Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nguyen Ngoc Bich: The South China Sea was on Fire

Nguyen Ngoc Bich. Scholar.

I was the acting chancellor of the Mekong University. It was right in Saigon. It was only the third year, may be 600 students. Because we were new.
My wife was the dean of studies there.
We were relying on the information that we had about American support of Vietnam. Everybody believed that the American presence would be a permanent one, we just relied on them.
It was unthinkable to many of us that the Americans would some day leave.
My story has a little bit to add, because I was among the very last delegations to visit the United States. We there were only two of us, one was Gregory Hung, and myself. We came here because we knew that the situation was desperate. It was the 19th of April that we came here, at the very end, the last delegation. Our information was that we knew that the Am congress was in a bad mood. They were not going to go on giving us aid. But we felt that we still had some trumps in our cards. One was the long standing promise of Lee Kong Yew that he would help us, of Singapore, a couple of years before the fall of Vietnam. He thought that the only way to defeat communism was through social programs. He promised use half a billion dollars for a housing program. Thieu sent Nha to Singapore to see if Lee Kwan Yew would be willing to lend us that money to buy weapons and gasoline. Nha went to Singapore and we came to the US to try to convince Congress to not make it public that they were not going to help us any more, since that would be too demoralizing. We said that we were willing to stake the oil that was being discovered in Vietnam, the money that was promised to us in some other forms by Saudi Arabia, a half billion to a billion dollars, to buy our oil. The same money that they offered us could buy only half the fuel that our armies and our air force needed.
Saudi Arabia promised us the money as a loan. So, we thought that if we could get Singapore and Saudi Arabian money and let Congress stay quiet about abandoning us, then maybe we could pull.
Hung and myself we came over here. We left on the 19th of April, and the first message that we got on arriving here and meeting with Tran Kim Phuong, both of us were told that there was nothing nothing that we could do to change the situation. It was really a tragic thing. We met him right at Dulles Airport, and he told us that the situation was hopeless. We did not want to believe that. So we had a huge shouting match at the airport. All three of us were shouting at each other and then we were in tears. Because of course we didn't want to shout at one another either. And the thing was that after that we went to see some people, and they also told us that it was hopeless.
Thieu resigned and the situation became meaningless, because that was why we came here. Gregory decided to stay here.
I went back to Vietnam, I was on the last civilian plane to go into Tan Son Nhut Airport and landed at 8:30 on the 26th of April I thought that the mission had failed but I should return home.
So everybody on that plane was Chinese from Hong Kong. The plane was filled with Chinese. I don't know what they were doing on the plane. I wondered about it. It was full. I thought they were either going there to invest and speculate on the fall or they were going there to try to retrieve relatives. Los Angles to Manila to Hong Kong. Three of us were not Chinese. There was an American going back for his wife and family, Nguyen Man Hung and myself.
The first thing I started thinking about was getting back out. I had a passport. There was already a lot of shooting near the airport at that time. So I made my report to the government and we then turned around and the next day, we were making our plans to leave Vietnam.
We finally left by the wharf at midnight on the 29th. We went out past Vung Tau and were finally picked up by the ship, the American Challenger. it was absolutely like hell. The capacity of the boat was 1080 people. They picked up something like 7500 people. They intended to go to Subic Bay and drop us there. But off short from Vung Tau they picked up more people. That was too many people, they proceeded directly to Wake Island.
Not many people died on the boat. The eeriest thing, at night, when the picked up people, on the 30th of April, in boats, boatloads, it was a t night, as soon as the people were picked up, boats with their lights on coming out, and then they would set fire to their boats as soon as the boarded. And all over the sea there were these eerie fires of boats burning and drifting in the Sea. And the lit up the water that night.
There was crying and yelling on board the ship. It was all unbelievable. There was a Catholic father who came on board and he was carrying a Honda trying to get on the American boat. They would not let him bring it on board. Another boat came out with some people on board, and there was a dentist and he had his dentists chair on the boat and he wanted to bring it on board. And he said, "That is the only way I can make my living." But they would not let him bring it on board.
The South China Sea was on fire that night and we watched it burning.
My wife was with me. There was a group of 27 people who came out with us.

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