When Nguyen Cao Ky moved to this remote Cajun fishing village, it caused hardly a ripple among folks along Bayou Caillou.
In fact, many of the 3,500 residents didn't realize the newcomer was a former general and onetime ruler of South Vietnam."We have a lot of Vietnamese in this area, and we saw this fellow as just another Vietnamese fisherman," said volunteer fireman Sonny Parfait. "Tell you the truth, I myself didn't know who he was, until you say so."
Parfait, who is also Dulac's constable, said Ky - South Vietnam's premier from 1965 to 1968 - can be seen around town almost any day as he goes about the business of running the shrimp processing plant he leased in May.
"Everybody seems to like him all right," Parfait said. "At least I haven't heard any complaints, and his plant is providing jobs for local people."
In his paneled office, the slender, dark-haired president of Southern Gulf Seafood Processors Inc. quietly acknowledged that he has worked hard to fit in here. Dulac is located 70 miles southwest of New Orleans, deep in the heart of Cajun country where alligators prowl dark bayou waters and strangers are often regarded with suspicion by the locals, who speak a distinctive Cajun patois.
Ky doesn't dwell on the days when, he says, he had "absolute power" as premier. "I was a soldier and a politician. Now I am a businessman and a fisherman. When I'm with Vietnamese fishermen now, I think they see me now as a fisherman, instead of as a fighter pilot who used to be their premier."
Ky, who looks much younger than his 59 years, usually wears jeans, sneakers and a sports shirt and limits his socializing outside the Vietnamese community to an occasional game of tennis.
More importantly, he hires local workers.
"Seven of our eight full-time employees are local Americans. And our part-time packing crew is largely made up of local residents," he said.
"It's only fair. Employment opportunities are very scarce in this area and it wouldn't have been right not to have given local people the first chance at these jobs."
Ky buys most of his shrimp from the Vietnamese fishermen who ply the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Texas. It was they who brought Ky to Louisiana two years ago, after his Southern California liquor store went bankrupt.
"I was traveling around the country, visiting Vietnamese refugees," he said. "I came down here and got interested in the fishing industry. I found I liked it and decided maybe I could make a living and also help my people."