I am 55 years old today. I am about to share a story with you from an 11 year old boy’s perspective. It’s a story that I have been guardedly keeping deep in my memory bank. Forever I was not capable nor did I have the capacity to share it. But now, I have accepted my truth. For so long I was so ashamed of being “that” immigrant - the Boat People...the Gook..I’ve heard every racist slur regarding our type.
The story is not to seek pity; it is to merely share the power of circumstance. For some of us, our lives are defined by our circumstances. We are never a victim of it. Instead, it fuels us to become resilient as Teflon and utterly altruistic.
PART 1 – A New Beginning. Or is it the end?
"My last memory I have was of my father carrying me in his arms, running through our house, rushing through the front door and throwing me in a Taxi...within minutes, we arrived at the hospital. I do not remember the name. I think it was in French (Louis Pasteur?), and it was two blocks from the South Vietnam Presidential Palace...it was some time in April, 1975.
I don't recall how long I was there…I remember...I woke up smiling and running around my side of the hospital wing as if I was in a school yard. As I passed the night nurse, who had been caring for me (I remember it vividly - her face was white as chalk and not a word came out of her mouth, but tears scattered her cheeks), she smiled as she knelt down and opened her arms. I ran towards her as fast as I could. The hug felt as if it were an hour long.
She asked me if I was hungry. Like any 11-year-old boy, I replied, "Yes, and I want some ice cream!" Within minutes I was back in my room eating vanilla ice cream in a metal bowl, watching a 12-inch B&W TV. I was happy as any boy would be...
Much later I found out that I had been in the hospital for 2-3 weeks, completely unconscious. Some of the doctors thought I was not going to make it. They were in the middle of testing and trying to figured out the problems. I weighed around 50-something pounds, and I had just turned 11 years old.
I sat in my room watching Combat. (It was a black and white TV show back in the 60’s about a U.S. squad fighting in Europe during WWII.) When the show was over, the nurse got us ready for bed. It was the first time I had heard silence since I woke up.
From a distance you could hear loud thundering noises. As the night darkened, the bombs grew closer and louder. The loud shriek later reminded me of the thunders that would canvass the Alligator Alley sky in Weston, Florida every summer afternoon. One would think God is angry at us.
No, it was not monsoon season in Vietnam. The outskirts province of Saigon was being bombed. The Viet Cong was about to liberate the city within days. You could hear spurts of 50mm machine guns firing in the background mixed in with an occasional mortar.
Looking back, the weirdest thing that did not make sense was the song that was playing in the hospital. It was Jingle Bells. Santa is coming in April? At this moment I had no idea where I was or what date it was. My last and only memory I had was: I was in my father’s loving arms rushing to the hospital.
I think fear came when my ice cream bowl was empty. Suddenly, I was all alone in the room, as the thunder marched closer and louder. I climbed back to my bed, pulled the blanket over my head and began to cry...April 27, 1975.
My brother snuck me home on a bicycle the next night since the entire city was under martial law. All roads were closed. They were strictly for military use. Four days later we escaped Vietnam with just the clothes on our back.”
Part II -Lost at Sea - H2O Breath of Life …Coming soon
Despite my past or where I came from, I always have a choice to choose to be the person that I want to be in this world. This costs nothing. As for me, I hope all of us continuously ask ourselves once a year on our birthdays: What is the purpose of my existence? Am I closer to realizing my own truth?
No one is unscathed from his or her past. I am just barely learning this lesson: Pain+Reflection= Wisdom/Compassion. When we experience hurt of the ugliest human kind, the last thing we want is to see it, hear it, (or worse) smell it, but we also know with absolute truth that love is the only thing that matters in this short ride of ours...it heals, it reinvigorates. So don’t be shy. Let’s spread that shit all over the world😊❤️🙌
I think Jack Johnson said it the best- “Love is the answer for at least most of the questions in my heart ...why we are here and where do we go?”
Happy New Year and much love ❤️Thanks again for all the b-day wishes😊❤️
paul Stehl —
Inspirational and great to read. “Despite my past or where I came from, I always have a choice to choose to be the person that I want to be in this world” This statement means so much. I live by the belief that we are defined by are choices more than are circumstances.
Congratulations on your good choices!
Ho brah! Aloha from Maui. Was on the website and came across this blog post. Thank you so much for posting this. I volunteer for a podcast called Vietnamese Boat People and we share stories like this.
A lot of that generation who immigrated to the US keep quiet about this and don’t talk too much. It means a lot to be able to tell that story.
Would love to chat sometime, maybe if you’re comfortable we could collaborate and have this story told via interview. No pressure!
I am always impressed by Kekoa Collective’s achievements. Keep it up bro.