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

File 20170920 16398 vikgg0
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.

2017 Hawaii Book & Music Festival: UH Press Tent & Author Events

University of Hawai‘i Press will be among the local publishers, organizations, booksellers, and other vendors exhibiting at the 12th annual Hawai‘i Book and Music Festival taking place next weekend, May 6 and 7, at the Frank F. Fasi Civic Grounds next to Honolulu Hale. Admission and parking are free. Go to the festival website to download detailed daily schedules and a PDF of the map, as well as links to the latest news on its Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Attend the presentations by these UH Press authors and follow them to our booth, located alongside Honolulu Hale, for informal signings (times given are for the talks, so signings are about an hour later):
SATURDAY, MAY 6
SUNDAY, MAY 7
Rodney Morales, For a Song (1:00 pm).
Kapali Lyon will moderate a panel on PALAPALA: A Journal for Hawaiian Language and Literature = Palapala: he puke pai no ka ʻōlelo me ka moʻolelo Hawaiʻi (1:00 pm). No signing is possible but come by for information on this open-access journal.
Dr. Billy Bergin, The Hawaiian Horse (2:00 pm).
Winona K. Mesiona Lee and Mele A. Look, the editors of Ho‘i Hou Ka Mauli Ola: Pathways to Native Hawaiian Health, the latest in the Hawai‘inuiākea  series (3:00 pm).
Lillian Howan, The Charm Buyers (4:00 pm). Due to the late hour, buy the book ahead of time to sign at her talk and/or come to her reading on Saturday, May 13, 2:00 to 4:00 pm at Aupuni Place in Ward Warehouse.

 

At our tent we’ll have event discounts on the above titles and many others, and will offer free shipping on orders taken onsite. Slightly damaged (“hurt”) stock and a few titles in new condition will have special bargain prices.

We look forward to seeing everyone at this outside celebration of story and song!

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.

“Did Thai king help stifle democracy?”

UHP Author Serhat Ünaldi addresses the passing of Thailand’s king:

“After the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand is preparing for Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to succeed him on the throne. The king’s declining health seemed to coincide with the beginning of a decade-long political crisis, writes Serhat Uenaldi, and in the end Thai democracy died long before the king.” [source: BBC.com/newsRead more here.

9780824855727

Working towards the Monarchy:
The Politics of Space in Downtown Bangkok
May 2016 | 344 pages
Cloth | $62.00

October 2016 UH Press Author Events

Several University of Hawai‘i Press authors will be presenting their works this month and next. These events are free and the public is invited to attend. Books will be available for sale and signing, unless otherwise noted.

brownenglishdept-flyerTuesday, October 4, 3:00 to 4:30 pm, Kuykendall Hall 410, UH Mānoa
Assistant professor of religion Marie Alohalani Brown discusses life-writing and her recent book, Facing the Spears of Change: The Life and Legacy of John Papa ‘Ī‘ī. Her talk is part of the UHM English Department Colloquium series.

Thursday, October 6, noon to 1:15 pm, Henke Hall 325, UH Mānoamorales-forasong_100dpi
At this Center for Biographical Research brown bag talk, Rodney Morales  addresses the role that research plays in his fiction, particularly his new novel, For a Song. In fabricating stories that ring true, he not only focuses on documentable events, actual persons, and observable landscapes, as histories and biographies do, but also finds ways to breathe life into them. (See the fall semester Brown Bag Biography schedule here.)

hasinger-astro_basicallybksFriday, October 7, 6:00 to 7:00 pm, Basically Books, Hilo
For this First Friday event in downtown Hilo, UHM Institute for Astronomy director Günther Hasinger expands our understanding of space and time and looks at recent advances in astrophysics, as covered in his book, Astronomy’s Limitless Journey: A Guide to Understanding the Universe.

Wednesday, October 12, 6:30 to 7:30 pm, Kapolei Public Library
baird-dolphinswhales_100dpiMarine biologist Robin W. Baird of Cascadia Research Collective (Olympia, Washington) discusses results from his soon-to-be-published The Lives of Hawai‘i’s Dolphins and Whales: Natural History and Conservation, which includes findings from years of research using satellite tagging, genetics, and photo identification to study resident whales and dolphins in Hawai‘i. (Note: Books will not be available for sale.)

Thursday, October 13, 7:30 to 8:30 pm, Kapi‘olani Community College Hale ‘Ōhi‘a (cafeteria)
Hawaiian Historical Society hosts Marie Alohalani Brown as their program’s featured speaker to present her biography of John brown-facingthespears_100dpiPapa ‘Ī‘ī, Facing the Spears of Change. Doors open at 7 pm for light refreshments and the talk follows at 7:30.

Saturday, October 22, 9:00 to 11:00 am, Wahiawa Botanical Garden KawakamiCOVER12b.indd
The Wahiawa Historical Society honors former longtime resident Barbara Kawakami on the publication of Picture Bride Stories.

Wednesday, October 26, 5:30 to 7:30 pm, King Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center, 417 S. King Street
Dr. Marie Alohalani Brown again shares her work and insight on Hawaiian statesman John Papa ‘Ī‘ī; this time to a downtown Honolulu audience. See more details and register on Eventbrite.

Events to come in November include Rodney Morales at Native Books/Nā Mea Hawai‘i on November 5, 2:30 to 4 pm, and discussions with editors Aya Kimura and Krisnawati Suryanata, along with chapter contributors, to highlight Food and Power in Hawai‘i. A book launch for Food and Power in Hawai‘i is scheduled for November 4, 2:30 to 4:00 pm at UHM Saunders Hall 443. Check our Facebook page for updates.