"If you hear a Chinook coming, get ready."
July 21, 2015 10:32 PM   Subscribe

As the North Vietnamese Army captured Saigon, Ba Van Nguyen was one of the thousands of South Vietnamese desperately fleeing the country. Nguyen, a major in the South Vietnamese Air Force, would be executed and his family would be sent to concentration camps if he was caught. But Major Nguyen had a plan: he'd moved his family to his mother-in-law's house near a soccer field, and told his wife to listen for--and be ready when she heard--the distinctive whump-whump-whump-whump chopping sound made by the twin rotors of his CH-47 Chinook, the largest helicopter in the South Vietnamese Air Force. Early on the morning of April 29, 1975…
posted by mattdidthat (18 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
See also: The Lucky Few.
posted by mattdidthat at 10:47 PM on July 21, 2015


I remember this story was told in The Last Days in Vietnam, I think. My wife and I went to see it, and it was eerie, because years ago, the night of our rehearsal dinner, my father-in-law told a story that was very similar--not the picking up his family part--he couldn't take his family, but he and some fellow ARVN soldiers took a helicopter and flew toward the ships leaving the coast. My father in law said that the soldier or soldiers he was with panicked when they were running out of fuel, and they jumped into the ocean. He never saw them again.

He stayed with the helicopter, ditching it in the ocean, and was picked up by an American ship. Watching Last Days in Vietnam was almost like we were watching him, it was surreal.

We never heard that story again, as he died within ten years, and I regret it.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:48 PM on July 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't wish to make light of this post. There are 3 graves in Arlington I visit.

The waves of kids hitting the DC area school systems shortly after that. One of them was named Tu Phuc and he sat down next to me on the bus on his first day. I was getting completely harassed and people were throwing things and I was being called a fag and other things and he was big and mostly unafraid after what he'd been through and decided the empty seat next to me was the place to sit.

So he started talking to me about ways to fit in and what to expect and I told him the guys in the back were assholes and his name was just not going to work and he asked why. His English was good but he didn't know what "fuck" meant. That took some work. Role call everybody was laughing and he asked why "Phuc" was funny.

So I brought him home after school to my mom, the great explainer. She made us a snack and spent two hours on the phone with his mom and got things sorted out. They changed their last name a few weeks later.

Next hejira. I brought home an Iranian boy who was similarly cursed.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:34 AM on July 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


It's sad they had to change their family name because it sounds superficially similar to an English obscenity. I hope they just changed the transliteration rather than changing it entirely.
posted by pravit at 3:35 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Tu Phuc

Wrong era. That would be a great rapper name.
posted by oheso at 4:02 AM on July 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Many were soldiers like Nguyen, a major in the South Vietnamese Air Force. If captured, they faced execution and the dispersion of their families to brutal work camps.

On the question of Communist reprisals in Vietnam, Rand Corp. consultant Anita Nutt explained in 1970 that: "Several recent public discussions on Vietnam have taken exception to President Nixon's prediction that a "bloodbath" of Communist reprisals, similar to the one that occurred in North Vietnam after the 1954 cease-fire, will take place in South Vietnam if U.S. troops are withdrawn precipitately."

Life Magazine, the New York Times, Chomsky and other prominent people and publications challenged Nixon's assertion and downplayed what the communists had done after 1954. They were wrong.

As National Review reported in 1977:

"In all, some 300,000 people are being detained in re-eucation camps which are in no way similar to the show camps set up for the benefit of visiting dignitaries an foreign reporters. (The Washington Post story of February 15 was based on a visit to such a show camp.)

One out every three Saigon families has a member in one of the camps, according to French journalist Jean Lacouture, who made an automobile trip from Hanoi to Saigon in 1976. After a visit to a new economic area for former Saigon near Phan-Thiet, Lacouture wrote that it was “a prefabricated hell and a place one comes to only if the alternative to it would be death.”

Camps for former officers and functionaries of the Saigon government are usually located in malaria infested jungle areas. Thousands of camp inmates have died from lack of food, medicine, or clothing. Thousands have committed suicide some have been secretly liquidated, others perish through staged “accidents”: For example, former officers are forced to de-activate minefields with their bare hands, so the regime will not have to waste valuable bullets on them."

Jumping out of a crashing helicopter on purpose is something you only do if you are really, really, really afraid of the alternative and it seems this guy understood his enemies better than western intellectuals did.
posted by three blind mice at 4:11 AM on July 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


> it seems this guy understood his enemies better than western intellectuals did.

Well, of course he did. I trust you're not implying, however, that "western intellectuals" (which I trust is not elegant variation for "pointy-headed intellectuals") were wrong to mistrust the word of Richard Nixon and fucking National Review. They happened to be right for once, but a stopped clock, etc. We (I speak as a pointy-headed intellectual) had every reason to assume that habitual liars were wrong as usual.
posted by languagehat at 6:20 AM on July 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


When it comes to the topic of extremely hot-button topics, it's very easy for all nuance to be lost. Perfectly well-meaning people may start asserting asinine viewpoints in a desperate attempt to win the argument. See: The Internet.
posted by schroedinger at 6:39 AM on July 22, 2015


The "Last Days In Vietnam" American Experience documentary one of the clips in the post comes from is on BBC IPlayer for the next twenty days or so, if you are in or can plausibly pretend to be in the UK. It's also on Youtube but with some daft fake cinema overlay.
posted by Devonian at 7:28 AM on July 22, 2015


Assuming that the winners of a war would mistreat the losers is more or less the entire reason there are wars.
posted by Etrigan at 8:37 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Insert argument about the pronunciation of "Chinook" here.

shin-uk
posted by blue_beetle at 9:20 AM on July 22, 2015


"There was no way I was gonna let that baby hit that deck."

Sometimes I'm really glad I live in Texas.
posted by helpthebear at 10:58 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


The sad fact is that liberals and leftists from Jane Fonda to James Fenton who supported the North ignored what the communists were doing to dissidents. It's also easy to forget what happened in central and eastern Europe after the war as communists infiltrated and took over country after country.

Chomsky is an important voice but he's always seemed so tone deaf to me, comparing genocides. Sure, the US-sponsored Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor was a story that deserved to be told, but Chomsky's use and abuse of the Cambodian killing fields was just callous.
posted by Nevin at 3:01 PM on July 22, 2015


> The sad fact is that liberals and leftists from Jane Fonda to James Fenton who supported the North ignored what the communists were doing to dissidents.

Yes, that is sad. I kept having these discussions with my fellow antiwar protestors in which they would root for the North and I would say "Those guys are murderous jerks, don't support them." But it's very hard for humans not to take sides; it's only since I became an anarchist that I've really been able to root for the little guy, oppose all governments (inspired by Tolstoy, who after witnessing an execution in Paris wrote "никогда не буду служить нигде никакому правительству" [I will never serve any government anywhere]), and feel mentally comfortable about it.

> Chomsky is an important voice but he's always seemed so tone deaf to me, comparing genocides. Sure, the US-sponsored Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor was a story that deserved to be told, but Chomsky's use and abuse of the Cambodian killing fields was just callous.

Yup, that's what got me terminally fed up with him as a public figure (I never could stand him as a linguist, or rather peddler of cult pseudolinguistics).
posted by languagehat at 3:31 PM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Languagehat, I respect your position but when the only significant players are governments, doesn't it render you practically irrelevant?
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:12 PM on July 22, 2015


Focusing on the crimes of a mostly poor, peasant society defending itself against much greater US crimes is stupid and hypocritical.

The sad fact is that liberals and leftists from Jane Fonda to James Fenton who supported the North ignored what the communists were doing to dissidents.

US citizens are not responsible for what North Vietnam did; they are responsible for what the United States did (and does).
posted by EmptyEmpire at 6:27 PM on July 22, 2015


but Chomsky's use and abuse of the Cambodian killing fields was just callous...

I don't know much about Chomsky, what did he do?
posted by storybored at 9:57 PM on July 22, 2015


> Languagehat, I respect your position but when the only significant players are governments, doesn't it render you practically irrelevant?

I have no idea what you mean by that. I am a functioning human being, I love my family and friends, I read and think and share my ideas with people, I do the best I can in this difficult world; if none of that is "relevant" (a word I got pretty sick of back in the '60s, incidentally), I guess we have very different ideas of relevance. And if you think "the only significant players are governments," I guess we have very different ideas of significance. To me, governments are alien entities squatting on the helpless backs of humanity and sucking our blood and life force. The "significant players" in my world are other people. Your mileage may vary.
posted by languagehat at 6:32 AM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


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