A message came from an American Vietnam veteran friend: “I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you and realize that I think the events in Afghanistan are creating memories for so many Vietnamese Americans of the ordeal they experienced. Just know I’m thinking of you.”
Another message arrived from another friend: “There is a picture in today’s paper of an Afghan carrying his brother on his back to the airport.”
These friends just saw scenes in Kabul on television similar to what they saw more than 46 years ago when South Vietnam fell to the communists.
Even though the end of the Vietnam War was the subject of two relatively recent documentaries — “Last Days in Vietnam” and “The Vietnam War — almost 40% of Americans were too young or were not yet born during the fall of Vietnam.
Even for many younger Americans, the scenes of people in Kabul swarming the airport runway and running along huge military transport planes or climbing walls lined with barbed wire are horrifying. I have flashbacks from April 29, 1975. My 13-year-old brother was crippled by polio, so we strapped him to my back as my family escaped Vietnam.
We are the lucky ones, we escaped with our family intact. Many died at sea, or in re-education camps.
Our first step on American soil was at a military base in Arkansas. All of us were kept inside of a hangar until after midnight when we were bused to the nearby refugee camp. I learned later that during the day, a crowd gathered outside of the main gate to protest the arrival of refugees from Vietnam. They carried “Go Home” signs, and some threw stones at the buses. But for every bad memory, we will never forget the many kind strangers who helped us get through our first days in our new home and country.
We worked hard earning our rights to become Americans. We give back to America and help others. Many of us Vietnamese Americans are working to help the Afghan refugees on their first days here in America.
Watching the images of people fleeing Kabul, I hope this time things will end better than the Vietnam experience. And I hope for the many incoming refugees that they will be given the same opportunities we were given.