I was like many little boys living in Saigon dreaming of having a big bike when South Vietnam fell to communist forces in April 1975. Chaos ensued soon after, but this story is for a in the old days. My Vietnamese mother was a longtime employee of the United States and we children were not like the others
Vietnamese kids because of the American blood running through our veins. It was a constant reminder that we were on the losing side, which was impossible to hide.
Before that, most of us were shocked at how quickly the end really came and suddenly realized that all was lost and we were trapped.
Until March 1975, when the United States Embassy began quietly closing its offices and evacuating most of its staff, no one believed that the communists could easily take over the city of Saigon. My mom was in the process of getting a visa to fly with a sponsorship, but that didn’t materialize.
A new life began at the beginning hour by hour waiting for the communist troops to come knocking on our door as they did on so many others. All communications were cut off and everyone remained unsure of what was to come, our imaginations running wild with fear.
Hours turned into days awash with new challenges, a life we knew was no more. Everything became a question of survival, of rumor in whispers; sometimes entire families have disappeared. It was a dark and desperate time when we found ourselves left behind.
Days turned into months, but fear and uncertainty continued to dominate everything we did. It seemed certain that we were completely isolated, and despair began to set in with the feeling that all was truly lost; Lifetime careers, reputations, savings, fortunes and futures didn’t matter if you were on the losing side. Sometimes even friends and neighbors would turn on you, and people would only speak in low voices for fear of an impending raid to wipe you out. And indeed, we were raided, lucky to have lost everything of value except our lives.
Then something remarkable happened.
One night my mother found a news program broadcast by Voice of America (VOA) on shortwave radio. She suddenly heard about what was happening in Vietnam, and the vision of the free world opened up to us. We were still desperate, but I can’t overstate the feeling of renewed hope knowing the world was watching and we weren’t forgotten.
We learned that the tens of thousands of missing were not all in the hands of the Communists, as some were able to escape. We were sick with jealousy but also happy for them, although we didn’t know the hardships that these “boat people” endured until much later.
The news sparked so much hope about the possibility of escape that my mother finally hatched a plan of her own – but fate intervened and we failed.
For years, this “illegal” VOA broadcast has been our link to the free world. It was an open secret that everyone knew but kept quiet as it was the only light we had in the darkness to keep us informed about the world outside Vietnam.
When the news of President Ronald Reagan’s election arrived, we were thrilled. We thought he was going to be a tough president on communists with his outspoken views, emphasizing those of us who were oppressed under the yoke of communism – and he did not disappoint. It was like a breath of fresh air.
Indeed, my family was able to leave Vietnam shortly after his first term.
A few years later, in early 1989, while stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, I watched President Reagan’s farewell speech on the “shining city on the hill” and how it was a beacon of light.