Sunday, August 28, 2016

Avalon Chronicles #65: "East Meets West"

Avalon Chronicles #65: "East Meets West"

by Allen B. Clark     

                                            They Came by Air, Land, and Sea

     On April 30, 1975, when the final evacuation of Saigon in Vietnam occurred, I had been returned from Vietnam for eight years. After transfusions of twenty pints of blood, fifteen months at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio from June 1967 to September 1968, twelve surgical procedures, probably 150 stitches, and a very severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I was in Dallas with a wonderful job at a bank, two young daughters, and a new found faith walk in which I was growing by leaps and bounds. I began to perceive that my involvement in Vietnam as an Army captain assigned to the Green Berets in an intelligence gathering operation in Vietnam was as a white pawn on a huge chess board of history with the two king antagonists being good versus evil, my Lord God, combating in spiritual warfare the forces of evil, led by Satan, commanding the dark set of pieces on the board.
     There began to be news reports of the Vietnamese "Boat People" escaping the now Communist country of Vietnam. At the time I paid scant attention to the news because I was consumed with my new civilian career and family life. In 1981 I was in the third year of my service to my state of Texas as a special assistant to Texas Governor Bill Clements. Some of the "Boat People" had immigrated as new refugees on the Texas coast in several fishing communities where they were making a new life for themselves by building fishing boats and working long hours to make a living in competition with long-time native Texas fisherman, who had derived their own living for decades in the fishing industry. The competition and imposition of the Vietnamese refugees into the business environment in quiet Texas fishing communities was reaching the stage where it was close to violence. The Governor assigned me the responsibility to conduct a fact-finding trip to the coast to present him with recommendations to address the issues. My very small "task force" visited three towns within which we met separately with all the five affected and involved parties; law enforcement, government officials, American fishermen, Vietnamesese, and culminating with a town hall meeting at one of which my answer was displeasing to about fifteen members of the local Ku Klux Klan, who staged an immediate walkout from the room! After my visits and some actions accomplished, the towns became more quiet and for the time being things settled down. My gratitude was expressed by the American fishermen in Rockport inviting me and my family on a shrimp boat fishing trip and a spaghetti dinner at one of their homes. After that I moved to Washington D.C. and had no further involvement for many years with the refugees from the country to which I had deployed as a soldier to preserve their freedom.
     My involvement began anew in a very significant and deeply emotional fashion on August 25, 2016, when an American of Vietnamese ancestry, Andy Nguyen, invited me to Arlington, Texas for a celebration commemorating his sixth year as an elected public service as a County Commissioner in Tarrant County (main city Fort Worth). It was my honor to be able to relate the story of my time in his former homeland of Vietnam and especially my healing from my wounds, which had necessitated the amputation of both my legs below my knees. Many of his guests were Americans, who had escaped from Vietnam at the end of the war or in the following years. To report to you that the evening, the conversations, the stories related to Linda and me of their refugee sagas, and their starting all over to fulfill their "Living the American Dream," so magnificently reflected by Andy Nguyen and his wife Julie, was not of such a nature admittedly literally to tear at our heart strings would do it an injustice.
     During the course of the evening I offered for purchase my two published books, one especially Valor in Vietnam, and the purchasers allowed Linda and me to hear first hand many poignant, compelling, and, yes, harrowing accounts of these warm and wonderful first generation immigrants from the country where I had made such a huge sacrifice as a soldier to maintain their freedoms. We heard the narratives of the lives of families, wherein their parents were members of the Vietnamese Army and Navy, policemen,  public officials, and merchants. Some I had heard previously such as a small family with only wife and two children being crowded into the cockpit of a small plane, which landed on the deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Another story was of a family escaping on a small boat, which was intercepted by pirates, who raped and killed the wife and mother and threw her overboard.
     That night we had extended conversations with several attendees. Andy and Julie Nguyen had departed Vietnam at separate times and on different boats. As a young student another related how two groups of students had begun traveling cross country to traverse Laos to reach safety in Thailand through the area in Kontum province near my Special Forces camp of Dak To. One group made it, but the attendee with whom I spoke was apprehended and imprisoned. He later left by boat and displays in his living room a picture of the U.S. Navy ship that rescued him.
     Another gentleman to whom Linda and I became quickly attached had escaped on a boat with his high-ranking Vietnamese Army officer father. He has been successful in business and has not forgotten his original homeland where he returns to help in building schools and bridges and donating shoes.
     I have left my final story to the older couple with whom I spoke at the end of the evening. She was four months pregnant on April 29, 1975, the day before the final evacuation of Saigon. Her husband had been a police officer who got on a boat still in uniform. She had gone behind him to board to be sure he got away because he would have been targeted for death as a police officer by the fast-approaching Communists.  The wife would have been left behind as the boat pushed away from the pier, but one of the men placed a board across to the pier and she got aboard! The passengers survived several days with no food nor water. When the boat was met again by the angels of the U.S. Navy in international waters, she was the last to disembark and discovered on the deck among the residue a Christian cross left behind! I inquired whether she had been of the Buddhist or Christian faith upon her escape. She related she had been neither, but rather adhered to "ancestor worship" only. I noted she now wore a Christian cross adorning her neck and asked her about it. She said after being the last passenger on the boat, discovering the cross, coming to America only with the clothes she wore on the boat, and working several jobs without federal assistance to become self-sufficient as a refugee, she knew there was a God!
     At the culmination of my presentation, literally with tears wetting my cheeks, I looked over at Julie and Andy and the audience of very much so assimilated refugees, who sincerely appreciated America and did not take their freedom here for granted, and said I had often agonized over the worth of my sacrifice in their former country, but, being there with Julie and Andy as the living embodiment of successful immigrants, who represented "Living the American Dream,' I proclaimed that their successes and the assimilation of all in meaningful pursuits in the land of the free because of our bravery as Vietnam veterans made much of it finally worthwhile! It was an amazing closure fifty years after my Vietnam War experience commenced in August 1966. I complete this message again with tears of gratitude in my eyes for my freedom and theirs. God has blessed America. May we continue to deserve the gift.


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