South Vietnamese Captain Tells His Story of Repatriation in Ship of Fate

[This is a guest post that originally published on The Conversation.]

The South Vietnamese who fled the fall of Saigon — and those who returned

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Vietnamese at a camp in Guam seeking repatriation, September 1975. National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 319, Box 19, declassification number 984082, CC BY

Jana Lipman, Tulane University

More than 120,000 people fled Vietnam after the North Vietnamese captured Saigon on April 30, 1975.

This chaotic evacuation has been captured in iconic photos, documentary films and oral histories. How did the Vietnamese seeking safety actually get from small boats or rooftop helicopters to the United States?

First, they went to Guam.

In response to the emergency, the U.S. military established a refugee camp on this small island in the Pacific. On Guam, the U.S. government planned to assess the crisis and process individuals while preparing camps on the mainland for the incoming Vietnamese. However, approximately 1,500 Vietnamese had another idea – refusing resettlement in the U.S. and returning home.

I first learned of these events when I discovered images of the repatriates in the U.S. National Archives and found “Ship of Fate,” the memoir of a South Vietnamese naval officer, Tran Dinh Tru. His story and that of other repatriates shows the real risks of repatriation if there are no guarantees of protection. This is an important lesson today given the U.S. government’s current steps to make it harder for refugees to enter the country.

Captain Tran Dinh Tru

Trần Đình Trụ in Orange County, September 2015. Jana Lipman, CC BY

 

Tru was a respected career South Vietnamese naval officer. In the chaos of April 1975, Tru evacuated with other naval officers, and he organized for a ship to save his wife, who was stranded far outside Saigon. However, the ship failed to rescue his wife. Like many family members across South Vietnam, she was left behind with their three children to navigate the new political landscape.

Waiting on Guam alone, Tru despaired that he would never see his family again.

Tru was one of more than 1,500 Vietnamese on Guam who did not want to resettle in America. They called themselves the repatriates, and they wanted to return to Vietnam for a range of reasons.

Many were young South Vietnamese sailors who were aboard South Vietnamese ships as the North Vietnamese advanced on Saigon, and their captains had directed the ships out to sea and never returned to port. These young men did not see themselves as refugees.

In other cases, older men and women decided they did not have the stamina to start again in America. Others, like Tru, had family members who had missed connections, and they faced indefinite separation.

The repatriates turned to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the U.S. government and the Guamanian public to make the case that they should be allowed to return to Vietnam. They wrote letters to the Guam newspaper and built massive billboards within the camp demanding their return. The UNHCR and the U.S. could not guarantee their safety on return, and so they made no plans for their repatriation. Frustrated with the lack of action, many of the repatriates escalated their protests.

Repatriates have their heads shaven at a 36-hour hunger-quiet strike, September 1975. National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 319, Box 19, declassification number 984082

 

The repatriates built a makeshift stage. Men shaved their heads in front of a banner that proclaimed boldly in English, “Thirty-Six Hours, Hunger Sit-In, Quiet, Hair Shaving Off, To Pray for a Soon Repatriation.” The repatriates also organized hunger strikes, militant marches through the streets of Guam and eventually set fire to buildings in the refugee camp.

This was a situation no one had anticipated. The repatriates did not want to go to the United States, the Guamanian government did not want them to stay on Guam and the U.S. government did not know what to do. Notably, the new Vietnamese government did not want them back.

The ship of fate

Ship of Fate cover imageIn the end, the U.S. government granted the Vietnamese a commercial ship, the Viet Nam Thuong Tin, to return home. Tru agreed to be the captain due to his experience and skill. The Vietnamese repatriates knew the communist government saw them as hostile interlopers, traitors and possible CIA plants, but they still felt strongly that they must return.

The voyage took roughly two weeks, and the atmosphere on the ship was tense and cautious.

When the ship arrived in Vung Tau, a southern Vietnamese port, the Vietnamese government saw Tru as suspect and counterrevolutionary. They ignored his repeated wishes to reunite with his family, and the government imprisoned Tru in its network of “reeducation camps,” where he suffered for 13 years. These camps punished South Vietnamese men who had fought against North Vietnam and allied themselves with South Vietnam and the United States. They combined prison labor and forced ideological training. They were marked by hunger, indefinite detention, and ongoing physical and psychological hardship.

My research into the limited reports of these events shows that the repatriates’ sentences ranged from months to many years. As captain, Tru suffered their arbitrary brutality the longest.

Tru eventually resettled in the United States with his family in 1991.

It’s worth noting that Tru’s long voyage is unusual. Most of the more than 120,000 Vietnamese who fled Vietnam sought and soon gained resettlement in the United States. President Gerald Ford’s administration allowed them to enter as “parolees” – a loophole in U.S. immigration policy, which did not make provisions for refugees at that time.

However, by the time Tru was released and decided to immigrate to the United States, he was able to do so through the U.S. Humanitarian Operation program. The U.S. government designed this program for South Vietnamese officers and reeducation camp survivors in the late 1980s, and it expedited immigration processes for this population who had suffered directly because of their affiliations with the United States. The U.S. accepted over 70,000 Vietnamese who had been imprisoned in Vietnam.

The ConversationIn my view, the Vietnamese repatriates’ story challenges us to recognize the risks and fears individuals face in moments of crisis, and ponder the difficult decisions that must be made at the end of a war.

Jana Lipman, Associate Professor of History, Tulane University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

March–April 2017 UHP Author Events

When it comes to listing events, we can’t miss first mentioning our exhibit booth at the Association for Asian Studies annual conference taking place March 16–19 in Toronto. Acquisitions editors Pamela Kelley and Stephanie Chun, and marketing managers Royden Muranaka and Steven Hirashima make up our staffing contingent at this important meeting, which is attended by numerous UHP authors (and prospective authors) of Asian studies titles.

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Below is the current lineup of author appearances scheduled for the coming weeks—including a couple already past—mostly for our Hawai‘i-related titles. Unless otherwise noted, these events are free and the public is invited to attend; books will be available for sale and signing.

Wednesday, March 15, 3:30 to 5:30 pm, at the Faculty Center, Chaminade University, 201 Eiben Hall
Chapter contributors Jonathan Dial, Bianca Isaki, and Brian Richardson will speak on the issues addressed in Tourism Impacts West Maui, the latest book from North Beach-West Maui Benefit Fund Inc., distributed by UH Press.

Wednesday, March 15, 6:00 to 7:30 pm, at Waianae Public Library (85-625 Farrington Hwy)
Former investigative reporter Jim Dooley will give an illustrated talk about the lively behind-the-headlines stories in his book, Sunny Skies, Shady Characters. See more details on the Hawaiʻi State Public Library System site.

Thursday, March 16, 7:00 to 9:00 pm, Volcano Art Center, Volcano Village,  Island of Hawai‘i
Hawai‘i’s Kōlea coauthors Oscar “Wally” Johnson and Susan Scott will give a slideshow presentation on the amazing migratory bird at the Volcano Art Center Niaulani campus. While the event is free, a $5 donation would be appreciated. See more details on the VAC website. Wally leaves the next day to return to Montana, while Susan will stay on to do a signing on Saturday at Basically Books, before heading home to O‘ahu.

Saturday, March 18, 1:00 to 2:00 pm, Basically Books, Hilo
Susan Scott will sign copies of Hawai‘i’s Kōlea: The Amazing Transpacific Life of the Pacific Golden-Plover, as well as her sailing memoir, Call Me Captain. For future events with Susan, check out her website.

Thursday, March 23, 2017, 7:00 pm, Ciné in Athens, Georgia (234 W Hancock Avenue)
UH Mānoa creative writing professor Rodney Morales heads to the Deep South to do a reading of his latest novel, For A Song. His visit is hosted by the University of Georgia Creative Writing Program and books will be sold by Avid Bookshop.

Saturday, March 25, three separate events in Kamuela and Hilo on the Big Island of Hawai‘i
Dr. Billy Bergin and his son Dr. Brady Bergin, both respected equine veterinarians, will do a marathon book launch and signings for their new book, The Hawaiian Horse. The schedule and locations include:

• 9:00 am to 12 noon, Parker Ranch Store, 67-1185 Mamalahoa Hwy., Kamuela (phone 808-885-5669).
• 1:00 to 2:45 pm, Basically Books, 160 Kamehameha Avenue, Hilo (phone 808-961-0144). Includes a short talk.
• 3:00 to 4:30 pm, Lyman Museum, 276 Haili Street, Hilo (phone 808-935-5021). The authors will do a talk as part of the museum’s Patricia E. Saigo series of public programs. The cost is free for museum members and $3.00 for nonmembers. Read more on the event here.
Wednesday, March 29, 10 to noon, at the Waimea Midweek Farmers Market , Paniolo Heritage Center at Pukalani Stables, Parker Ranch, 67-139 Pukalani Road, Kamuela (phone 808-854-1541).
Drs. Bergin will be available to sign books at this outdoor market hosted by the Paniolo Preservation Society.

Saturday, April 1, starting at 2:00 pm, Hawaii Japanese Center, Hilo (751 Kanoelehua Avenue)
Hawaii Japanese Center,
in partnership with the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i, presents a program based around author Barbara Kawakami and her recent book, Picture Bride Stories, which was recently announced as the winner of the Asian/Pacific American Librarians (APALA) Literature Award for adult nonfiction (the award will be presented in June) . The HJC program will include a dance performance of holehole bushi and a screening of excerpts from the Rice & Roses television series that previously aired on PBS Hawai‘i. See complete details on the HJC flyer.

Ms. Kawakami has scheduled additional presentations on Picture Bride Stories, including one on Thursday, April 13, 12:00 to 1:45 pm, at Kaua‘i Community College’s International Education Center (Office of Continuing Education and Training Bldg., Room 106 C/D). On Saturday, April 29, she will be at Temari‘s annual “BOLTS of Fabric & Fun” sale to participate in the 11:00 am Textile Talk Stories with Ann Asakura, and will sign books before and after her presentation. The BOLTS event is being held at Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i (which has its own Things Japanese annual sale the same day).

Thursday, April 13, 12 noon to 1:15 pm, Kuykendall Hall 410, UH Mānoa
At this Brown Bag series sponsored by the Center for Biographical Research, David Hanlon‘s talk, “‘You Did What, Mr. President?!?!’ Writing a Biography of the Federated States of Micronesia’s Tosiwa Nakayama” explores his work behind Making Micronesia.

Saturday, April 22, 12 noon to 4:oo pm, Santa Rosa City Hall (100 Santa Rosa Avenue)
Copperfield’s Books will have a booth with a mini stage for its “Women Writers Talk Environment” event at the Earth Day festival in Santa Rosa. The Charm Buyers author Lillian Howan will join Rebecca Lawton, Farnaz Fatemi, and others to read, discuss, and sign books. For insight into Lillian’s writing, read the Writer in Residence interview with her on Rebecca Lawton’s blog.
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As always, to keep up with UHP author talks and other event news, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

February 2017 UH Press Author Events

Several author appearances are scheduled for the coming months; here are the remaining ones lined up for February. These events are free and the public is invited to attend. Books will be available for sale and signing, unless otherwise noted.

Saturday, February 18, 3:00 to 5:00 pm, Eastwind Books of Berkeley (2066 University Avenue)
howan-charmbuyers72dpiAt this venerable independent bookshop, Lillian Howan will discuss and read from her debut novel, The Charm Buyers. Set in 1990s Tahiti during the last years of French nuclear testing in the Pacific, the book has been praised by early reviewers as “gorgeous,” “sensuous,” and “hynoptic” (see the blurbs under the “reviews” tab on the UH Press web page). A review scheduled to appear in the March/April issue of Foreword Reviews says, in part: “Howan’s language is breathtaking, building a land and family with detail and power. . . . The Charm Buyers is a thought-provoking insight into a time of cultural change. It captures an essence of existing between reality and surreality, dreaming and wakefulness, the past and the future.”

For event information, go to the Eastwind Books website or Facebook page.
Howan also did a reading on February 15 at the University of San Francisco. See the flyer here.

Saturday, February 18, 11:00 am, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i
furuya-internment_100dpiFifty years ago, Suikei Furuya chronicled his World War II imprisonment and published his memoirs in Japan. It took JCCH Resource Center volunteer Tatsumi Hayashi ten years to translate the book into English and now An Internment Odyssey: Haisho Tenten has been published by JCCH, with additional distribution by UH Press. The book launch will include a panel discussion with Tatsumi Hayashi, Sheila Chun, Brian Niiya and a member of the Furuya family. For further details, see the JCCH website.

Thursday, February 23, 12 noon to 1:15 pm, Kuykendall Hall 410, UH Mānoa

tsai-peoplesrace_100dpiAt this Brown Bag talk sponsored by the Center for Biographical Research, Michael Tsai, author of The People’s Race Inc.: Behind the Scenes at the Honolulu Marathon, discusses his melding of journalistic and life-writing approaches as well as the expected and unexpected challenges of dealing with living subjects. Tsai is a Kapi‘olani Community College instructor and Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist and reporter.

For the Spring 2017 Brown Bag schedule of speakers, click here.

Saturday, February 25, 2:15 to 3:30 pm, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua

baird-dolphinswhales_100dpiAt Whales Tales 2017, presented by Whale Trust Maui, marine biologist Robin Baird speaks about his ocean fieldwork with Cascadia Research Collective and the results covered in his book, The Lives of Hawai‘i’s Dolphins and Whales: Natural History and Conservation. These include findings from years of research using satellite tagging, genetics, and photo identification to study resident whales and dolphins in Hawai‘i. Dr. Baird’s February 14 illustrated talk at the Waikiki Aquarium elicited numerous questions from the audience, leading to answers with more fascinating facts on these ocean mammals.


To keep up with UHP author talks and other event news, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Confessions of a Number One Son

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The Confessions of a Number One Son
written by Frank Chin
edited with an introduction by Calvin McMillin

2015 | 280 pages
Paper | ISBN 978-0-8248-3892-8 | $24.00
Cloth | ISBN 978-0-8248-3926-0 | $45.00

“Chin takes the reader on a twisted trip, packed both with raunchy comedy and poignant tenderness. . . . McMillin did an excellent job of keeping Chin’s writing intact while cutting out repetitions or segments that went nowhere [and] should also be applauded for compiling one of the best biographical sketches of Chin, to date. The publication of “Confessions” affirms Chin’s rightful place as a literary giant, not only within the confines of Asian American literature, but in the global literary world.” Nichi Bei Weekly

“Suspense builds as the novel becomes a darkly comic struggle with illusions, expectations and secret desires. . . . [Chin] writes fluidly, creates strong characters, and has a playwright’s ear for dialogue.” —Honolulu Star-Advertiser

“A spontaneous mix of reality and fantasy in this book contrasts with the underlying message about the damage people of color have endured because of racial prejudice. . . . Chin’s unique characters, with names like Gravelly Lake Ponders and Lily, the forty-three-year-old ex-nun, interact with convincing craziness.” —Foreword Reviews

“This heretofore unknown work captures the birth of a consciousness that is neither Asian or white American, but a third thing we witness being forged in the mind of its author. Its publication now should spur renewed interest and a critical reevaluation of the entirety of Frank Chin’s work, and cement his literary legacy.” —The International Examiner

Celebrating the “Wonderfully Subversive Power of Libraries and Librarians” as Robert Ji-Song Ku’s Dubious Gastronomy Wins APALA Literature Award for Adult Nonfiction

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One of the raffle items at the APALA awards dinner—a bracelet with mini book covers of the winning titles.

APALA-logoIn conjunction with the American Library Association annual conference in San Francisco, the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) literary awards were presented at a lively dinner ceremony on Saturday, June 27. Dubious Gastronomy: The Cultural Politics of Eating Asian in the USA by Robert Ji-Song Ku, associate professor of Asian American studies at Binghamton University–SUNY, received the top honor in the adult nonfiction category. While Professor Ku regrettably was unable to attend the event, his prepared remarks were read by UH Press development director Colins Kawai, who accepted the award on his behalf. The speech is worth sharing here:

“It is a privilege and an honor to win the 2014-15 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the adult non-fiction category. I am especially honored to receive this award from an association of librarians because, you see, I was practically raised by librarians since I was eight years old when my family immigrated to Hawaii from Korea in the early 1970s.

Ku-Dubious GastronomyHaving to work several jobs between them from before sunrise to long after sunset, my parents could not afford any sort of childcare, after-school programs, or summer camps for their three children. My mother’s solution was to drop us off at the public library for hours on end. And this is how I fell in love with books, which plunged me into the world of dinosaurs, great white sharks, and faraway galaxies. It also led me to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, and Maxine Hong Kingston’s girlhood among ghosts, white tigers, and shamans.

I believe it was the filmmaker Michael Moore who said of librarians: “They are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them.”

Ku,RobertI couldn’t agree more. The fact that I went on to earn a PhD in English literature, become a professor of Asian American studies, and author books about Asian Americans is a testament to the wonderfully subversive and revolutionary power of libraries and librarians. No, I don’t mess with librarians; I give them props!

I thank the University of Hawai‘i Press for publishing my book, and especially my editor, Masako Ikeda, for believing in my book from the very get-go. I thank my family—my wife Nancy and twin boys Eliot and Oliver—for everything under and above the sun. But most of all, on this day, I thank the members of APALA for bestowing upon me this incredible honor.”

All of us at UHP join him in giving props to librarians everywhere!

UHP in Illinois this week | Geography in Chicago and Asian American Studies in Evanston

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Association for Asian American Studies

2015 Conference

April 22-25 | Chicago/Evanston, Illinois

Contact Acquisitions Editor Masako Ikeda: masakoi@hawaii.edu

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—UHP series celebrates 15 years!-

Intersections

Asian and Pacific American Transcultural Studies
a collaborative series of University of Hawai‘i Press in conjunction with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center
For complete title listing, go to the Intersections series page on our blog.

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Association of American Geographers

Annual Meeting
April 21-25 | Chicago, Illinois

Contact Acquisitions Editor Nadine Little: nlittle@hawaii.edu

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