Scenes from the "Veitnamese Journey to Freedom" commemoration on April 26 • Photos courtesy of Willon Lew
Scenes from the “Vietnamese Journey to Freedom” commemoration on April 26 • Photos courtesy of Willon Lew

“The notorious Vietnam war, was the war that exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities, including 3 to 4 million Vietnamese from both sides, 1.5 to 2 million Laotians and Cambodians, and 58,159 U.S. soldiers.”

Every year, my parents remind me of the date “30 thang 4,” better known as the Fall of Saigon. Every year my parents remind me to say my prayers, and remember those who lost their lives for Vietnam. This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. The 40th Anniversary of the capture of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, by Việt Cộng on April 30, 1975. This date has always held a bittersweet place in my heart.

I always knew growing up that the Vietnam War was like a shadow looming over the Vietnamese people. Being an American-born Vietnamese, I didn’t live through the horrors that was the Vietnam War, but I could see the mixed emotions on the faces of my parents and members of the Vietnamese community. I remember always being told that despite the fact that the war was a tragic event in history, without it many Vietnamese people, such as myself, would not have the same opportunities as we have today. As I aged, a part of me couldn’t help thinking that my parents sheltered me from the truly dark things that happen during the war.

This became more apparent when my parents took me to watch the movie The Journey from the Fall, a movie about the Vietnamese Reeducation Camps, boat people, and what they went through after the Fall. The movie is set around a family’s struggle to survive in the aftermath of the Fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese Communist army. This movie brought to life some of the stories that my parents couldn’t talk about and it really struck a chord in me. Like a lot of you here, I’ve heard the stories and read about it in history books, but actually seeing it on screen gave it me a whole new perspective.

As a Vietnamese American growing up with a strong Vietnamese community, I was not exposed to the horrors of isolation and cruelty depicted in the movie. After watching this movie, I had a newfound respect for my parents and many others in the Vietnamese community and what they went through to fight for their freedom.

The following year, I realized there was more than one side to the story. Another experience that made this war even more real was when I went to Washington D.C. for a National Young Leaders Conference. At the time I was dabbling with the idea of a career in politics and I was expecting this conference to help solidify my desire. During the conference I was able to see many historical monuments and buildings, meet politicians, and attend leadership seminars, but the one experience that I had that I could never forget was my visit to the the Vietnam Memorial, and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

I remember this experience very vividly. It was a very hot and beautiful day and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. As I walked through the Washington Mall looking at the monuments all I could think about was how beautiful everything was and I remember thinking nothing ruin this day. When I arrived at the Vietnam Memorial, the first thing that struck me were the thousands of names engraved into the wall. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial serves as a testament to the sacrifice of American military personnel. All I could think about was how so many people had died. These people died fighting for Vietnam. These people had families and loved ones that they left behind as they fought for our freedom. I remember gazing up at this 75m long wall and seeing myself reflected back simultaneously with the engraved names and flashing back to my 10th grade high school history teacher fawning over the wonderful symbolism behind this image: bringing the past and present together. I remember standing there alone, as I was left behind by the tour group, and coming to a realization that without the past there could be no present. Without this war, I would not be where I am today.

In the end, to me, the Vietnam War was both a gift and a curse. If it wasn’t for the Vietnam War, we could not have come to America to live a free and good life. Without the war, I would not have been able to go to college. Without the war, I would not have been able to make my own choices. Without the war, I would not be free. Because of this I am very grateful for all of the people that fought in the war, the United States, the state of Washington, and Gov. Dan Evans for making this possible. But as a consequence my parents and grandparents have lost their home country as they knew it. The United States also lost many soldiers as well. I learned that nobody wins when there is war.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. But for many of us, that wasn’t really the end. Many lives were lost, many families were torn apart, and many nations were impacted. We need to remember those who have fallen because of tragedies like this. These proud men and woman went to war to make sure that we could be free today. I want remind us all even if there’s only a few national day to celebrate our war veterans, we should always have their accomplishments in our hearts.

Members of Washington's Vietnamese community commemorate 40 years in Washington at Camp Murray on April 26 • Photo by Izumi Hansen
Members of Washington’s Vietnamese community commemorate 40 years in Washington at Camp Murray on April 26 • Photo by Izumi Hansen

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