Sunday, December 16, 2012

Nguyen Thi Kim-Anh Remembers the Fall of Saigon

Nguyen Thi Kim-Anh.

Q. Tell me about the process of getting a scholarship at the State University of New York in Buffalo. You had a friend who had come back from there -- in Saigon. So how did that work? It was your dad's friend?


Q. What year was this?

In '66. That summer he went back to Buffalo to visit friends and visit the school where he studied, and he talked to the people there -- I don't know who they were, but then he came back and got the three scholarships for students, and so he selected himself. So he talked to my dad and I was one.

Q. You had no fears about going, you wanted to go?

Yeah, I wanted to go. At that time I felt very confident even though my English was not that good. I had dreamed that one day I would be studying in some foreign country, if not exactly America.

Q. What did you want to be? Did you want to be a teacher?

Before that, right when I graduated from my junior high school, when I passed the exam, because I was so good in history at first, when I was in ninth grade, the teacher liked me the best in the class. So I talked to him and he tried to get me into teaching.

Ever since, until I left high school I was always good in history. I remember all the facts.

Q. Were you a good story teller?


Q. So coming to Buffalo what did you want to be?

I didn't take history at that time. I was afraid I wouldn't make it that it was too hard, so I just took liberal arts.

Q. What did you think? You flew?

Oh, boy. I flew to Hawaii and stayed there one night. We stopped in San Francisco, I guess for only two hours, but I was so scared. I couldn't go anywhere. I just stood right in front of the door and waited for people to call me, because we had to transfer to another airplane.

Then when I got to New York it was so cold. It was December of '67.

Q. There were three of your?

Yeah. None of us spoke English at that time. I was the best and I couldn't understand what the flight said or anything on the airplane. Not a word.

Q. When you got off the plane how did you know what to do or where to go?

His friends came to meet us at the airport. An American. THe classmate of my friend in Vietnam. The whole family came and met us at the airport and took us.

Q. How did you communicate?

Just a few words. "How are you? What is your name?" They recognized us.

They took us to their home first and we stayed with them for a week and then they took us to the dorms.

Q. Did you have any misgivings? Did you want to go home right away?

No, we slept for three days without knowing anything because of the time change. We slept three days. We woke up and had a meal and then went back to sleep.

Q. Did you get introduced to American food for the first time?
On the plane you must have.

Yeah, we didn't eat. We ate most of the fruit and soft drinks, but not the other things.

Q. In January you started language classes and then at the end of January came Tet, in '68. Did you find the Americans on campus were uniformed. Did you communicate well enough to find out what the Americans were thinking.

No, it was only two or three months. So we actually make too many friends at that time. Only two of us in one college and the other friend was in another college, so we didn't stay together.

Q. The local paper interviewed you?

Yes, both of us.

Q. During Tet?

No, before Tet.

Q. What did you think then? You found out about Tet just by watching the tv?

Yeah. And seeing people in the place that we know in Saigon. And I didn't get any mail from my parents for three or four months. I thought they all were gone.

Q. Did you think the country would collapse then?

Yeah. We were afraid that we wouldn't ever be able to go back.

Q. Then when it was over you finally heard from your dad. What did he say? Did he talk about it?

Yeah, a little bit. That the communists attacked Saigon. He didn't say too much, but we watched on tv.

Q. You didn't feel lonely, want to quit and go home?

Well, we cried a lot. We didn't go to school for one or two days after. I hid myself and locked the door for a whole day. We didn't eat. Two of us were in one room and we cried and cried. Finally some friends knocked on the door and screamed at us because they were afraid that something may happen to us, inside. But actually we didn't want to do anything but just stay in.

Q. Any other events from home? Now you went home -- you graduated in 1971 and went home? There was never any doubt that you would go home? You never thought of getting your degree and staying and working?

No, because at that time my parents wanted me to go home.

Q. What did you find? Had the country changed much in the three years you were gone?

Yeah, a lot of new buildings.

Q. So it was prosperous. And the Americans in 1973 went to the Paris Peace agreements. You got a job teaching in Vietnam, in high school?

I taught mostly in private schools, two or three, until the day I left.

Q. You taught in different schools at different times?

Well, for example, in Vietnam, especially for private school, you could go from one school to another in one day, two hours or three hours and then go to the next one.

Q. These were run by the French or whom?

By the French, by the Church --

Q. What did you teach?

English and French.

Q. To what grades?

Secondary, ninth to twelfth.

Q. What did you think when you heard of the Paris Agreements?
You weren't afraid?


Q. Then when the Americans started pulling out, did you notice the lack of Americans?

Right. But gradually until maybe 1974 we realized we could not win the war with the lack of support and the lack of money and soldiers became discouraged and disbelieving. I heard people talking about it.

Q. What was happening. What were people saying? The international agreement? Vietnam had been sold out?


Q. By a deal between the Americans and the Russians and the Chinese?


Q. Do you believe it? Having been in the United States, did you agree or disagree?

Well, probably because I wasn't too interested in politics, but in some way, I could believe because I am influenced by other people, so when they talk and say that the powerful nations always have some kind of agreement to sell out small ones.

Q. Did people start talking about leaving? When did you first hear anybody talk about leaving for good or temporarily?


Q. So January of '75 comes and -- when did you hear the rumor about the burning car?

I don't remember.

Q. Was it at night? I was trying to figure out in my own mind what people may have been seeing? Was it a star formation or comet at night, or did they see it during the day?

A. (unclear response)

Q. But it was a burning car.

Oh, you mean about the thing I told you yesterday --

Q. Right.

Yeah. There is another incident too. People burned American cars on the street. I don't know what month. A group of college students became very -- I don't know, it could be by the communists groups, to create the scenes.

Q. After that people saw the car burning?

I guess it was about February.

Q. What was it, just a vision in the sky?

Yeah. When people talk a lot about different prophecies and I guess some of them just create them themselves. But actually I don't know if they did see it or not.

And also the dragon??

It's almost the same. They're saying that the dragon was drowned in the very stormy day in the sea. The dragon flew to Vung Tau and fell into the sea and died. So at that time I guess there were a lot of people who started thinking that the country was going to fall.

Q. Did you get a daily newspaper to follow what was happening?


Q. When Ban Me Thuot fell, was that a big deal for you as a private citizen, to have Ban Me Thuot captured? Did you find yourself getting afraid?

Yes. Did you think of leaving? Yes, but my school at that time was full of refugees already. They came from the Central Highlands, and from Da Lat. They came and used my school. Our school was a refugee center. I was the principal at that time. So at that time I knew one of the Americans--I couldn't remember his name. I couldn't locate him any where. I tried to hang on to him asking him to support the refugees. So every single day, I guess around February or so, until April 28th, I still had around a thousand people. The school no longer met in session.

Q. When did you cease having school?

At first we didn't have that many, only about a hundred or so, so we used the spares and one of the two teacher's lounges. But at the end of February we got too many and they slept on the ground. But the school was still in session until mid-March. Then I tried to locate that American, he was a Black. He was with the embassy. He gave me names of where to get supplies and we used a GMC to go to Long Binh to get food.

Q. So you were still working, but almost as a refugee administrator at the time. Was the school still paying you at that time?

Yeah. Because the owner of the school, they allowed us to receive refugees. We had them until the last day.

Q. Then there is a withdrawal from the Central Highlands. Did you follow that? Did you find yourself getting more and more anxious or waiting for them to be stopped at some point and it didn't happen? Did you think they would be stopped at Pham Rang, Da Nang, or Cam Ranh?

Well when we saw the people from Da Nang and Nha Trang, they taped the people walking from Da Nang on that road, it was really awful. I couldn't forget that. The people dying. At that time I thought we would never survive.

Q. You had no faith in the government?

It's too weak at that time, for me. And then, for example at night when I watched tv, I thought of that. Daytime I kept working with the refugees and forgot about the war.

Q. Xuan Loc falls on April 21st and President Thieu resigns. What did you think of that? Did you watch that on television?


Q. Was it a good sign?

No. At that time my dad had already left. Because he didn't work for the government or anything, but he felt that there was no way that we could survive, so the beginning of April he already bought the new boat himself, six million piasters at that time, a brand new one. So all my relatives from Da Lat and Da Nang came to my house in Saigon and my dad carried all of them, about sixty, to Vung Tau, loaded them on that boat. Then at night they would go to sleep in the boat and daytime came back to work as usual.

Q. What was his job?

He had a sawmill. But he thought because he didn't have any connections with the government and he didn't know anybody else, so he thought he better prepare himself that way. So myself and my brother, who was a pilot, and a sister and her boyfriend who was a student in France and just came back to Saigon in 1974, so the three of us, my dad said, had more chance to go by airplane, so we stayed in Saigon.

Q. So he assumed you would be leaving.

Right. He came back on the 22nd and talked to us to leave with him. My sister -- her school was still in session. She attended a dental school and she wanted to take the final exam. She didn't want to leave at that time. And I told my dad that I was very sure that I could get into an airplane because I knew the American guy and he asked me to go along with him on the 20th, but I didn't go. He said he'd ask somebody to come and pick me up, but then we couldn't make it at the end.

So my dad came back on the 22nd and we had lunch with him. And then he asked us to exchange some dollars because he still had some money left. So we get about two thousand dollars and I put it in an envelope so he could take it with him, and he forgot it. He left without any money. But we were fortunate at that time that we still had some money left.

Q. What was his destination?

On the 17th, my dad and some other friends came along with him in a small boat. They said to the sea and saw the American fleet, so he was very sure that he was going to get there, so that's why every single night since the 17th he was planning to go.

Q. So when did he go out?

On the 27th.

Q. But he never came back after the 22nd?


Q. He got picked up by the 7th fleet? What happened to his boat?

The boat came back and then on the first of May we came to Vung Tau and looked for him and people in that area told us that he was there for almost a month and they knew the boat, and when they saw the boat came back, they though --
The boat came back empty.

Q. All sixty people got off.

We are catholic so we asked the priest to say mass for the whole family. When my grandparents came to look for my parents they heard the story. They felt so sad. Three of us were born in the North and we were left behind.

We were born in the North and moved to the South only three of us, and now we were left behind. Then when my parents left in '75 there were three of us left.

Q. After the resignation of Thieu, did you know when Thieu left the Country?

Yes, they knew.

Q. What did you think of that? I get two reactions. Some people say, "Well their lives were in danger." Other people say they should have stayed until the end. Others say it would have served no purpose. At the time were you sympathetic?

Well, --

Q. Of course you knew some people were getting out. Did you think it was right for the Chief of Staff to get out?

I don't know. But I thought that the President and all the generals should stay until the end, because they promised to fight to the end. Most of them left.

Q. Were you frightened for your life?


Q. In your own mind what did you envision happening?

Because we heard the story from Cambodia saying that the communists were going to shoot -- for example they lined up five thousand officers and shot them, so I was afraid that would happen in our country, that it would be the same, even though a lot of people, especially the people in the south were trying to ignore it.

Q. You were planning to get out at this time, were you not?

Yeah, I was.

Q. Why didn't you? What happens? On the 27th Hung resigned and Ming became president and that you knew was the end.

Because there was a three day curfew. We got so scared because my parents were already gone. My brother and his family were at the airbase. And only two of us, my sister and I locked the door and sat inside and watched tv because we got so scared. We didn't know what happened. The curfew was for people to leave the country and I didn't know that. That's what they told me after.

The curfew was throughout the day, twenty-four hours. They did not say you had to stay in the house, but they said the curfew was twenty-four hours. So a lot of people still -- were leaving.

Q. How did you expect to leave?

We didn't know. But my aunt and uncle came and knocked at the door and asked the two of us if we would like to leave with him on another one of those commercial ships. But we were so scared and we told him there was a curfew and you weren't supposed to go out. But a lot of people did.

Q. What was the story about the hospital --

On the 29th.

Q. Did you see the Americans' evacuating on the 29th?

Yes. My house is near the Tan Son Nhut air base. But we knew for sure we couldn't get in it would be too crowded at that time. My sister and I rode on the Honda to look for my other uncle who was the manager of the Cong Hoa Hospital.

Q. Did you see the American helicopters going over head at that time?

Yes. We knew what they were doing.

Q. What did you see on the street?

Oh, nothing at that time on the street. That was the 30th.

Q. Tell me again about going to the hospital. Is your uncle still in country?

I don't know. I haven't heard anything. I wonder if he has been relieved. Because they still kept him until July, I guess the end of June, beginning of July, to take care of the hospital because there was nobody around to show them what to do.

I went about one or two in the afternoon of the 30th.

Q. Did you see cars abandoned in the street?

Uh huh, and I saw even uniforms of soldiers lying on the street and Vietnamese army without uniforms and all wet and some of them were on the GMC with the white flag. They looked so sad, frightened?

Q. They had come across the Saigon River?

From the other side, Cu Chi. Cu Chi is a village.

Q. How many soldiers did you see, lots?

Not too many.

Q None were carrying guns?

No. Just white flags.

Q. Where were they heading for?

Toward Saigon, the center of the city.

Q. How far was your home from the hospital?

I don't know. About five kilometers.

Q. What did you see when you got there?

When I got to the hospital I looked for my uncle and he wasn't there. There was only one sergeant and he asked me about my uncle. In the hospital the patients, all of them, were soldiers, some of them paralyzed in one leg or two legs, or without legs, and some of them were just rolling themselves on the floor trying to get out and there was nobody to help them. They just wanted to get out of the hospital, because I think people would come in to rob and take things from the hospital. At that time it was like a mob. There was no discipline. And nobody to take care of the hospital. So outside people come in and take things out.

Q. Were there people in the street and yard outside?


Q. Paraplegics? Amputees? How many?

A lot. I don't know how many.

Q. What did you think when you saw them. Some were crawling, you said?

They were trying to roll themselves, screaming and shouting. It was awful. This was outside.

Q. How far away from the hospital had some gotten to?

Not even a block. When I got there some of them were already out on the street with their uniforms. And then next to the hospital is the jail for criminals.

Q. What was happening there?

Criminals -- we recognized them right away because their hair was shaved and wore a uniform also. They jumped out. Across from the jail was the depot where food and ammunition was stored. They just came to that place to take things out. And then they all got sugar and rice and all kinds of supplies. The people took as much as they could.

Q. So paraplegics in the street and the criminals running across the street stealing. It must have seemed like hell.

You couldn't even move. We had just a Honda and we couldn't get through the crowd. People were just running back and forth and stealing from each other also. Some of them even brought their own car, or the three-wheeled cart. Whatever they could they carried with them.

Q. You started looking for your uncle. Did you start to cry when you saw that?

Well, we didn't cry, but we felt so strange. We couldn't cry. When we tried to get through the crowd to my uncle's house, we found him in a barber shop getting a haircut and shave.

Q. How did you find out he was there?

The sergeant who guarded the office told me that he went home. So I came to his home and he wasn't there. So his wife told me that he was at the barbershop. So he said he was going to dress up as a Vietnamese officer.

Q. How did he feel? Did he have his dignity still?

I asked him and he said he had to prepare himself to look good. So that the other side could look at him with dignity. The reason we looked for him was because my parents had already left and we didn't know where to turn to, so we looked for him to see if he could do anything for us.

Q. He couldn't?

He couldn't.

Q. So what did you do, just turn around and come back home?

No. We didn't get home until late, because when we got back to Saigon --

Q. Where was the house, not in Saigon.

Not right in Saigon, in Go Nva????

Q. Did you have to go on a highway?

No. Just outside Saigon.

Q. So you started to come back in in the evening. The city had already fallen. Was it dark?

We got there about five. People all over the city. Nobody moved.

On the way back after we got out we saw the communists in the black uniforms. They were drinking and laughing and shooting up in the air.

Q. Where they on a vehicle?

No. They came in on a truck.

(((Unintelligible at last part of side A. Too much "white noise" and not enough volume. Last 107 counts on the counter approximately)))


. . . Q What did you find when you went out in the street?

A. Two gentlemen and I guess when they looked at us and we looked so innocent, they asked where we wanted to go and we said we wanted to go to Vung Tau to look for my parents.

Q. They were in a car or a truck?

In a car. So we went with them, not afraid of anything, we just got into the car.

Q. They were civilians?

Yes. Then we left for Vung Tau. We got there late, I guess about six or seven and it's really funny. My sister and I, both of us wore black pajamas. After we got out of the car we met another two guys wearing the same black with the conical hat. We were just trying to look like peasants and the people in that area. The moment we got off we met one of the Vu . ... ? You may know him. He studied here for seven years and a lot of people know him with his brother Vu Co T...? The two brothers who were teaching in economic or law school. T-h-u-c. The other one was my uncle's friend. They didn't know us before. They looked at us and asked us if we wanted to have any kind of treats. They took my sister and I to a very small shop and we had some coffee and he asked us if we would like to leave the country. And we said, "yes".

We had to pay a hundred fifty thousand piasters for one person. And I told him that we didn't have enough money that we didn't intend to go we just wanted to go to Vung Tau to look for my parents. But they were already gone. He said why didn't one of us go back to Saigon to get some more money so that the next day we could leave with him. So we went back to Saigon and got the money and came down again and they organized a small boat to get out, but we didn't make it too far, around a kilometer, and then they caught us.

Q. Patrol boats?

Yes. They didn't do anything. We didn't go to prison. They towed us back and they asked us to stay in the area next to the school and they locked us in there for one night. We were just laughing, because we lied to them saying that we went back to our own village because we ran away during the war and now we wanted to start our new life again and so on. At that time it was only the first day and they didn't have any kind of policy to treat the people, so they just locked us in for one night. So we talked all night without being afraid. The next day they gave us some corn and let us go. They were soldiers.

Q. North Vietnamese soldiers?

Yes. Actually the South -- the Liberation Front Army. After that I didn't know where the other two guys were. Then when I talked to one of my friends at my office they said Vu Thuc was in Canada. He was a law professor. And also he held some kind of position in the government too.

Q. How did you get back to Saigon then?

The bus back to Saigon next day. Lost our money. But that was my first trip. We did a lot more than that. The last time that I escaped was the sixth when I disguised as a Chinese.

Q. That was in 1979?

Yeah, July.

Q. When you went back to Saigon what was it like?

People were still running around. There were a lot of people on the street. They were just walking around looking at other people. Just normal people. From that day on we started to see a lot more North Vietnamese soldiers on the street.

Q. But none of them bothered you, no problems?


Q. Why were you planning to leave then? Was there a time when you said "Well, maybe I'll wait and see what happens"?

No. From the very beginning I just tried to get out and number one tried to find my parents. If my parents had not left and then I don't know.

Q. But you went back to teaching?

Yes. The school reopened -- They asked all the teachers to go to one school to study the new policy and the new kind of discipline and the new curriculum. We have to study for twenty days, but during the day and go home at night. Then they gave us our certificate saying that we accomplished this and completed the course.

Q. Did you have tests too?

We had to write a paper every day and trying to say "We like Ho Chi Minh" and every kind of lie too.

Q. Was it naive for them to do this? Somebody must have believed somewhere that this is how you do it.

I don't know if the lecturer believed what they were saying, but that was their job.

Q. Was it a northerner giving the lecture?

Some of the south even. A lot of people from the south also were communists.

Q. What were the lectures like?

Well, they talked about communism and about how they won the war and complained that the American government destroyed the country. And we just copied and made it into very nice paper to turn back in.

Q. Rote learning then? They tell you something and you tell it back?


Q. Did anybody refused to tell it back?

Oh, you'd be in trouble. You had to, even though they didn't know you inside, whatever. But on the paper you had to write.

Q. Now is this one of those sessions where they ask you what you are thinking? Did they ask you to volunteer your own thoughts?

Yeah. And you'd repeat what they said. And I was graded excellent in every course.

Q. Did they have titles for the courses? "Vietnamese History?"

No, they just called it training.

Q. How big was this session? There must have been a lot of teachers in Saigon.

The first one we attended we had around five or six hundred teachers in one area. Among us, we know who we are, with friends we talk and they don't want to sit and talk together in one group. So whenever they saw a group they would send another person to sit between. They tried to control your discussion.

Q. You were "excellent". What was the degree? Just a pass, "approved", or what?

You had to write a term paper on certain topics and then you had to read it to a group and your group would grade you. Every group there was one party member that sits in, and then they grade you. At the end they would choose the best.

Q. Were the party members intelligent?

Well, I guess they just lecture what they know. A lot of things they don't know. Then we aren't allowed to question them.

Q. So when you got your certificate and got out, were the schools already back in session then?

No, that was during summer. We got back in July. In '75 they kept the same administrators the last semester because they didn't have enough people to replace them. For every school they sent in party members to be the group leader. They divided the school into a social studies and language group and a social science in one group. The two leaders would be the party members. If in some school they don't have it, they elect one person who they thought would be a good party supervisor. I was one of them -- a leader of the foreign language group. They didn't have anybody else.

Q. You reported to the Party then?

Yes. In my group we had nine members so three of us were teaching French and English and the others had literature and social studies, but we knew each other for two or three years already. Once a week we had the meeting and we had the other group leader would come and visit and share the discussion. But once he left, we talked about leaving and how to get out.

Q. So it wasn't that regimented. They didn't have that tight a control did they?

They didn't have enough people. Now they do, but at that time it was too new.

Q. So when they were gone you talked about getting out of the country.

Yeah. This is very funny. We even convinced one of the party members who was very young -- when I left the country she wrote to me here. She came to my home and asked my sister for my address and she wrote to me. And she kept coming back to visit my sister. She said that because her father was a party member for years and she got into that. But she liked us and she said -- well she was treated very well in the North because of her father, but when she came to the south and worked with us, she liked us a lot. She knew that my family left Saigon in '75 and she knew we were ready to go and she protected us. She even lied for us. Because one day when I left and we didn't make it, I told her that I was going to visit my parents, so if anybody asked her, because she knew -- a lot of people thought I was going to be a member, I tried to be friends with her so she could cover me when something happened. (Hong Hong is her name.)

In November 1975 I left again and I left her a note saying I was going to visit my parents. If after ten days of teaching leave, if I didn't come back and you report it for me, say something may have happened. And she did. But then after three or four days I couldn't make it, so I came back and she just smiled at me. She kept covering up for me.

Q. This time when you say you couldn't make it, you couldn't find a boat?

No, every single time I lost money. I went to a friend's in Nha Trang and then they said that at five o'clock we were going to leave Nha Trang to go to this special area. So we all gather at the station area to wait for the Lambretta to pick us up. So we waited, five, five-thirty, six, six-thirty, seven, seven-thirty -- and nobody came to pick us up.

Q. They took your money and left you there?


Q. What did that do to your spirit? Did you ever become cynical and think you were never going to get out?

No. When I was in school still teaching, but once I get out, I and my sister try to find a way to get out. We work on that a lot.

Q. Tell me about when your aunt showed up with food for you.

No, that was my grandmother. That happened in the end of May 1975. Both of them came, my grandparents. They seemed very strong.

Q. How did they come?

Some car or whatever. I didn't recognize them.

Q. You hadn't seen them since 1954?

I was too young at that time. So at first they came to my aunt and then my aunt took her to visit us. She heard that my parents were already gone. She brought us fried rice and some eggs and things.

Q. Why? Because she thought you were so poor?

Yes. Even though she saw a lot of things in the area when she got to Saigon she still kept these with here and showed us that she brought from the North. I asked her, we have so many things here. She thought we didn't have it.

Q. She didn't know anything about the south. Was she surprised or embarrassed or anything?

Not only my grandparents, but also my uncle came. He said they were told that the South was so poor that the North had to fight against the Americans to save the South. That's why the Northern people, they have very strong faith in trying to save their brothers and sisters in the South.

Q. When did people tell you your parent's boat had come back?

On the first of May. The people who live in that area told us. Ever since my dad was there we'd been back and forth. They said, "Your parents already left, and the boat came back."

Q. How many times did you get seized by the Coast Guard?

One. The fifth time. I was in prison for a week. They didn't do anything. That was 1977.

Q. How were things changing? Was the city getting better or degenerating?

I guess because of the changing of the money two times and a lot of people committed suicide because they couldn't get enough money to support themselves. Some of the millionaires, for example, especially some of the Chinese. If they had gold they can hide it somewhere, but the money, if you don't exchange them then you won't get any because they changed the money. They did it a few months after.

Q. How did they do that, limit how much you can get?

Yes. For example, each family would get two hundred dollars. If you were single you got a hundred fifty only. So that's all you have.

Q. What happens to the rest of your money?

That's different. You didn't trade your money, they just gave you new money.

Q. Was there a black market in the old money?

Yes. And after that we got some money on the black market also, because we knew one of the Koreans who couldn't get out right away in 1975. I just met him on the bus. I told him that my parents were already gone and there were two of us here. At that time he helped us a lot. We made a fake marriage certificate with my sister so he could take her along. But it was too late. But after he got out he sent back papers through the Red Cross, but we couldn't make it because we didn't know where to go. But then he wrote to my dad in the camp and looked for us. I asked my dad and he said he did get the letter from some Korean people in Iran.

At that time he helped us trade some money because the foreigner had more chance. They could exchange all the money they had. Five hundred dollars for one dollar or five thousand -- I forget. But anyway -- we still had some money left so he said to give him all the money and he exchanged all the money.

Q. The fifth time when you got sent to prison for a week, was that down in the Delta?

No, in --

Q. You weren't apprehended the other times, they just fell through?


Q. It wasn't tough being in prison. They let you out and you got home and got your job back?

I told them -- I asked one of my friends from Da Lat to send me a telegram whenever the boat ready. So she sent me a telegram saying that my grandpa passed away, please go back as soon as possible. My grandparents had passed away a long time ago. So I took the telegram and showed them saying I needed to leave. So about five or ten days I was absent for the funeral. If we couldn't make it we'd go back.

Q. The sixth time you made it. That was out of where?

??? in 1979.

Q. Why was it easier to get out, because you were disguised as Chinese? And got of of Can Tho?

No. Down south. Rach Gia.

Q. No problems then? Everybody disguised as Chinese?

They let the Chinese out very easily, number one, for money. And Number Two, to avoid problems.

Q. How did you look Chinese, just dress in Chinese clothes?

Yes and then I had to learn some Chinese.

Q. Your sister too?


Q. Where did the boat go?

Malaysia. Three days -- four days and three nights.

Q. Scary?

Yeah, very. We were stopped and robbed six times. We lost every single thing.

Q. Why didn't they kill you?

Well, I don't know. In our boat they only beat up the pilot badly. He was in the hospital even when I left. That's part of his fault. When they asked him about the gold instead of saying, "I don't have it" -- because they can't speak our language and we can't speak their language. Instead of saying there was no gold, he said that he used the gold to buy the oil and gas. So they took all the gas and oil and drained it to look for gold in the containers.

Q. They poured it out?

Yes. And they couldn't find any so they beat him up. They took everything off and put him face down and jumped on his back.
The last time we got stopped wasn't that bad, because when they came to our boat everything was gone. There was not even a piece of cloth. They took everything. They left some fish sauce and some rice. But the last one when they saw they couldn't get anything from us, they gave us some fish and milk for the children and even towed our boat to Malaysia.

Q. If the first ones took the gas and oil, how did the boat move then?

Just floating. We got so scared because at night there was no light. They even threw the compass in the sea. So at night when we look out it was very dangerous.

Q. Did you think you were going to die?

Yes. One day when we saw some ships passing by and we raised the flag and waved and nobody stopped, the next morning morning we met a second one and they did the same thing--they were so young, I guess sixteen or seventeen. They shaved their heads and whiten their hands? also. Each of them had a very long knife and just go like this to each one on the boat asking for money.

Q. They touched your head with the knife?

Yes. They knew only a few words. Money, dollars, gold, watch--that's it. We were so scared. You never know.

They kept coming back and coming back, and finally when they took everything from us and the last one saved us.

Q. What did you think when you saw Malaysia?

When we got to Malaysia and we saw a small boat with Vietnamese people fishing wearing colorful dress, because they got it from the Red Cross. Some of them stayed there for two or three years so their color also changed--their skin got so dark. They went out fishing and when we saw them, two boats fishing, we thought they were Malaysian and would do the same as the Thais. We told the pilot to try to get away. The Vietnamese kept coming after us saying "Over here. Over here." And finally we recognized the Vietnamese sound and we stopped and they said they were Vietnamese.

They told us to go straight to the area. Before we get there we have to try some way to sink our boat. If not then the Malaysians would make us leave. So we did that. And we jumped. They used the hammer and broke the bottom of the boat. And we ran into the camp.

The German group came and asked us to identify ourselves. And they asked us to climb into the boat again and jump out so they can film it.

Q. What did you think when you were doing that?

We laughed.

Q. Did you take a last look at Vietnam when you were leaving?

No. It was dark.

Q. You were happy to be leaving?

Well, I don't know. The first moment when we saw the ship after we got out there--we thought that was some foreign ship coming to rescue and we were all jumping and shouting because we thought we were there. But we used our binoculars and saw the flag and we knew what was going to happen. Some of the people already knew the story about the pirates so they asked us to change our clothes and darken our face and body with charcoal to make it look ugly -- all the women.

Q. You did that.

Yes. We changed to men's clothes. And we darkened our body. We had time because we saw the boat from far away.

Q. You had no trouble getting to America?


Q. Do you dream about Vietnam?

A lot. Some are good. Some are not good.

Q. Do you think you'll ever go back? Do you think the situation will ever change?

You remember Bishop Nguyen Van Cu? He told my aunt--because my cousin was a prisoner. He passed away last August. We had a very big big funeral. And he told my aunt last Sunday that we are going to go back in 1988. I don't know where he got that.

Q. Would you go back if the situation changed?


Q. You're not in love with America? You make a better Americans than most of the Americans. Hard worker trying to get ahead.

We relax more and enjoy more. We have so many things to worry about, house, and job, and car and money.

Q. What happened in Vietnam? What are you going to teach kids? Why did the country die? How can you teach kids that their country was sold out without making them hate?

I haven't thought about that.

Q. How much responsibility was with the Vietnamese themselves? Obviously you weren't in any way responsible and nobody you knew, is it fate, forces of history beyond control? At what point was Vietnam lost? Where did the road start down?

'63? They make up a lot of stories about Diem's death. I couldn't believe it even when I got over here in 1968 and people were still writing stories about him saying he was alive somewhere. The Vietnamese people would create that story and say the he was still alive somewhere. In 1972 or so, there were a lot of people, especially the Catholic people, were trying -- because on November 1st of '70 or '72, they made a really big ceremony to remember the death Diem and Nhu and you can believe they took a whole day to clear up their demonstrations. Saying the death of both of them were by Americans. And even by Kennedy.

Q. Did you admire many people there? Did you ever admire President Thieu? Were there any admirable figures.

(Appears to be no verbal response)

Q. Did you ever know about General Le Van Hung?

Yes. I admire one of the generals, who died. He tried to stay in ---

(End of Tape.)

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