Video Transcript

Jackie Bong Wright—Saigon 1975:

I was the director of culture activities for the Vietnamese American Association, called VAA.  I organized art exhibits, concerts, lectures and all kinds of programs that were sponsored by the USIS, U.S. Information Service, and U.S. Embassy.  And there were a lot of Americans and Vietnamese who participated.

I think that for the last month of April, Vietnamese could not believe that the end was near.  Because we never thought that the Americans would be defeated and would abandon us.  So during the last few weeks there was some kind of a panic.  But it’s not physical, although everyone was very fearful for himself or herself.  And we tried our best to get out, especially the last four weeks, or three weeks.  That time the U.S. Embassy and USIS asked us to stay open, because we were a bi-national, bi-cultural center.  We had to be open until the end in order not to show panic among the people.  There were about nearly 25,000 Vietnamese who went to the VAA to learn English as a second language.  And I organized, nearly every day, exhibitions and concerts and all these cultural activities – so we had to stay open.  But at the end it was clear that we would have the fall of Saigon one day, since President Thieu withdrew troops from around Saigon.

We were told to be ready to go at any time.  They tried, Americans tried, to help us as much as they could.  But because of the situation and the secret, we were not told when and how to get out, and when to be ready.  And we had to wait.  And when the time came to be at the USIS compound to be ready to get out, the bus didn’t come.  And this is why many of them were left.

Response

And for me, it was suggested that my three children, 8 and 10 at the time, would be sent to the U.S through the “baby-lift program.”  But when I learned that they would be adopted by Americans, that I wouldn’t see them again, I didn’t agree to that project.  Therefore, I wouldn’t give them up in any circumstances.  And then an American friend helped me and my children to get out, to go to the airport.  But we learned that the Vietcong were surrounding the airport and it was shelled.  Therefore, that project failed again.  And finally, I was, by luck, asked to marry on paper an American pilot who lived in Singapore, and who came to Saigon to rescue his Vietnamese wife’s family members.  So I passed as his wife and my children passed as his children.  And we were able to get out, despite the ban from President Thieu who would not allow any Vietnamese to get out of Vietnam.  Therefore, Ambassador Martin, at that time, was kind enough to lend me his car, with the American flags, and we could go to the airport and we left to go to Clark Air Base in the Philippines.  It was four or five days before the end in April 1975.

Personal Qualities

I think that as a tradition we have the philosophy of Buddha.  Buddhism taught us to have inner peace.  And it’s how the Vietnamese were so resilient in undergoing so much calamity in Vietnam.  We have had 1,000 years of Chinese domination.  We have had 100 years of French colonization.  We have had five years of Japanese occupation.  And we have been at war all the time – for years, thousands of years.  So we had that inner peace and inner resilience inside ourselves.  And we had to know that we had to be strong and withstand disaster and crisis.  And it’s how we survived through time and through wars, and this is why I think that most of Vietnamese have that kind of strength.  It’s more of a philosophy of life for us.  We think that we have to fight until the end.  And we did, and we worked very hard.  And it’s the tradition in the culture which helps us withstand crisis.  But for myself, after I came here, to the U.S., and I was rescued and I live in the U.S., and after being married to a Foreign Service Officer, we were assigned to go to Italy.  But I entered a period of depression, because of the thought of seeing my family members, my friends in Vietnam, suffering so much going through punishment by the Communists -- prison, concentration camps and hunger.  So I didn’t get out of that period of sadness until many, many years – through the support of my husband and children, through meditation, and through an autobiography.  It was a kind of exorcism to get the Vietnam War syndrome out of my system.

Reflection

I served as a Vietnamese employee.  I think that we were the first to be exposed and the last to be rescued.  And we had to be there to face disaster or crisis.  And at that time many Americans already left and we were Vietnamese.  We were to stay and to be there to be open – to open our doors.  And I personally, because of my history, my husband, Nguyen Van Bong, was assassinated by the Communists in late 1971, and I was the chairman of the board of the Vietnamese American Association.  I felt that I was prone to be a target of the Communists, the Vietnamese Communists.  Therefore, I had to try to leave.  And the day I asked someone at the U.S. Embassy to help a lot of members of my family – cousins, aunts, uncles and everyone – came to my house and asked to be rescued.  And I said even myself, I didn’t know how.  And fortunately at the last minute, I was asked to go, and I had the opportunity to be so-called married to an American pilot.  But many, many Vietnamese were there.  They stayed and they were not lucky, and they were put in jail.  Many of my friends, my colleagues from the VAA, from USIS, from the U.S. embassyaffiliated offices and also with the U.S. companies.  Quite a few of them, including my brother.  My brother who had spent six years in the U.S. came back in early April.  He was asked to register, and he went to a refugee camp.  The Communists said that because he was related to the U.S., and being in the U.S. for six years, he was certainly connected to be CIA.  So he went to a refugee camp, concentration camp, and prison.  And he died of bad treatment.  A lot of my friends, Vietnamese friends, suffered the same fate.