by Dr. Tùng Vũ
On behalf of the organizing committee I would like to extend our warmest welcome to everyone here to commemorate the Vietnamese “Journey to Freedom” and thank those who made it possible. It is also an opportunity for members of our Vietnamese community to honor those who served and sacrificed in Vietnam. We wish to remember them for defending the republic of VN and the cause of freedom and finally for all Vietnamese Americans to remember the struggles to reestablish our lives in America and adjust to this new land.
Above photo: Dr Tom Vu Tung, with Gov Dan Evans & Mr Ralph Munro (at Kane Hall – UW instead of Camp Murray. This evening at UW, organized by Thanh Tan- Seattle Times)
Some may ask why do we wish to recognize the events that took place 40 years ago? I hope to provide some context and understanding for you. Please bear with me as I will try to compress 50 years of Vietnam History into 10 minutes.
Almost 60 years ago, from 1954-1955, nearly a million Vietnamese supported by American and French Navies, moved to the south thereby escaping rule by the communists. The French were ultimately defeated and America entered Vietnam with hopes of halting the spread of communism. The conflict went on for another 20 years with an economic cost between 3 and 9 billion dollars and a loss of approximately 3 million lives. Out of 2,600,000 American personnel who served in Vietnam, almost 58,000 also lost their lives.
In 1973, the Paris Accord was approved by President Nixon calling for an immediate cease-fire and a complete withdrawal of American troops. In the Fall of 1974 American Congress cut funding to South Vietnam for the upcoming fiscal year from a proposed 1.26 billion to 700 million dollars. Conversely, the Soviets and Chinese increasingly lent moral, logistic and military support to North Vietnam causing a shift in the balance of power. The North Vietnamese force was no longer a guerilla army. For the first time in the war, the North Vietnamese had significant fire power and mobility advantages over the South Vietnamese. Without the necessary funds and support of the allies the South Vietnamese army found it logistically and financially impossible to counter the North Vietnamese Army. Given the monetary and military investment in Vietnam, former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage compared the American withdrawal to “a pregnant lady, abandoned by her lover to face her fate”. Historian Lewis Fanning went so far as to say “it was not the Hanoi communists who won the war, but rather the American Congress that lost it.”
President Ford, not wanting to abandon his allies and desiring to maintain the country’s honor chose to support the southerners militarily. But Congress, reflecting exhaustion with the Vietnamese issue, voted down Ford’s emergency request. Hearing the news, the usually mild-mannered President cursed, “The sons of bitches!” The fall of Saigon was just days away.
During the spring of 1975, 135,000 left South Vietnam, first arriving in Philippine and Guam reception camps, and then transferring to temporary housing at Army bases in the U.S, including Camp Pendleton (California), Fort Chaffee (Arkansas), Eglin Air Force Base (Florida), and Fort Indiantown Gap (Pennsylvania). After being prepared for resettlement, they were assigned to one of nine voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) that helped find financial and personal support from sponsors throughout the country.
After the fall of Saigon, many Vietnamese chose to leave by any means possible, often in small boats. Those who managed to escape pirates, typhoons, and starvation sought safety and a new life in refugee camps located in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. For many, these countries became permanent homes, while for others they were only waystations to acquiring political asylum in other nations, including the United States.
The stories, following the communist takeover, are often horrific, tragic, awe inspiring and reflective of the Vietnamese will to survive. Many died trying to escape. Some were fortunate to get to America and that is where our story begins again.
In 1975, then Senator Joe Biden complained about the Ford administration’s move to bring Vietnamese refugees to the U.S. Presidential candidate George McGovern told Newsweek, “I think the Vietnamese are better off in Vietnam”. The new governor of California, Jerry Brown, complained that the federal government wants to dump Vietnamese refugees in his state. He even attempted to prevent planes carrying refugees from landing at Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento. However, Washington State Governor Dan Evans, furious at Gov. Browns remarks, whole heartedly welcomed the Vietnamese by way of Camp Murray, where Vietnamese were paired with sponsor families and churches. He instructed Mr. Ralph Munro, secretary of Washington State, to open doors accepting the first 500 Vietnamese and to remind Gov. Brown the words written on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
That’s the brief history of our plight, our journey and our arrival in America.
Governor Evans instructed Mr. James Kainber to provide funding for the first bilingual Vietnamese newspaper in the US. My father happened to be the founder and editor of “Dat Moi” translated as “New Land” with technical assistance from Mr. Tsuguo Ikeda. This bi-monthly newspaper helped educate and provide valuable information and grounding for the Vietnamese. One of my father’s editorial pieces requesting an extension of the Resettlement program was ordered to be printed in the Congressional Record by Senator Ted Kennedy.
Many challenges and obstacles were encountered by the resettlement program including funding issues and protests outside camp Murray by a White extremist group. Yet overall the resettlement program has been a huge success, as measured by Vietnamese contributions to the economic vitality and cultural diversity of the State of Washington. Vietnamese values of family, education, prosperity and social justice have shaped the character of our communities. These values have helped us achieve success in all aspects of society while promoting community issues of equity and opportunity.
The U.S. refugee resettlement program was established by the efforts of several distinguished government representatives who reflected the United States’ highest values of compassion, generosity and leadership. Look at the impressive results of their good work.
We would like to give a heartfelt thank you to both Governor Daniel Evans, Mr. Ralph Munro, government representatives, elected officials and volunteers. Let’s show our appreciation.
After 40 years of struggling, perseverance and hard work we have established a platform for our youth in America. It is now up to this next generation of Vietnamese-Americans to use their education, resources, and intelligence to lead this country to a more socially inclusive society and to further the intellectual and ideological principles that make America great – freedom, democracy and the opportunity to fulfill one’s goals.
Over the years we have experienced support and lack of support from both political parties. What have we learned? Political parties can be swayed by current pressures and over time priorities change. It is essential to become a continual participant in the political system, regardless of whether we are right or left, because otherwise our concerns are easily ignored. This is an important lesson for our children who have grown up in a democratic system.
The younger generation should not be content with current success but remember that struggles remain and involvement is vital. Vietnamese Americans should continue to pursue justice and opportunity for all. Nothing comes easy except perhaps complacency. I have learned many lessons working with members of both the left and right to promote issues advancing Asian Americans. Community warriors like Frank Irigon and Al Sugiyama, who were some of the first volunteers to help the Vietnamese refugees at Camp Murray, have time and time again given selflessly for the benefit of so many.
Again, thank you so much for being here today and to those true American leaders. Additionally we would like to thank our volunteers. Without you this event would not be possible.
I would now like to introduce Mr. Kim Long Nguyen, he is the former Director of Refugees for the state of Washington who was instrumental in organizing this event “Come back to Camp Murray” today and who has always given of himself for the Vietnamese community . / .