Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-x

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Introduction

Jana K. Lipman

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pp. 1-30

In April 1975, Trần Đình Trụ, along with more than 120,000 Vietnamese, escaped Saigon during the last days of the U.S. war in Vietnam. In popular American memory, “the fall of Saigon” is punctuated by the scene of U.S. helicopters on rooftops, evacuating Americans and former Vietnamese allies.1 What is less well-known...

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1. My Early Life

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pp. 31-37

The Boeing 747 airliner touched down at San Francisco International Airport. The plane had taken my family and me away from the most impoverished and backward land in the world and brought us to a civilized country, complete with modern science and technology. The airport was magnificent and majestic. Bright...

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2. Coming of Age

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pp. 38-47

After the 1954 Geneva Accords, the South prepared for a war against communism, and Ngô Đình Diệm consolidated his position. He dethroned the emperor Bảo Đại and eliminated the major religious sects, including the Bình Xuyên, Cao Đài, and Hòa Hảo. He had the added support of close to a million migrants from...

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3. The Evacuation

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pp. 48-55

I had already been in Năm Căn for four months when the war intensified. My unit was constantly at the ready for battle. However, many military personnel were absent or “on business,” leaving our unit at only 80–90 percent readiness. Still, every day we had to prepare for campaigns along the coast or on the rivers in order...

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4. The Refugee Camp on Orote Point

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pp. 56-63

One after another, men and women left the ship and stepped off the pier onto the shores of Guam. The Red Cross organized the reception stations very efficiently, and guides were ready to help each person. Thankfully, enough chairs were available for us all to sit down and rest. We had just experienced many days at sea, and...

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5. The Repatriates

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pp. 64-82

After several weeks, fewer and fewer flights carried Vietnamese to the mainland United States. By this point, only five thousand or so people were still waiting at Orote Point, and almost three thousand of us had registered to return to Vietnam. The military scaled back activities in the camp. At first, eight kitchens served...

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6. Give Us a Ship

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pp. 83-89

After his failed trip to Hanoi, the Aga Khan returned to UN headquarters, and General Herbert flew back to Washington, DC. While General Herbert was in the capital, numerous demonstrations broke out again at Camp Barrigada and Camp Hawaii. These protests caused great damage to the camps and alarmed the U.S...

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7. Camp Asan, Guam

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pp. 90-96

When General Herbert returned from Washington, he ordered that all the repatriates be transferred to a single camp, Camp Asan. Over two thousand people were still waiting to return, and we believed that the move meant progress. Everyone was eager to pack their bags and get on the buses. I still had only the small...

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8. The Struggle

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pp. 97-106

The protesters erected a stage made of planks with enough space for fifty people to sit together. The stage was built close to the camp’s fence, and it looked out onto the road so passersby could see the demonstration. Many anti-American banners framed the stage, along with a portrait of Hồ Chí Minh.
Early the next morning...

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9. The Việt Nam Thương Tín

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pp. 107-117

After Nguyễn Hữu Hai (Sauvageot) returned to Washington, DC, a delegation of U.S. senators and representatives came to visit our camp. The U.S. congressional members’ visit was clearly momentous. We would need congressional approval for any financial support for the ship solution. For the first time, I could see that...

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10. Receiving the Ship

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pp. 118-133

After meeting with General Herbert, I returned to the camp in a confused state of mind. The next day, I would have to put my shoulder to the wheel. At least with all the tasks ahead, I could temporarily forget all the thoughts that had been tormenting me over the past few months. I didn’t know what would happen in the...

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11. Leaving Guam

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pp. 134-144

On Monday morning, the two hundred-person crew prepared for the long-distance test run at sea. We boarded the ship, and everyone knew his place. As the captain, I gave the order to start the main engine, and within five minutes everyone was ready. I stepped into the control tower with General Herbert...

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12. The Return Voyage

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pp. 145-151

At noon, I gathered the crew together and reminded each of them of their duties. We would maintain a speed of ten knots an hour throughout the trip, and I estimated we would arrive in Saigon within nine to ten days. We would be able to sail even more quickly if we had favorable weather conditions and all our machinery...

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13. Arrival at Vũng Tàu

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pp. 152-164

After nine days at sea, the ship had traveled two thousand nautical miles without encountering any obstacles, save for the one day of strong waves and winds off the coast of the Philippines. We were only one hundred miles from Vietnam, but neither our eyes nor our radar could detect the coast.
Suddenly, an airplane...

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14. Reeducation Camps

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pp. 165-181

The VC transported us to the Stone Pier in Nha Trang. When we reached the wharf, not a soul was in sight. The covered security trucks were the only vehicles on the road. The emptiness sent chills down my spine. The police were carrying weapons. No one spoke to anyone else. We became prisoners the moment that we...

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15. Moving from Camp to Camp

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pp. 182-190

We were now no different from blindfolded prisoners who are led away to their fates. We could still see one another’s faces, but we could no longer observe anything outside the trucks. Armed police were in every truck, and we were jammed together. A bucket was in the back of the truck for us to urinate in, and we would...

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16. Winds of Political Change

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pp. 191-201

At the beginning of 1979, communist China attacked Vietnam. All the reeducation camps close to the Chinese border were moved down to the southern part of North Vietnam. Most of the prisoners in these camps were RVN officers who had worked directly for the Saigon regime. These camps had been managed by the...

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17. The Day I Left Prison

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pp. 202-208

It was February 13, 1988, and labor teams lined up in the camp just as on any other day. But on this day, instead of the usual routine in which the cadre read out the name of each team, the camp chief came out into the yard with his entourage. He had a long list in his hand. Seeing this unusual sight, the camp members...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 209-214

I thank Kim-Ngan Nguyen and Tan Pham for their invaluable help in arranging our (the translators’) first meeting with Mr. Trần Đình Trụ in Texas in 2012. I also thank my sister Mai and her husband, Terry Salmans, for allowing us to meet with Mr. Trụ in their home in Southern California in 2015, thus giving the three...