Continuing Perspectives’ week of Vietnam War commentaries, Lauren Vuong and her family fled Vietnam after the communist victory. Their harrowing escape by sea and ultimate rescue left her with a lifelong sense of gratitude.
37 years ago, I arrived in America, an 8-year-old Vietnamese refugee. We landed in Seattle where I saw snow for the first time. Everything was clean, white and light-filled. I thought we were in heaven. The first American I met was a little girl with blond curls and blue eyes. She looked exactly like a cherub. I was convinced we were in heaven.
My family's journey to America is not so different from that of the Middle Eastern refugees today. My father, a member of the South Vietnam regime, was imprisoned for 4 years after the war. As a child, I was reminded daily that he was a traitor, that our family did not belong. Our persecution was ceaseless. There was but one option -- escape.
We planned an 8-day voyage to the Philippines. We had two days of good weather. The rest are now a blur of the awful smells of human waste, the constant churning of my stomach, vomiting until I thought I would die. I remember the black walls of water that threatened to engulf our small wooden boat. I remember hunger and thirst so great they twisted like ropes around all my organs. During that time, 120 ships passed us by. None stopped.
On the 10th morning, the skies cleared. We had no food or water. Fuel was dangerously low. Landfall seemed impossible. Miraculously, a ship flying the U.S. flag approached. We were rescued.