"Okay. Saigon Is Going To Fall. So What?"
I was eleven in the spring of 1975. Our family lived near a park. And one night, about April 27th, some soldiers came and camped in our back yard. We had a large house and that's why they stayed in the yard. My mother cooked for some of them. We were not obliged to. But to my mother said that they were our troops and our soldiers and we should help them.
I was in my bedroom that night and I could hear them talking in the back yard. I listened to them and they didn't know I was listening. I remember what they talked about.
I was so young I and I was not supposed to listen to men talk -- but I can tell you that I heard them talking about the fall of Saigon and they were not surprised. I remember they talked about the government officials and they were really mad because it seemed like there was no head --a snake with no head. Those guys were really brave and wanted to fight for our country to the end. And they said if they fought the leaders didn't even care. They said, "Those guys up there at the top don't even care. Why should we?"
They said, "Even if we fight we can't win because the government officials didn't even make good directions for us to follow." They said the leaders of the country seemed to be uncaring. And I remember they said, "Okay, Saigon is going to fall. So what?"
The next day, when we left, they were still there. We said good-bye to them and told them to keep our house for us. And they said, Okay.
They varied in age from twenty something to over thirty. And they told us they had lots of friends who had fallen and they said it was not worth it. They said they knew they died for our country, but if the government officials don't even care and don't even really want to fight and lead the armies to fight back against the communists, then these guys were just fighting for the sake of fighting.
My father died in 1972. My mother raised all seven of the children. She was a good mother and she was a good business woman and she owned two restaurants -- one in Saigon and one in Bien Hoa.
The night of April 28th was really hectic. My mother had thought about leaving for a long time. Everybody thought about leaving. But nobody knew when.
My mother finally said, "Okay, we'll just take a family vote." And so we voted on whether to leave or not. Everybody picked yes. All seven of us and my mother, too.
Then we sat crying and discussing about things. The morning of the 29th they start bombing Tan Son Nhut. And so my mother just took us and we left.
That morning people are out and running all around the place. We ran out to Bien Bac Dong, a river. And everybody else ran out there too. They had big ships there and we got on one and nobody stopped us. They just let us get on.
There was a big crowd there and everybody just pushing each other along trying to get on the ship. Just about half an hour after we got on the ship it left.
Everybody was on the deck looking down. And some people, their relatives could not get on because people just pushed and fought them back. It was really hectic. People were crying.
A lot of people fell into the water. It was okay because they could swim back. It wasn't far. Then this guy had a gun. He shot the anchor to get the boat to go.
I was afraid at that time. Very afraid.
I wrote a little story when I first came here. It was in a magazine. I was writing about what I experienced at that moment. I was thinking in my head, "Where are we going?" And then my one sister and my brother weren't with us at that time and I asked, "What happened to them?"
My mother thought we were probably not going to make it, because it was so hectic. And my mother heard that if my brother stayed in Vietnam after the communists got in, then he would be in trouble, because we were rich. He didn't serve in the military, but he would still be in trouble. He was twenty-two, so my mother gave him a lot of money and told him to find any place to get out of the country, to find a way to go and we would get in touch later.
He wanted to go but my mother thought we weren't going to make it, so she gave him a lot of money so he could leave by himself. And then it happened the opposite way. We made it and he got left.
He tried the airplanes and could not get on one.. Later, he wrote to us later to us about it. He went to the Embassy and he tried to get on a helicopter. But they kept pushing him down off the wall and so he didn't make it. And he ran out to the river too, but he didn't make it there either. He got left behind. My sister stayed behind with her husband.
After we were on the boat and out to the ocean, some people had a radio with them and then we start hearing that the communists got in the city already and they brought their people in. That's when we knew we would never be able to go back. When we left, our ship didn't have a captain. That's why we floated for almost a month. We were on the ship for almost thirty days. Just floating around. Everybody was crying.
They were crying all the way. And people called out for help from God and Buddha. Everybody was praying.
We couldn't find the American ships. After a week the food supply began to run out. But some people brought rice and we just ate that through the day. Then the water supply ran out too.
It was hot and it rained. We used our shirts and put up a tent. I think some little kids died. They didn't have mothers milk. My mother kept me from seeing those things.
We were down in the bottom of the ship and only the men were up on the deck all the time. They said that was for protection. When we sailed out they don't want a lot of people to be up on the deck. Because if the communists saw a lot of people on the deck they would shoot.
The men fought all the time for food for their wives and kids. We could barely make it through. Me and my little sister and brother, after the second week, we didn't feel anything. We just lay there. We were so tired. We weren't used to the waves and going on the sea. We were seasick. And we were starving.
My mother was really scared. She tried to get any kind of food to give to us.
Then we got to Singapore. They didn't let us go in though. We said, "We are dying out here with no food and no water." And they supplied us with a little bit of food and water and told us to go on.
Later there was a man who seemed to be knowing a little bit about ships and he took care of things. He took over the ship. He had a gun.
It was really terrible. I don't know how we lived through that. You just have survival on your mind. We were a pretty well off family. We were not used to those things. We had a rough time. And it stunk down there. I asked my mother to just let me go up and get fresh air. My uncle brought me up for fresh air. He brought each of us up for five minutes and then we went back down again.
There was no rest room or anything. Imagine thirty days. Think about it. It was really terrible.
We just wanted to reach some kind of land. Every day -- there was a guy who had binoculars -- every day around us was just this big body of water, so we lost hope after the third week or so. We didn't know where we were headed to. So every day the men just looked through the binoculars to see if we could find land. And every time we saw something black everybody would yell, "Here's land!" and we'd all get excited. Then we suddenly would feel so strong. And everybody would look to see if it was land. But if not, everybody would be all tired again.
On the 28th day we reached the Philippines. They let us go in. The first time I set foot on land it was just like heaven. We were so happy. It was the most wonderful thing in the world. We thought after another week we would die.
Can you imagine survival on just two spoons of soup? That's all we had to eat every day. That's for kids. The adults I don't know how they lived. My mother was really weak because everything she got she gave to all of us and just ate a little bit to keep her alive. We had barely enough for laying there.
They treated us really nice in the Philippines and then we were taken to Guam.
I don't have nightmares and things today. But I saw all the things that people read about then. I was there. Today I'm happy. But the Vietnamese are my people and every time I read things about their suffering it kind of breaks my heart.
I'm not totally happy because my people suffer so much and I can relate to those feelings.
I would like some day to return to Vietnam if it was peaceful and free. I miss it. If you talk to a lot of Vietnamese people they will tell you that the life over there was not complicated like life in America. The life there was not very complicated. Life was slow paced and there wasn't any fast lane.