Pham Thien Khoc was born in 1944 and grew up in South Vietnam during a time of war. He was drafted into the Army in 1967, and was trained as an engineer officer, being commissioned in December, 1967. Pham served with the 10th Engineer Regiment in northern South Vietnam, where he was stationed in 1973 at the time of the Paris Peace Accords. In 1975, when South Vietnam fell to the Communists, he fled to a remote area of the countryside and hid out until he was captured by government officials. He spend the next year in a brutal reeducation camp until his health broke and he was unable to work. He was then released, but with strict limitations. For the next year he was frequently harassed by the authorities, and forced to do community work for them.