What’s the story behind the statue in Ben Thanh Plaza in Arlington? Here are the details

On Jan. 14, 2018, a statue of Gen. Tran Hung Dao was unveiled at the Ben Thanh Plaza in Arlington, honoring a Vietnamese military hero considered by some as a demigod.

In 2017, the Vietnamese American Community of Tarrant County & Vicinity organization raised through community and private donations $70,000 to pay for a marble pedestal and concrete statue. Vietnamese tradition called for affirming their love for family, culture, and history through public exhibition.

Genghis Khan and his Mongols had conquered lands and kingdoms throughout Asia, Middle East, and Central Europe in the 13th century. Kublai Khan, Genghis’ grandson, set his sights on invading China from the south through Dai Viet, Vietnam’s former name. Dai Viet King Tran Nhan Tong sought to avoid widespread massacre and destruction and advised his princes he would surrender. Prince Tran told him, “if such is your will, then cut my head first.”

After he was made head of the military, Gen. Tran called for national unity, rallied, organized, and trained the Vietnamese forces. They defeated Mongol armies numbering hundreds of thousands in three separate invasions. A sea battle at Bach Dang River on April 9, 1288, utilizing underwater spikes that destroyed the Mongols’ junks fleet, was hailed as one of Gen. Tran’s greatest victories.


Although Vietnamese communists toppled many monuments after they took control in 1975, they allowed a giant statue of Gen. Tran to stand in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Streets in Hanoi and other Vietnamese cities bear Gen. Tran’s name. A cult to Gen. Tran developed in Vietnam and the United States Vietnamese communities where devotees prayed in home and temple shrines for his intercession to fight off diseases and evil spirits.

David D. Dang, owner of Ben Thanh Plaza, escaped Vietnam in 1978 with his wife and three child relatives. After 10 years in Malaysia and Holland, he came to the United States in 1988 through a family unification visa. He worked in Westminster, California, for seven years, where he observed the Vietnamese community erect a statue to Gen. Tran and install an honorary street name for him.

Dang came to Texas in October 1997 to open a Vietnamese supermarket in Haltom City. After this initial successful business venture, he opened a second store in Irving in 2002. When his CPA and banker offered to sell him the Ben Thanh Plaza in 2010, he accepted. He upgraded and remodeled the Plaza to an Asian market, complete with a Vietnamese pagoda, facade, and decorations.

In 2017, Vietnamese community leaders turned to Dang to assist with the building of a monument to Gen. Tran on his property. He agreed and offered to pay for lighting and maintenance of the statue for the duration of his Plaza ownership. Former Vietnamese Marine Tran Huy Be donated the marble stand made in Vietnam valued at $10,000. Other former Vietnamese Marines from the Vietnam War prayed at the statue in remembrance of the general’s birthday, which was in 1228. They’ve discussed adding a shrine next to the monument to allow for private prayers and teaching about Gen. Tran’s history.

In 2018, Vietnamese community leaders discussed adding street toppers in Gen. Tran’s honor along the International Corridor or Pioneer Parkway from Center Street to Highway 360. Dang relayed his Westminster experiences to Yen Nguyen, president of the Tarrant County Asian American Chamber of Commerce. Through her connections with then Mayor Jeff Williams and State Rep. Chris Turner, she placed the request.

The city responded that the International Corridor should reflect the diverse business and residences along Highway 303. The Vietnamese community agreed to the installation of honorary street toppers on Browning Street and New York Avenue in close proximity to the statue. Other toppers on the corridor were dedicated to Syed Ahsani, Muslim ambassador, and Dolores Huerta, Latina civil rights leader.

Directly behind the statue flew the United States, Texas, and pre-1975 Vietnam flags. Dang compared the Vietnamese esteem for Gen. Tran to Americans’ respect for George Washington. For Dang, the statue and toppers reflected that freedom wasn’t free. Costs to maintain liberty were expensive and required vigilance. Dang and other first-generation Vietnamese cherished their freedoms and opportunities the United States offered. Like Gen. Tran, they were willing to face formidable hardships for their community’s success.

Author Richard J. Gonzales writes and speaks about Fort Worth, national and international Latino history.