Forty Years

Black April

I have been meaning to write this story for a long time, but I wasn’t sure how to take it.  I honestly don’t know as much as I would like about my family’s story of the War, the Conflict.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I have been trying to learn Vietnamese history and language more and more.  When I was younger, I didn’t really try, and now, I feel like I am uncultured.  I am Vietnamese-American, but I know more of America than I do of my own blood.  I don’t know much about my heritage nor my family’s story.  So, I could I write something like this?

In my family, we don’t really talk about it.  My sister lived through parts of it but can’t remember much.  But, now it’s been forty years since the Fall (or Liberation) of Saigon.  30 April 1975 has always been a date that I remembered.

How should I feel about about it?

Should I feel sad about an event that I wasn’t directly involved with?  I have been so removed from the events of the war, for my own protection, and to an extent, for my family’s protection.  All they have is bad memories, which is a reason why they didn’t want me to travel to Vietnam in the first place.

I remember sitting in my Vietnamese class on 30 April 2015.  I walked in late, and half of the class was missing. Thầy Bắc had let some students take a look at the memorial that they were having on campus.  Students eventually came back with black ribbons, and I promptly pinned it over my heart.  It was a symbol of solidarity, of remembering, of a shared tragic past.

That day, Thầy Bắc told us his story of that day. Thầy Bắc left Vietnam for the States in 1989 or 1990, fifteen years after the Fall.

He said that April 29th was the longest day of his life, but April 30th was the scariest.

On the 29th, he was actually in Saigon.  I think, around the city, people knew something was happening.  There was a build up of tension.  But, on the 30th, there was chaos everywhere has many people tried to flee the city.  He remembered trying to leave but for some reason that I can’t remember (sorry), he couldn’t.  His family told him not to.  Then and there, he was presented with a choice.

Stay or leave.  But, leaving meant leaving his family behind.  Leaving meant leaving his country behind.  Leaving meant leaving all that he knew behind.

And I know many Vietnamese people had this choice forty years ago.  For many, it wasn’t easy to leave.  Space on American ships and planes were limited.  People had to bribe officials with lots of money for visas and access.  Usually, people in power or the wealthy were evacuated.  Many people died trying as the North Vietnamese raided cities, airports, and sea ports.  Many others had to stay behind.

Thầy Bắc said that on 30 April, he was standing in Saigon, watching the terror unravel.  He made eye contact with a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldier.  Just eye contact.  The soldier didn’t do anything.  It seemed like he didn’t understand what he was doing there either.  Honestly, I think it’s very interesting to study the rhetoric of the war / the conflict.

There are many stories like this.  All different with different emotions attached.  My cousin was born in a refugee camp in 1976, which means my aunt was pregnant on the boat that ferried her there.  My grandpa was incarcerated for many years.  My uncle lived in Japan for a year, but only after he was caught by Northern forces three times.  I can’t tell their stories.  I will never do them justice, but I would like to try to capture their stories somehow.

But, it’s hard.

According to this map, such a large proportion of deaths attributed to war occurred in Vietnam.
Map of the World – War Deaths (1945 – 2000). According to this map, such a large proportion of deaths attributed to war occurred in Vietnam.

Overall, I would like to say that as I look back on this day, I feel extremely appreciative, and I admire my family who overcame such difficult hardships.  I will never understand what they went through, but it just shows how strong, courageous, and resilient they were.

It’s been forty years, but residue of the war still remains.  And it will always remain.

Over and out.

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