Here is Your Son
In early 1975 I heard the stories about bees and caterpillars fleeing from South Vietnam out into the South China Sea. People told those stories and said they were warnings of what was to come. People in the countryside tended to believe those stories more than people in the cities. In the cities we were not so superstitious.
When all of the refugees from the central highlands began pouring into Saigon, however, I knew that we were in big trouble. The refugees said that the communists would kill anyone who had eer done business with the Americans. They said that the communists had lists of people they wanted to kill – the same as when they captured Hue in 1968 for a few weeks. I thought because I did business with the Americans – I owned a small shop – that my name was probably on one of those lists.
I heard of an American civilian who worked in the embassy and who was married to a Vietnamese woman. I was told that he and his wife had a way to get people out of the country. But they charged a lot of money for that.
So I went to the building where the American was making arrangements to get people out. People told me to bring money and jewelry and I did, along with one small bag of belongings. There were a lot of people already there waiting in a long line. Finally they called me in and asked “Where is your money?” I took off my jewelry and gave it to them and I gave them all the money I had. They said, “This is not enough. We need $10,000. And if you do not have that much money you will have to stay here. And if you stay here, you will be in all kinds of trouble when the communists take over. They will probably kill you.” I told them I had no more money. And I begged them to help me. But they told me to go back out in the hall and wait.
Later that afternoon they changed their mind. They came outside and told me that I could leave Vietnam. They told me to wait right there and not to leave. Not long after that a car came to pick up those who had been selected to leave that day. I had one bag with my belongings in it – all that I had left in the world. And in the rush to get into the car I left my suitcase behind. Then I had only the clothes on my back. We were driven to Tansonnhut airport. It was crowded with people waiting to leave the country. They were waiting in groups in several buildings. And as one planeload of people left, everyone would move into that building and then the next and the next, each one closer to the runway.
My little group was very far away from the planes at first. Outside the buildings I saw an American who was a friend of mine. He asked what I was doing there and I told him that I was with the people in the building waiting for an airplane. He told me, “Those people will never get out. It’s too late.” I was afraid I would be left behind and killed and I started to cry. He said, “Don’t worry, I’ll help you get out.”
He walked me to the building nearest the planes. In a few minutes a bus came for those of us in that building. We got on the bus and the driver took us out onto the runway. While we were sitting on the runway waiting, some airplanes flew over very low and dropped bombs on the runway. The driver started screaming for us to get off the bus and to lie down on the ground. Then rockets started hitting the buildings around us. I was thinking to myself, “Oh, no. We are all going to die right here on the ground.”
Then a Marine told us, “Get on the bus again. Hurry. Don’t bring your baggage.” So people left their baggage behind. They had nothing. They drove us around a corner to a C-130 that was waiting for us with the back door down. While we were all running for the plane, I saw a towel on the ground. People were stepping on it and stumbling over it and kicking it as they ran. And just for an instant, I thought I saw the towel move by itself. So I stopped and picked up the towel and ran with it.
It came open when I was running and I saw the top of a baby’s head. The baby wasn’t moving. Then I felt the baby’s foot with my hand. And the foot was not moving. I thought to myself, “Oh, no. I just picked up a dead baby. What should I do now?”
I ran into the back of the airplane and the door of the plane started to close. We were squeezed into the plane so tightly – we were all standing and I could not move my arms or my legs. I was holding the baby and I thought it was dead. I tried to hear a heartbeat. But my own heart was beating so hard and the engines of the plane were so long that I could not hear anything. I stood against the side wall of the plane and tried to brace myself so I wouldn’t be crushed and the baby wouldn’t be crushed against me. Whenever I tried to move my feet, I stepped on someone.
I was so scared and I started talking to myself. I said, “Why did you pick up that towel? Now, when you land you will be holding a dead baby and you will be in big trouble. They will probably send you back to Vietnam.” I was so scared I started to cry again.
I started to think a rocket would hit us and we would all be killed. Then I asked myself, “If I die right now – did I do anything wrong in my whole life? Will I go to hell if I die right now?” I kept thinking of the pictures I had seen when I was a little girl, of heaven and hell, of people roasting in a fire and they were all screaming and there were fires all around them. Everything was red and people were terrified. And I thought, “That looks like Tansonnhut a few minutes ago.” I had already walked through hell and God had let me out.
It took us several hours to get to Clark Field in the Philippines. When the back door of the airplane opened we all looked out and there were bright lights – very bright – and in two rows there were women dressed in white. And everything seemed to be white. The women in white were waiting for us and smiling. And I thought, “I have gone to heaven. How easy it was to die. I have crossed over into heaven and I know now that God loves me because these are his angels.”
The angels asked us to come out of the plane. When we started to come out I saw that they all had Red Crosses on their sleeves. These angels were Red Cross nurses. I was alive and I was not in heaven. I was in the Philippines.
As I walked off the plane one of the nurses stopped me and asked me if I was hurt. I saw that my whole side was soaking wet. She asked me what I had in the towel. I was very frightened. She pulled back the towel and looked inside and told me to follow her. She led me to a doctor. I put the towel down on a table and the doctor and nurse opened it. Inside was a baby boy. He was smiling and he started kicking when they took the towel off. He was les than one day old. Everybody around the table started laughing and looked at me. I started laughing also. And then, even as I was laughing so hard I started crying. I was so relieved and I was so happy and I had been so terrified, all in the course of one minute.
The doctor examined the little boy and he said, ‘He’s all right.” And I said, “Really? That can’t be. People were walking on him and kicking him. Please, check him again.” And so the doctor carefully checked him again and said, “Yes, he’s all right. He’s a tough little boy.”
They told me he was very hungry and he needed to be fed. They asked me if I wanted to nurse him now. And I said, “How can I nurse him? I have no milk. I am not this boy’s mother!”
The nurses found a young girl – a teen-ager – and she was all colorless and sick. She did not have any color in her lips. They questioned her and then brought her over to me. She looked at me and asked softly, “Did you save my baby?” And I said, “Yes, I did.”
She told me she had given birth to the baby at the airport earlier in the day and she did not think they would let her come on the plane with a newborn and so she placed him down on the runway hoping that somebody would pick him up and take him back inside one of the buildings. She began to cry and she told me that she was so terrified at Tansonnhut that she really did not know what she was dong. She was not married. She was alone and she was still very afraid. She said she was afraid now that they would not give her the baby. She was afraid that I wanted to keep him because I had saved him.
I lifted the baby from the table and handed him to the girl and said, “Here is your son. Feed him now.”