“Trần Đình Trụ’s life story was one of grace, fortitude, and devotion to his family. A skilled seaman and a naval commander, he journeyed from North Vietnam to South Vietnam as a young man, and then from South Vietnam to the Philippines, Guam, Japan, and ultimately, the United States. In his memoir, he recounts his evacuation from South Vietnam in 1975, his experiences in a refugee camp in Guam, and his decision to return to Vietnam in October 1975 with more than 1500 Vietnamese repatriates as the captain of the Việt Nam Thương Tín. After he successfully navigated the ship back to Vietnam, the new government viewed him and the repatriates with fear and suspicion. Trần Đình Trụ suffered physical and psychological brutality in “re-education” camps for more than twelve years. On release, he finally rejoined with his family and resettled in the United States. Through his memoir, Trần Đình Trụ captured the singularity of his life story and the universality of despair and uncertainty at the end of war. He will be deeply missed by his family and community.”
Read more about the book and Tru’s life in an essay by Professor Lipman that first appeared in The Conversation and was republished on the UH Press blog.
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
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.
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
In 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.
In 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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) At 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.”
Saturday, February 18, 11:00 am,Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i Fifty 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 Tentenhas 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
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.
Thursday, October 6, noon to 1:15 pm, Henke Hall 325,UH Mānoa
At this Center for Biographical Researchbrown 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.)
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.
Sunny Skies, Shady Characters: Cops, Killers, and Corruption in the Aloha State by James Dooley
A Latitude 20 Book | August 2015 | 248 pages | 20 b&w illlus.
Paper | ISBN 978-0-8248-5164-4 | $18.99
(Also available as an ebook/Kindle)
“Sunny Skies, Shady Charactersby James Dooley—Hawaii’s bravest investigative reporter—recounts the secret history of Hawaii that all of us have been waiting for: a book of shocking revelations, featuring a cast of thieves, heavies, enforcers, and yakuza thugs and sneaks who have so intimidated the islands that the truth of their villainy has been suppressed—until now. At last, we know where the bodies are buried, and who buried them.” —Paul Theroux
“The stories recounted here were once front-page news and they lose none of their timeliness in the translation into a book. For those who lived through those times, the book is an opportunity to recall the scandals and scoundrels that infested Hawai‘i, and for those too young to remember, it is a reminder of why a vigilant press is an essential ingredient to an informed public.” —Gerald Kato, associate professor of journalism, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Veteran investigative reporter James Dooley revisits highlights of his journalistic career in Sunny Skies, Shady Characters, revealing entertaining backstories on how he chased high-profile scandals of crime and corruption from the 1970s into the 2000s. In the process, he provides an insider’s look at the business of journalism and the craft of investigative reporting. For a glimpse at the people and cases he covers, take a look at the book’s index here.
Although warehouse stock has only just arrived in Hawai‘i, the book has already triggered memories and discussion due to early media attention, especially preview excerpts that appeared in the August issue of HONOLULU Magazine (released in late July). Civil Beat columnist Neal Milner wrote last week, “As Dooley shows, some of the corruption in Hawaii, like [Ronnie] Ching himself, was bloody and sinister, involving the Mob, Yakuza, and pitched battles between rival Teamster Union members. Other scandals like the Bishop Estate and Kukui Plaza affairs, may not have involved violence, but in their own way they were as outrageous, crude and blatant as a Mafia hit.” David Shapiro’s book review in Sunday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiserstated, “his greatest hits were darned impressive, and it’ll likely be enough for Sunny Skies, Shady Characters to join the short list of books considered must-reads for those seeking to understand Hawaii.”
EVENTS (most recent listed at the bottom)
• Author James Dooley will give a Center for Biographical Research brown bag talk on Thursday, September 3, noon to 1:15 p.m., in UHM Henke Hall 325.
• Join us forHONOLULU Magazine‘s downtown pau hana talk and book signing on Wednesday, September 16, from 5 to 7 p.m., at theHukilaurestaurant (1088 Bishop Street). Click here for the e-invite.
• On Saturday, October 3, starting at 12 noon, Dooley will sign at Barnes & Noble, Ala Moana Center, following an appearance at the Perry and Price Saturday Morning Show broadcast live from Jade Dynasty restaurant, also at Ala Moana Center.
• Head over to the windward side of O‘ahu on Saturday, October 10, noon to 1 p.m., for a signing at BookEnds in Kailua(Kailua Shopping Center, 600 Kailua Road).
• On Saturday, November 7, Jim Dooley will be one of a dozen authors signing at the Daughters of Hawai‘i’s annual Book Day at Queen Emma. (Another veteran journalist, Denby Fawcett, will be there to sign her book, Secrets of Diamond Head.)
• Dooley joins two other authors (Kusuma Cooray and Leslie Hayashi) at the UH Manoa Bookstore‘s Preview Night, Thursday, November 19, 5 to 7 p.m.
• UH Press is partnering with University of Hawai‘i at Manoa’s Hamilton Library in hosting a new lecture series, Laha Mau Book Talks. Jim Dooley will present the second in the series on Thursday, December 9, starting at 4 p.m. in room 301.
For further details, please check back on this post or contact Carol Abe in the UH Press marketing department.