoped, after the war, to join the Los Angeles Police Department. Before he went back for his second tour—before the assault on Fallujah—he told a friend he believed deeply in the mission. “We are bringing freedom,” he said, “to people who deserve it.”
He would not return from Iraq alive. In the early morning of November 13, 2004, the “3-5” was going house to house in Fallujah. When one front door jammed, Lu’s fellow Marines called on him to use his bulk and strength as a battering ram. He rammed his shoulder into the door, it popped open, and almost immediately Lu began taking fire from three insurgents inside. He absorbed eight or nine rounds before his unit mates could return fire. He slumped to the floor, mortally wounded. He was 22 years old.
Vietnam and Iraq Now Inextricably Linked as U.S. Geopolitical Disasters