Saturday, April 30, 2005

My memories of the fall of Saigon

Today is the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Many reading this may not remember that day but it is etched in my memory as are the first time Neil Amstrong walked on the moon or the day the President was assasinated.
I recall seeing the news footage that captured the panic and pandemonium surrounding the fall of the city and recognizing what it meant for those who weren't going to be able to escape.
I later became good friends with a soldier from South Vietnam and was enraptured by his recollection of that day.
The panic we all witnessed recently with the havoc in southeast Asia took me back to that time.
Families were being displaced. Family members didn't know where each other where. Some mothers and fathers were having to make unthinkable choices.
My heart especially goes out to the military that day. They knew the urgency with every helicopter load they took it could be the last and the hundreds if not thousands that were begging to be put on the next load had to be horrendous.
My opinion of the war was even more entrenched that day.
I had friends who were never coming home. There were so many who came home to be literally spit on and ridiculed by their nation for the simple act of being the number in the draft pick.
If you didn't live through it you can't know what it was like in our country at that time.
Most military I knew discarded their uniforms before they hit the States just to assimilate back into society.
There was no pride in serving your country as we know it today.
It altered our attitude about us as a society for years to come.
So here were the military evacuating people who desperately neede our help to stay alive and yet they were going to be booed and spit on because they were there.
I can still recall some of the faces I saw on the news footage.
Can you imagine defending your country and its going down and you have to leave forever to a new place, culture, traditions,climate, language and nothing with you but the clothes on your back with little notice?
Thats what the refugees did.
And they came to this country and weren't accepted here either. Many saw them as the enemy.
My friend tells the story of eventually ending up in Columbus OH with his family.
His father had been a high ranking South Vietnamese officer.
They came to this country with nothing. They were considered well to do in their country.
Here they were nobodies. The family was 2 parents and 8 siblings living in 2 rooms. My fiend and his brother lived in the car most of the time. They went to school 6 hrs a day to learn our language and culture. They worked 8 hrs after. And then they had family responsibilitiies.
He asked if I would have done that to assimilate myself into another country? I shamefully had to admit I didn't think so.
It was then that I began the practice of appreciating my country even with its flaws because it is still the best country to be a citizen I believe.
It reinforced all the immigrants I knew from my past. I had a friend whose family escaped Cuba when Fidel took over. I had a friend from Hungary and another Germany.
It made me appreciate what my grandparents had gone through to come to this country and go through Ellis Island.
It dawned on me then that my mother was first generation American.
So much we take for granted.
And we think it will always be there.
To all the Vietnam vets my heart goes out to you for what you endured that even today most of you can't talk about.
To all the new citizens of my country who made a choice to be one thank you for renewing my pride in my citizenship when I see you proud of yours.
And to the military serving today again in an unpopular time remember that you enjoy the respect you have for your service because someone paid a hefty price years ago and we haven't forgotten.
To all military past and present my undying gratitude.
I am proud to be an American.


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