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It was March 27, 1975 in Da Nang, South Vietnam. The atmosphere was tense in the Dang household.
The radio blared the latest headlines. The kids cried while Mr. and Mrs. Dang frantically packed what they could into small bags. This was what their six-year-old daughter, Quynh, awoke to. Stretching her limbs and rubbing her eyes, Quynh tried to make sense of the situation. “Daddy? Mommy?” said Quynh, but there was no reply. She made her way through the cramped hallways toward the kitchen to find her mom packing rice, bread, and little water.
“What is happening? What is with all the noise?” asked Quynh.
“We must hurry,” replied her mom. “We haven’t much time. Your dad has informed me that the U.S. military is going to pull out of South Vietnam.”
In an attempt to limit American casualties, Vietnamization took place and was instituted by U.S. President Nixon. This involved withdrawing American troops while also increasing aerial and artillery bombardment and giving the South Vietnamese the training and weapons needed to effectively control the ground war. Eventually, the effectiveness of Vietnamization started to decrease which, in turn, led to the final decision to pull the U.S. military out of South Vietnam.
“What? I haven’t heard any news about it on the radio,” said Quynh.
“Someone working with Daddy told him that.” Mr. Dang worked for the South Vietnamese government in conjunction with the U.S. military and the C.I.A. He was a major. “Not many know about this plan, and we are very lucky to know. The North might imprison Daddy if we don’t move quickly. We must go before Da Nang is taken over!”
“Oh, no! How do I help?”
“Right now, I need you to go tell your siblings to pack some essentials. But remember, we can only pack what we can carry.”
The Dang family spent the morning packing, and getting ready to flee. They had to leave many things behind, including pictures, clothes, and other valuable items. By midday, they made it onto a fishing boat headed towards Quang Ngai. Unfortunately, they had to leave some of their bags behind, for they were too much of a hassle to worry about.
Mr. Dang was fortunate to be working in the South Vietnamese government. Advance news of the American withdrawal allowed him to move his wife and eight kids, as well as his niece, quickly out of Da Nang just before it fell to the communistic North.
Time seemed to blur into one scene as the family traveled to different cities—Quang Ngai, Cam Ranh, and Vung Tau. The Dang family stayed at Air Force Bases and Naval Bases in each city. Hunger and death was on everyone’s minds.
Traveling from Quang Ngai to Cam Ranh, the Dang family attempted to board a barge in the Hong Ha, or Red River. It took three attempts on three different barges to finally get onto one. Vietnamese soldiers on the first two barges fired at the Dang family and did not allow them to board. Luckily, the wife of the commanding officer on the third barge recognized Mr. Dang, and they were allowed to come on board. There, the Dang family waited for an American ship to come.
They waited for a couple of days along with other families, who had been there waiting two days. There was neither food nor water available. Many of the other children on board resorted to drinking saltwater from the river. Quynh and her siblings drank their urine for survival. The saltwater caused many of the children to have diarrhea. Eventually, about 300 of them died due to lack of medicine.
“Daddy, I am scared,” said Quynh quietly.
“Honey, you are okay,” said her dad. “Everything is going to be fine as long as we are all together. Come closer so you don’t have to look around.”
Relatives of those who died wrapped their bodies and kept the corpses on board.
It took about one month of walking and catching buses and boats before the Dang family reached Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. Quynh, her siblings, her mom, and her cousin then flew to the Philippines on an American plane. The South Vietnamese government made Mr. Dang stay behind since the war was not yet over. Three days later on April 30, Saigon was seized by the communist forces in the Fall of Saigon, and South Vietnam surrendered to the North. Saigon was later named Ho Chi Minh City. In an 18-hour mass evacuation effort, more than 1,000 American civilians and 7,000 South Vietnamese refugees were transported by U.S. Marine and Air Force helicopters out of South Vietnam.
Mr. Dang, along with 2,000 others, fled on a fishing boat to Singapore where they were put in a camp by the Singapore government. The refugees were crammed into a small room all day and were only let out for an hour for breakfast and dinner. Mr. Dang and many others prayed to God and read the Bible aloud every morning and every night. After three days at the camp, Mr. Dang and the refugees were given diesel fuel and rice by the Singapore government and then brought to the Philippines. Mr. Dang then took a plane and was united with the rest of his family on Wake Island.
“Daddy, you are back!” exclaimed Quynh. “I missed you!”
“I missed you, too. I missed all of you!”
“I prayed for you every night Daddy.”
“I prayed for you, too.”
After two months, the American government settled the Dang family in Arkansas at Fort Smith. Millions of other families were settled in places such as California and Texas. About three weeks later on July 27, the Dang family moved to Shreveport, Louisiana with the sponsorship of a white man. Mr. Dang worked for the man until later joining AT&T. The Dang family was fortunate and blessed with the opportunity to be able to escape Vietnam and come to America.
Chau, Quynh. Personal interview. August 26, 2019.
Editorial, Dallas Morning News. “Vietnamese-Americans Help Texas and the Country Thrive.
From the Author: My topic is about my mom and her family’s journey to the Americas in escaping the Vietnam War. It was very difficult physically and mentally, for a lack of food and water caused hunger, thirst, and death. Louisiana and Texas were two of the places where Vietnamese refugees came.
The Vietnamese have affected much of the Louisiana culture. Making up about 44% of the Asian population, the Vietnamese are the largest group with about half living in New Orleans. Job opportunities appealed to unskilled laborers, and eventually, they started creating small businesses. Many worked in the fishing industry or created their own restaurants and grocery stores (Vietnamese). Vietnamese restaurants can be found all over the country, with their staple foods including pho and egg rolls, or cha gio. The Vietnamese have also affected much of Texas culture. Texas is the second largest state home to Vietnamese Americans— nearly a quarter million live there. Another influential factor of the Vietnamese culture is family loyalty. It is a major Vietnamese characteristic and “is the foundation of adapting to the American culture of the nuclear family while maintaining close ties with extended families” (Admin).
Admin. “Admin.” International Focus Magazine, 16 Feb. 2019,