On this special edition of The California Report Magazine, we go back in time to look at the Vietnam War and how it shaped the lives of some Californians. This week we’re in San Diego, home to the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton.
Not all the battles were fought in Vietnam -- enlisted men were also fighting a war against racism within the ranks. We’ll hear how that revolt took hold at Camp Pendleton, and sparked an unlikely friendship. He was a young marine. She was the daughter of a farmworker. They met at a coffeehouse called ‘The Green Machine.’ It was one of many around the country where active duty GIs could get free coffee, listen to music, read underground newspapers and talk with peace activists. These coffeehouses were key in building the GI movement to end the war in Vietnam.
In the Spring of 1975, the North Vietnamese took control of Saigon and the United States began frantically evacuating tens of thousands of South Vietnamese. Seemingly overnight, Camp Pendleton transformed into a makeshift refugee camp. That first wave included two teenage sisters, Evelyn and Jessica Kheo. They came from a well-to-do family in Saigon. At the camp they shared a tent with two other families, and used scratchy army blankets to keep warm. They hadn’t been back to Pendleton in 42 years -- and they let us tour the base with them.