Fall of Saigon

Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the fall of Saigon, Vietnam, to Communist forces. I commemorate this event for its impact on my own life. As a young college student in 1985 I found myself immersed in Sacramento’s exploding community of Vietnamese refugees. We were classmates and friends. They invited me to their homes, their parties, and their magnificent weddings. At school they helped me with math and science, and I helped them with English and other subjects. I remember admiring the Vietnamese engineering students who carried their huge black and yellow calculus books around campus, and thinking to myself “I’ll carry one of those books someday.” Sure enough, after much struggle with mathematics, I did carry one of those books and met my future wife in Calculus-II. Deo gratias.

I learned much from my Vietnamese friends and their families. The men were masculine, the women were feminine, and the children were innocent; they had large extended families and the children respected their elders; they tended to be religious and pro-life; they listened to classical music; they had incredible work and study habits; they were polite, well mannered, and dressed conservatively; they were anti-communist warriors; they loved America and were proud defenders of the West. In short, they provided me with a standard of “normal” where American culture was failing miserably.

Although politically pro-Western, they were deeply loyal to their homeland and seemed always to be plotting a triumphant return to Vietnam. This loyalty of theirs inspired, in me, a loyalty to my own homeland that I had never really felt before. Doan Van Toi, a Vietnamese exile and author of “Vietnamese Gulag”, ended his book with an exhortation for native-born Americans to renew their love and appreciation for their own culture. He, an outsider, could see the beauty and strength of our civilization, but he was disappointed to find that most Americans took it all for granted and seemed dangerously indifferent to the treasures they inherited. I’ve taken his words to heart.

The Fall of Saigon was an unmitigated calamity. The bloodbath was just beginning. After South Vietnam fell, so went the dominos of Laos and Cambodia. A wave of diabolical persecution swept Southeast Asia. Millions perished attempting to escape the fanatical cruelty of Communism. My father-in-law was himself imprisoned for four years in a secret re-education camp where he was severely beaten and tortured. They told him – falsely – that his wife had married a communist official, but he never believed them and his family never stopped looking for him. He was eventually released, but spies were everywhere, his family was in perpetual danger, and he was always in fear of being arrested again. As an officer in the South Vietnamese Navy he had acquired some maritime skills. In 1981 he launched a rickety boat, in the middle of the night, into the South China Sea and sailed for the Philippines with his own family and several others. By the grace of God they were rescued by a Filipino fishing crew before the pirates could get to them.

Above the Buddhist altar in my wife’s family home is a grainy, shadowy photograph of what appears to be a female figure in the sky above stormy waters. This mysterious Lady was observed by thousands of refugees as they sailed across perilous seas. The Buddhists think she is a goddess of some sort, their divine protectress. Not long after the photo was taken, in a crowded refugee camp in the Catholic Philippines, a young Vietnamese Buddhist girl was asked to play the Blessed Virgin Mary in a theatre production of the Nativity. Little did she know …  

They say that every cloud has a silver lining. The dark, evil cloud over Saigon on April 30, 1975, generated a silver lining that now shines brightly throughout the world in the lives of many Vietnamese exiles and their families – especially one family I happen to know, in far-away northern California, whose members are particularly blessed.

5 thoughts on “Fall of Saigon

  1. I had similar experiences in Buffalo’s VN community in the early nineties. I chance encounter at a neighborhood laundromat led invitations to homes, parties, weddings, even some cross-border smuggling of cognac.

    I ended up studying the language informally with a Catholic gentlemen who, like most of the men, had spent a decade or more in a reeducation camp.

    What I loved most was the intergenerational nature of the culture. It was not “uncool” to have a grandmother tag along and take part in the fun. I found the same thing among the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans I knew.


  2. “What I loved most was the intergenerational nature of the culture. It was not ‘uncool’ to have a grandmother tag along and take part in the fun.”

    Great observation, Joshua. That was a big eye-opener for me too. One of the parties I was invited to was a birthday party for a young child. I was most impressed, though, how everyone affectionately greeted the very elderly patriarch of the family. I thought to myself: “I want to be him someday!”


  3. A beautiful reflection, Mr. Culbreath. You so often act as a salutary influence of Christian compassion, working against the frustration and bitterness I sometimes feel toward immigrants on account of the madness of our immigration policy.

    The fault is mine, of course, but I can’t help but think, What a tragedy that the irresponsibility of our politicians has contributed to this.


  4. “The fault is mine, of course, but I can’t help but think, What a tragedy that the irresponsibility of our politicians has contributed to this.”

    Thank you for the kind comment, Mr. Cella. As you have often articulated yourself, all ideology ends badly. It is no surprise that the open borders ideology ended badly. An ideological reaction will also end badly.

    I think the Christian will always be at war. Today the enemy whose strength and power we fear is on the Left. But, as you well know, that dynamic could change in a generation. Liberalism has almost exhausted itself and it is anybody’s guess what lies ahead. Let the Christian choose his allies with care.


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