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The Lucky Few
November 24, 2010 8:54 PM   Subscribe

In 1975, desperate to escape Vietnam following the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, twenty thousand refugees boarded the few remaining ships of the South Vietnamese army and fishing boats. They were escorted by the USS Kirk, a Knox-class destroyer escort, which led them to the Philippines. This mission, Operation New Life lives on as one of the largest humanitarian missions in the history of the United States military, but has been largely forgotten by history.

Crowded conditions aboard the ships led to rampant illness. Among the sick was Bao Le, just over a year old. Along with his mother, he was moved to the Kirk, where he was treated and revived. He became sick again and became one of only three refugees to pass away during the weeklong mission.

For years, the Le family wanted to thank the crew of the USS Kirk for their kindness and compassion, but did not know how. Beginning in August, NPR began a running feature telling the story of this often forgotten story. It was heard by members of the Le family.

Bao Le’s parents and siblings joined sailors and officers from the Kirk in late October, for a screening of a new documentary about the Kirk’s mission. Their reunion is featured here.
posted by honeybee413 (15 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome! I did not know about this at all. Good post.
posted by kbanas at 9:02 PM on November 24, 2010


Archives of Vietnamese Boat People.
posted by clavdivs at 9:12 PM on November 24, 2010


I heard this story on the drive home today. They shouldn't be allowed to tell such heart-wrenching stories on the radio -- I could barely see the road through my tears.
posted by crawl at 9:17 PM on November 24, 2010


The second phase, where a bunch of people went back, is a bit of a weird footnote.
posted by Artw at 9:27 PM on November 24, 2010


The stories I've heard on NPR about this have been knockouts. Thanks for this.
posted by rtha at 10:06 PM on November 24, 2010


Vietnamese refugees have been "forgotten by history" because their story runs against the anti-war narrative of the Boomers self-mythologizing.
posted by TSOL at 10:14 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Vietnamese refugees have been "forgotten by history" because their story runs against the anti-war narrative of the Boomers self-mythologizing.

I don't know about your history, but Vietnamese refugees pretty much define the area I live in.
posted by pompomtom at 10:48 PM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Good military history read.
posted by buzzman at 10:52 PM on November 24, 2010


When my family lived in Hawaii, back in the 70's, we would provide temp housing for Viet children until a more permanent solution was found.

It was weird for everyone, we were a standard anglo military family, they were kids from a world my youthful brain could not fathom and my Dad in uniform, well, I'm not sure what triggered in their heads (or my Dad's come to think of it; he had done two tours there).

One memory I do recall was after they had found a solution for them with family, my Mom would have us clean out the rooms. There was always food under their pillows (not much) and it was food from our meal the night before. The kids ate their fill and then stashed some away because the would not believe the the bounty the experienced would continue. My Mom made a point of stressing this point to us, not to show us how good we had it, but rather to allow us to understand the need for compassion, wherever it is needed.

Later, when I was a little older, I asked my parents why they did that, wanting to see their justification. They responded, "It was the right thing to do." and would not expand. That taught me that compassion need not be wedded to religion (we are Catholics) nor politics, nor culture. Compassion should be extended because it is the right thing to do. I know this sounds a bit simplistic to some but it helps me when I have to do the right thing that is hard or difficult. So this reasoning may not work for you.

I often wonder how they are doing, those small, small kids. I really hope they are happy and their children, should they have any, never have to go through that.
posted by Dagobert at 1:41 AM on November 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


> Vietnamese refugees have been "forgotten by history" because their story runs against the anti-war narrative of the Boomers self-mythologizing.

I don't see this at all - can you explain? How exactly does taking Vietnamese refugees mean that the Vietnam war (death toll: over two million) was a good thing?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:57 AM on November 25, 2010


I have a friend who was once a Vietnamese boat person who spent a year and a half living in a refugee camp in Malaysia. She was six years old when her family got on a boat. It sank. When they were in distress in the middle of the sea, another boat sailed up alongside. Their mechanic fiddled with the dead boat's engines for about ten minutes and gave up. Then they took people off the boat that was kaput and put them on the other boat, as best they could. The kaput boat was sinking.

First they took the children. Then they took the women. They were not sure if there was going to be room for all the men to be stowed safe and remain seaworthy. Finally, they got all the men stowed. Right after they got all the men stowed, the kaput boat sank.

After a year and a half in the refugee camp in Malaysia, her family found itself intact (except for the eldest brother) in a Vietnamese immigrant community in New Orleans East. When she told me that story I knew that was one I will never forget.
posted by bukvich at 4:44 AM on November 25, 2010


Holy shit, I love these stories. Thanks for sharing.

I still have vivid memories of many Vietnamese settling in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area just after 1975 and hearing similar stories. I went to school with a lot of them and remember being amazed, even as a kid, at how they managed to make it out and seemingly assimilate so well.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:19 AM on November 25, 2010


I don't see this at all - can you explain? How exactly does taking Vietnamese refugees mean that the Vietnam war (death toll: over two million) was a good thing?

I don't necessarily believe it myself, but the argument would be that seeing so many people fleeing the new regime runs against the supposed antiwar rhetoric that the NV government was *not* a nasty totalitarian bunch that reasonable people would flee from.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:35 AM on November 25, 2010


ROU_Xenophobe: you're probably right with your model.

The sad part is that I think very few people would disagree that the NV government was a nasty totalitarian bunch - even those of us who think the war was completely misguided from start to finish.

For example, I'm pretty sure that Saddam Hussein was, in fact, a horrible dictator and yet have been against the Iraq War since it was just a dribble running down Dick Chaney's leg, because the United States had neither the resources, the competence, nor the moral standing to unilaterally engage in foreign wars.

I'd make exactly that same argument for "Indo-China" - and in fact, we didn't have the example of Vietnam to learn from, so the initial mistake there is more forgivable (though justifying that initial mistake lead to numerous horrific war crimes for which no senior member of any Administration has ever been punished - Henry Kissenger is a monster at a scale dwarfing all the serial killers you ever heard of all put together).
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:02 AM on November 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was born in the early 1970s, and so in St. Paul, MN, I grew up with tons of Vietnamese kids in my classes. Many of the sharpest kids I knew (Hello, Ming Nguyen and No Relation Son Nguyen!) must have been immigrants or among the first generation of American-born children.

*shrug* We didn't know just how bad their "back story" was because it wasn't mentioned much. They were just quiet kids who worked hard: good students and good soccer players and good kids. Hindsight always allows so much clarity, but in this situation the extra details make me wish I had known their stories (whhile also understanding why they downplayed it all).
posted by wenestvedt at 7:50 AM on November 29, 2010


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