"Saigon is currently full of crisis and fear — every single one in the city is worried."
This is how my mother, Hồng begins the last letter she will write before war’s end to my father, Hùng. It is April 3, 1975. My mother is 22 years old. My father, 27 years old and a First Lieutenant in the navy, is stationed off the coast of South Vietnam near the Cambodian border at Radar Station 404 on Pirate Islands. His base is a day’s journey from Saigon, where my mother lives with her parents and eight siblings in a four-story townhouse in the heart of the city. Her mother manages an export/import business on the first floor of the house; her father owns a fabric supply business.
Every night, my mother sits around the dining room table with her family and listens to news of the war. Every night, a new city falls to the Communists. Half the troops in the South are dead. The highways are jammed with fleeing soldiers and civilians.
My mother writes:
"No one knows where to go. Some families are preparing to migrate to other countries by merchant ships… Heard that the city of Rạch Giá is in trouble. I’m very worried for you and Uncle Tai… Our lives have no tomorrow. Your future and mine is a huge void. I think that our plans will shatter like the fate of our youth. I’m still attending school regularly here. Sometimes when I am holding my books, I wonder whether I am as fortunate as before? Or will I be killed in a mortar strike or evacuation? I feel as if we will never reunite again. I want to tell you everything between the two of us.
I can’t study at home because my younger siblings keep making noises. The library is full of war news. Sometimes I try to keep myself calm by not listening, but somehow they still stick around my head.
Never before have I had such a mental breakdown like the one right now. I should have waited for your letter and then reply, but I’m having some terrible premonition. I’m afraid communication will be cut — how can I know whether you’re still there in safety. And I’m still thinking of you..."
My mother’s family didn’t know where to go. But there was still a part of them that was not convinced Saigon would actually be taken. Toward the end of her letter, my mother tells my father how she has just watched Wuthering Heights at the cinema. She’s purchased a ticket for him when he gets home. She asks him to send his ID card so she can register him for the second part of his law exam while he’s on leave. She mentions the possibility of visiting him for a weekend.
In the days and weeks that follow, a lot would change.
This is only a glimpse into the story of my parents — refugees of the Vietnam War, how they survived a war, escaped a country, and reunited years later in America. And this is just the beginning of my journey in understanding my parents' past. Click here for the full chapter 1 of this story.
This photo is of my parents when they finally reunited many years later in America.