by Rob Schwarzwalder
October 29, 2013
A Civil War general, a Wyoming storekeeper, and a Vietnamese businessman tell an extraordinary story of patriotism and opportunity.
John Buford was a Union general who held the line against the Army of Northern Virginia on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg in July, 1863. He died, possibly of typhoid, in December of that same year. Abraham Lincoln, moved by Buford’s heroic service and premature loss, promoted him to major general on Buford’s death bed.
In 1866, the town of Buford, Wyoming was named after the late general. Over time, it grew to a population of 2,000 and was visited by such notables as Ulysses Grant and Franklin Roosevelt. The notorious Butch Cassidy is reported to have robbed a store there in the 1880s.
The town went into gradual decline. Over time, everyone moved away except Vietnam veteran Don Sammons, who in “1992 … sold his moving business and bought Buford. He moved into a three-bedroom log cabin a few hundred feet from the trading post and turned an old schoolhouse next door into an office. He refurbished a store built in 1895 into a four-car garage.”
Recently, Sammons decided to put his one-man town up for sale. It was purchased not by fellow Bufordites (OK, there are none), a Wyomingite or even another American. It was purchased by a Vietnamese businessman named Nguyen Dinh Pham who plans to make Buford the distribution center of rich Vietnamese coffee throughout America.
About a dozen American flags fly in front of the store, now named the PhinDeli. After the sale, Sammons says he “wanted to put Vietnamese flags out” in front of the store. “But the new owner didn’t want locals to think he was trying to change this into a Vietnamese town. It’s a Wyoming town and it always will be.”
An American who fought against Communists in Vietnam lands in one of the most obscure places in North America and then sells his store to a Vietnamese coffee merchant, who insists on flying U.S. rather than Vietnamese flags in front of his store: The poetic symmetry of this sequence of events is remarkable, and speaks to the kind of America of which all of us can be proud. It is a country where honorable people can live decent lives in peace and freedom, prosper and thrive, and, ultimately, work to achieve their own economic and personal destinies without intrusive, patronizing intervention from the government.
When, at the beginning of the war, the governor of Kentucky offered John Buford any position in his state’s military he wanted, Buford had a ready answer. “I sent him word I was a Captain in the United States Army and I intended to remain one!” A patriot like that would appreciate what Don Sammons, Nguyen Dinh Pham, and the people of rural Wyoming are doing with his civic namesake.