This is the story of my mother's family and how they left their home on the last day of the Vietnam War
Saigon, South Vietnam
April 26, 1975
A man in Army uniform rolls up in a Jeep and and hands my sister a letter. It’s from our father. Our mother is away in Saigon for work.
He tells us to pack our bags and head to Vung Tau immediately. The enemy was coming and we had to leave.
I run to alert my other siblings while my sister grabs the money and valuables that our mom hid in the home.
We packed a single pair of clothes then headed off in the Jeep. Little did I know, this would be the last time I would see my home.
Vung Tau, South Vietnam
April 27, 1975
We arrive in Vung Tau to our grandparents home. Other members of our family are there too.
We spend the night sleeping on the floor. We haven’t heard from our mom yet and are afraid of what’s to come next.
The following morning, we wake up to the relief of seeing our mom arrive. She somehow convinced a helicopter pilot to transport her all the way there!
There isn’t much time to celebrate though. We soon make our way to the beach to find a boat that our father told us to look for.
We arrive to a crowded and chaotic scene at the beach and start looking for the boat that was arranged for our transport.
One of our sisters decides to stay to look after our grandparents. We had no idea that it would be ten more years until we’d meet her again.
After finding the fishing boat, the captain told us that we had to keep waiting. It was hot, cramped, and smelly.
Everyone was stressed. My sister and I got into a fight and one of us throws a block of ice into the ocean!
As the scenes of war creep closer and closer, the captain finally decides it’s time to leave. He instructs the family to send a person out for one last supply run.
One of my brothers and another man volunteer and row to shore in a straw basket to trade our last bits of gold for food and water.
After some time, we notice that there are people making their way back to our boat. This time though, there is another person with them that we don’t recognize.
They wave their hands, and like a miracle, it turned out to be my father! My brother somehow found him while getting supplies on shore and they all swim back to the boat.
They all make it back aboard the fishing boat safe and sound. We all embrace in a happy reunion and remember our sister who couldn’t be here.
My father is distraught at having to leave his soldiers. He was a Colonel in the South Vietnamese Army. He wants to go back but we tell him he needs to stay. The boat takes off
Somewhere off the coast of Vung Tau, South Vietnam
April 30, 1975
We had no idea that we would never see our homes again. We were sad, scared, and had nothing but the clothes on our backs.
Through it all, my mom was able to still keep her children fed, safe, and hopeful. She cooked meals with whatever we had.
After drifting for a few days, the captain is able to see a huge US Navy ship far off in the distance. If we can get their attention, then we would get rescued!
Our boat races towards the huge US Navy ship and honks its horns. As we approach, a sailor throws down some rope for us to tie the boat.
Some crewmen help us climb onto a ship called the USS Henderson, a Navy destroyer. There are many others just like us onboard.
We make sure to stick together and not get lost. The smell of diesel is overwhelming and my brother gets sick.
After we get registered, we are taken to our living quarters aboard the ship. It’s cramped, but at least it’s safe.
From there, we are told that we would be taken to a refugee camp until a plan can be figured out for everyone.
Our first stop is in Guam. We were only here for about a week. Our second stop was somewhere in the Philippines.
We didn’t stay long here either until we made our way out again. This time, we were on our way to America.
After moving from camp to camp, we finally arrive on American soil. Our first stop is Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.
This will be our home for the next 3 months, living with hundreds of other Vietnamese families. Each day, we look forward to the Red Cross truck that comes with treats.
On July 4, 1975, we receive news that we our family has been sponsored by a family in South Carolina.
We can all stick together and are even offered jobs working on a chicken farm! Our new lives can begin.
Bethume, South Carolina
July 4, 1975
Life wasn’t easy at first. There were many new customs that we needed to learn in this new country.
But we made sure to work hard and not waste this opportunity. My parents eventually saved enough to buy a home.
But through it all, my parents showed the courage and strength to raise a big family in a land where they couldn’t speak the language.
And although they are no longer here with us today, their memories, culture, and traditions live on through their children, grandchildren, and the generations yet to come.