Photo: A North Vietnamese tank crashes through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, Vietnam on April 30, 1975. The taking of the palace marked the fall of the U.S.-backed south during the Vietnam War and the end to two decades of fighting.
[NOTE: This post was updated October 2017]
To many in the U.S., April 30th isn’t a day of significance. It’s not a holiday nor is it the birth or death of anyone famous. But to me, my family, and millions of Vietnamese around the world, April 30th will forever hold a special place in our hearts and minds. Today, April 30th marks the anniversary of the ending of the Vietnam War and the fall of Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) to Communism. It is a day that dramatically changed the course of my life, and which ultimately brought me to America.
Photo: An American punches a Vietnamese man in the face as he tries to close the doorway of an airplane overloaded with refugees seeking to flee Nha Trang, which was being taken over by Communist troops in April 1975.
On April 30, 1975, the South Vietnamese government surrendered to the North Vietnamese Communist forces ending a two-decade long civil war (1954-1975) known as the Vietnam War. Besides the political consequences, there were the emotional, social, and cultural effects that resulted from the fall of Saigon.
Had it not been for that fateful day of April 30, 1975, my family and I along with millions of other Vietnamese “boat people” refugees might have never left our country.
“In the spring of 1975, 130,000 refugees escaped Vietnam. Tiny boats full of South Vietnamese soldiers and their families set off down the Mekong River in the hopes of surviving the 600-mile journey to the Malaysian coast. They were the first wave of Vietnamese boat people. But they were not the last.”
All totaled, roughly 1.5 million “boat people” left Vietnam after the fall of Saigon to Communism between the mid-1970’s through the 1990’s.
Photo: Vietnamese boat people.
I am in awe of how my life has turned out because of April 30th. If the fall of Saigon to Communism on April 30, 1975 had never occurred, I would most likely still be living in Vietnam with my family. I would be fluent in Vietnamese, unlike my current state of stumbling over words. I would be thinking and composing this blog entry in Vietnamese.
Instead, as fortune would have it, my family and I survived a perilous escape in the dead of night…
In the early morning hours of spring 1979, with borrowed money and falsified documents to ensure our escape, my family and I (then 8 years old) joined countless other “boat people” and got onto a small vessel in search of a better life. Three days and four nights later, after outrunning Thai pirates and discarding a dead body, we found ourselves helpless and stranded at sea with little food and water remaining. In fact, my mom told me that many of us did not eat because we were so exhausted.
Thanks to the sheer mercy of God, we were rescued by an oil tanker and brought into a refugee camp on a tiny island called Galang (in Indonesia). After spending 11 months there, we were sponsored by my uncle to come to America.
On April 1, 1980, more than one year after we left our homeland in Southeast Asia, my family and I set foot on American soil for the very first time.
No one ever has to impress upon me the value of freedom because I still remember vividly what it was like to not have it. So while many people simply see April 30th as just another day, for me it holds great meaning. On April 30th of this year as in years past, I pause to give thanks and wonder,
“What if April 30, 1975 had never happened?”
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Development Consultant