The Fall of Saigon was the capture of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, by the People’s Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (also known as the Việt Cộng) on April 30, 1975. The event marked the end of the Vietnam War and the start of a transition period to the formal reunification of Vietnam into a socialist republic, governed by the Communist Party of Vietnam.
On April 30, 1975, South Vietnam fell to Communist rule.
It’s been 38 years since the day everything changed for my parents, relatives and the people they love. The country they called home turned into something unrecognisable.
My father was a soldier in the South Vietnamese army, among the medical ranks. He spent three years in a prison camp after the war. In 1980, my parents escaped on a tiny boat, hardly seaworthy, with dozens of other refugees. My father looked to the stars to map their way out. Though luckily there were no fatalities on my parents’ boat, others weren’t so fortunate. Many died. Women were raped. My parents’ boat was hijacked by pirates seven times.
They arrived in Malaysia after several days at sea and were met by Australian delegates. When they came here, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs. My mother, a classically trained pianist, worked a menial job as a cleaner in a hospital to get by. My father already had a medical degree, but it wasn’t recognised in Australia so he went back to university to do it over again. They worked exceptionally hard to get back on their feet, and had the help of some incredibly generous Australian people - who we remain close family friends with today - to settle into their new life.
My family’s story is not unique. This is the story of millions of Vietnamese people.
This is one of the countless reasons why I cannot for the life of me fathom those who are so against asylum seekers and refugees. When you insinuate that people desperately wanting a second chance at freedom are lesser than you, you’re insulting me directly, because that’s exactly what my family did, and they’re the hardest workers and most passionate people I know. It’s a hard thing to go through and the least you can do is open your heart.
My father has actively and tirelessly fought for the rights of refugees since he immigrated to Australia. Every year, to mark the fall of Saigon, thousands of Vietnamese people gather at the embassy in Canberra to voice our discontent with the current state of the government.
There is no democracy in Vietnam.
There are restrictions on how you can practise your chosen religion in Vietnam.
Freedom of speech is a dream - bloggers have been imprisoned without a fair trial in Vietnam, simply for speaking out against the government.
The press is closely regulated in Vietnam - currently, legal scholar Cù Huy Hà Vũ is serving seven years in prison for “spreading anti-state propaganda”, or giving interviews to foreign media.
Sex trafficking of women and children in Vietnam is a major problem.
I desperately want to taste and smell the air of the country where everything I am began. I want to walk down the streets my parents travelled when they were children, see the places where they played, sit in the music hall where my father first fell in love with my mother. But my parents have vowed to never step foot in Vietnam again until things change and life becomes fair for the people left there. We could visit as tourists, get dresses made for cheap, eat and drink to our heart’s content - but it would be all wrong. I’ve never been to the country where my roots lie. My heart breaks daily.
I want to educate people about the current state of Vietnam and make them see that it’s not just a rosy holiday destination. There are countless problems with the government and it won’t be right until all of that is fixed and the people left behind in Vietnam can enjoy true freedom.
So if there are two things you can do - tiny things that would make a world of difference to me and others whose families have gone through the same plights as mine:
Please don’t refer to Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City. That man committed countless atrocities and left the country in the state that it’s in today. To use his name when talking about the place that my parents (and others) once knew and loved is an insult.
Please don’t use the Communist flag. The true Vietnamese flag is yellow with three horizontal red stripes. The red flag with the yellow star is representative of the current regime, which has hurt so many people. Like the use of the name Ho Chi Minh City, displaying the current Vietnamese flag is offensive and insulting to those who went through so much at the hands of the Communist government.
My heart hurts every day for my country, and my greatest wish is for things there to change. It would mean the world to me if people made the small effort to read about what’s going on in Vietnam, to alter their language to be sensitive to those who suffered and are suffering. Please open your eyes and hearts. Please stand with us.
Every night that I work at the hospital, AT LEAST one patient asks me “Where are you from?”
And all I really want to say is “Thanks for asking. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. But I know the answer you’re really looking for. I am not white. Thanks for pointing it out like I haven’t looked in a mirror before. My dad’s family escaped Vietnam a little before the fall of Saigon and came to northern Kentucky with the help of some generous Catholics. My mom escaped on a boat with her older brother in the middle of the night after their sister had gone on the same journey before and they had not heard from her since. My parents met at the University of Cincinnati, and they stayed near that wonderful city together. And that’s why I tell people that I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. That’s the real answer. But the answer you’re looking for is Vietnam, isn’t it?”
But I don’t say that. I bite my tongue and smile and say “Cincinnati. Where are you from?” Because that is not the time and place to tell such a story. But today is. Today is April 30, 2015. 40 years ago, the city of Saigon fell.
I don’t know enough about April 30th, 1975 to explain in full detail what happened that day, but I know that day is when The Vietnam War ended. It is also known as “The Fall of Saigon.” I won’t go in depth of what happened, but I believe this day is an important day to remember those that passed because of the War. That day marked an end and a beginning for all Vietnamese people. I’ve actually never heard of Black April until I became involved with VSA, and hearing others’ stories is very touching. Because of that day, many Vietnamese were able to fled the country in search of a better life. They left behind family and went to a land where everything was different. They couldn’t even speak the language, they were afraid, but they left anyway.
As for personal stories, I also don’t hear too much about it. My dad was born during the war to a Vietnamese woman and an American soldier. I heard him tell me that he sometimes walked over dead bodies, and would hide when he heard gunshots. My grandfather on my mother’s side was captured by the North Vietnamese and was held prisoner for 13 years. But when that day came, my father didn’t have to worry anymore, and my grandfather was freed to go back home to his family. My parents are not “boat people” they were lucky enough to come by plane. I admire them for being brave to come to this country in which I can call home. I am blessed. Because of April 30th, 1975, many of my Vietnamese American friends are here today. We share similar stories, and we understand. Even so, we try to dig deeper into our history to find out more about our families and to learn about ourselves. This is not a political stance. It is a sharing of our stories, a day in which we remember what was lost, and what opportunities it gave to us. This is why we commemorate April 30th. We must remember.
“April 29, 1975. The Fall of Saigon: After an introduction by the White House press secretary, Secretary of State Kissinger announced the end of the Vietnam War and described the loss and evacuation of Saigon.” (C-SPAN)
Very, very late post, but I still wanted to document this.
This past Wednesday was April 30, a day where Vietnamese Americans mourn the fall of Saigon and those who fought and died trying to preserve the democracy of South Vietnam. Over tens of thousands of people left their home country on that day in 1975. I remember asking my dad about his journey from Vietnam when I was in 9th grade, but I don’t think I fully understood the significance behind it. So now, 5 years later, I asked him to retell me his story.
Since my dad was part of the South Vietnamese Army, he said they were one of the first groups to leave by boat on April 30. 7 days later, they arrived in a U.S. government base in Guam, where my dad and his group stayed for about a week. They arrived by plane to Fort Chaffee in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, which was one of the four refugee centers in the United States where they potentially could have been. My dad and his group stayed at Fort Chaffee for about 3 months.
A retired Army General named Clyde J. Watts and his son, Charles, were lawyers in Oklahoma who were determined to help these Vietnamese refugees begin a new life in America. The Watts planned on sponsoring 25 Vietnamese men from the Vietnamese airborne division of the Army, which is the division my dad served under. They partnered with a furniture businessman named Jim Bruno, who General Watts sent to Fort Chaffee to bring these men to Oklahoma. These generous and dedicated sponsors ended up transporting 180 Vietnamese men from Fort Chaffee to Oklahoma City by way of bus in a matter of a day.
After my dad was bussed to Oklahoma City in August of 1975, his new life began. He lived in a small apartment with a dozen other Vietnamese men. Each of them received $300 from sponsors to help them get their new life started. Out of his group, he was the only one who knew how to drive, so they pooled in some of their money to buy a used car so my dad could drive himself and his friends to work. The first job my dad had in America was at a car dealership. He quit after 2 days because the manager wouldn’t let him fix any of the cars–they just let him start the ignition. With his vast knowledge of cars, he wanted to apply what he knew and do hands-on jobs. He wanted to be a mechanic, but he didn’t have the necessary equipment. To make ends meet, my dad worked at an old (and now shut down) Holiday Inn. He worked in housekeeping and would change out the bed sheets, towels etc. He worked there for a couple of months, then he found a new job at Seiberling Latex Product Company. After two years of working there, he found a job at Western Electric. My dad worked there for a total of 24 years.
My mom came over to America in 1979 with her parents and 5 siblings. They first arrived in North Dakota, and they couldn’t quite get used to the cold weather. Her childhood friend, Ngoc, was living in Oklahoma after fleeing Vietnam, and contacted my mom to reconnect with her after all these years. My mom and her family ended up moving to Oklahoma and kept close to Ngoc. They both wanted to go to temple together, but since neither of them could drive, Ngoc’s friend kindly offered to drive them every Sunday. That friend was none other than my dad, the only one who knew how to drive within his division. After a few years of getting to know each other, my dad asked my grandma for permission to marry my mom, and my grandma just told him, “it’s her decision.” My mom said yes, and in 1982 on Christmas Day, my parents had an outdoor wedding and got married during snowfall. She also worked at Western Electric for about 20 years with my father.
If you’re a Vietnamese American, you can’t really understand who you are or where you’re from until you know the story of how your parents (or grandparents) came to America after the war. It puts everything into perspective and it gives everything you do in life more meaning. I’ll forever be thankful for those generous sponsors who believed that these Vietnamese refugees deserved a second chance at life. I knew my parents were hard workers, but this just proves how hard they worked for the life that they have now. April 30th is a day where Vietnamese Americans mourn the fall of Saigon, but it’s also a day where they celebrate the beginning of their new lives in America.