The Columbus Dispatch
Nga Nguyen can hardly bring himself to look at what is going on in Afghanistan, because it feels like “a second Vietnam” to him.
And Nguyen, 76, would know. The North Side resident witnessed the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.
Desire a “safe life”: Uncertainty is wreaking havoc among Afghans in Columbus around the world
Nguyen was working with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) at the US Embassy when the city, now called Ho Chi Minh City, was taken over by the Communist People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong.
“It was so scary,” said Nguyen, unable to find the right words to describe witnessing the capture of the city.
She feels the same about what is happening in Afghanistan, where the capital Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15.
“No good succession set up”: Grove City veteran: “It’s heartbreaking” to see the Taliban take over Afghanistan
“When I see Afghanistan, I think to myself, ‘Oh no, another Vietnam,’ said Nguyen.” It’s so sad. “
As the South Vietnamese people did over 40 years ago in Saigon, the Afghans are desperately trying to flee the country and find safety to avoid being targeted by the Taliban. Meanwhile, the United States is working to get at-risk American citizens and Afghans out of the country, leaving thousands more behind.
“No one to save you”
In 1975, Nguyen received no assistance from the United States to evacuate, although he worked for the nation for nearly a decade. And her work at USAID made her a target for incoming Communist forces.
Her uncle and brother were put in prison and her brother-in-law was killed by the invading forces. After the new government asked people to surrender – which she knew would mean jail – Nguyen said she hid in a nearby village populated mostly by Chinese.
She was finally able to return home but had to stay in hiding. She couldn’t work as her previous association with the US government would come to light.
“Worried about his safety”: Ohio rally pushes US government to do more for Afghan refugees
For months, Nguyen pretended she didn’t speak English to stay alive. Every night, she said, she feared Communist soldiers would come to her home in the early hours of the morning and shoot her, leaving her family wondering what happened.
In 1980, she got herself a small wooden boat and planned a daring escape with her nephew. She knew they could die on the boat in the ocean and that the family she left behind could be killed because of her actions.
But she had to get out.
“A life or death situation”: Visa program not enough to save the lives of those who helped US troops in Afghanistan, advocates say
“I thought 99% of us die on our trip,” she said. “There is no one to save you.”
The two arrived in Malaysia and stayed there in a refugee camp for six months before they could be resettled in the United States. She left her mother, brother and sister – as well as her nephew’s two siblings – in Saigon. (None of them were targeted, and 10 years later his sister, his nephew’s mother, and two siblings joined them in Columbus.)
‘I’ll never forget’
Before coming to America, Nguyen met a Michigan woman in Saigon, and the two exchanged addresses so they could correspond.
After the fall of Saigon, Nguyen said she burned all documents binding her to the United States, but kept the woman’s address, hiding it inside the hem of her shirt so that no one can find it and associate it with the United States.
Visual arts: “Representing the invisible”: veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the center of the exhibition
When she arrived at the Malaysian refugee camp, she wrote a letter to the woman, who sponsored her to come to the United States and relocate to Athens, where the woman was now a professor at the University. from Ohio. It was in 1981.
These days, as Nguyen watches the media coverage of what is happening in Afghanistan, she feels a strong sense of déjà vu.
“As long as I live, I will never forget my trip,” she said of fleeing her home country.
Letters: Readers Respond to U.S. Involvement and Exit from Afghanistan
She began to fear for her country in 1972, when American troops had largely withdrawn from South Vietnam. But even if the USAID office burned some documents and sent others to Washington, DC, Nguyen didn’t think the United States would completely leave his country – at least not as quickly as it did.
The result left him few options.
“It was staying in a communist country or dying at sea,” she said of her choice to escape with her then 12-year-old nephew. “If you stay with the Communists, you will die.
Nguyen hopes the United States will help the Afghans more than she thinks they have helped the Vietnamese.
While in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, Nguyen felt angry with the US government.
“I trusted them,” she said. “I compare the United States to a big brother and the Vietnamese people to a small child. He leads us to a bridge and under the bridge is a crocodile. The big brother says, ‘Come on, we don’t care.’ The child crosses the bridge and gets eaten by the crocodile.
Alain Miller: Journalists in Afghanistan put lives at risk to bring you the news
Nguyen, now a grandmother, appreciates the United States helping resettle the Vietnamese, but said she still believes the government has made millions of people suffer.
Images on the news of Afghan people running for a plane at Kabul airport bring back the chaos of the flight from Vietnam, Nguyen said.
“I couldn’t bring myself to see these scenes,” she said.
In limbo: Refugees flock to Columbus as Biden overthrow shatters high hopes of local advocates
A translator for local health systems, Nguyen worked for 20 years to help resettle refugees locally with Interfaith Refugee Services of Ohio, which closed in 2001. She told her story to church groups in order to obtain a support for resettlement.
“They can’t believe I’ve been through this,” Nguyen said. “This is the fate of the refugee. We just pray to God, pray to Buddha, pray anything.
On the news Wednesday morning, Nguyen learned that the United States was considering dealing with Afghan refugees after the month was out and was feeling hopeful.
“It’s good,” she said.
“Our work is tailored for us”: Supporters of rebuilding the decimated Trump refugee program
After Vietnam, Nguyen believed that the US government would never withdraw so quickly from another city. Now she thinks “Oh no, not yet.”
“I’m sad,” she said. “I am very sad and frustrated for the people who are trying to get out and are afraid for their lives.”
© 2021 www.dispatch.com. Visit dispatch.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.