30/4/1975 was the day of the fall of Saigon and because he was a Signal Corps Lieutenant Colonel of the South Vietnam Army, my father spent ten years in various hard labour camps. On release, he was issued a “TEMPORARY RELEASE” paper which meant that he could be re-arrested at any time for any reason. Moreover, every week for two years, he had to present himself at the local police station to report what he did, where he went, whom he met during the week. During that two years, he was not considered a citizen of his birth country and wasn’t allowed to work. Even after he was restored his “Citizen Rights”, with his background, no one wanted to hire him.
Since 1982, my Vietnamese friend in the US had translated all my father’s personal and military papers including his Electronics Communications Engineer degree (which he completed at the US Army Signals School in New Jersey, USA), and sent to the US government but our family didn’t hear from them. After his release, he again sent all necessary papers to the American Embassy in Bangkok to apply for visas to the US for our family. His application was approved in a few months and a Letter of Introduction sent to the Vietnamese government asking them to issue passports for him and his family of five members so they can go to Bangkok for formal emigration process before entering the US.
Looking back, he now understands why the Vietnamese government didn’t let him and his family leave. In 1985, Vietnamese and US governments were still in negotiation on the secret three-billion-dollar deal which carried the conditions of releasing and allowing South Vietnam political detainees and prisoners of war to emigrate to the US of their choices and normalizing the relationship between the two countries.
There had been constant rumours that the US government was considering a mass evacuation of all prisoners of war. Hope, dream, BBC and Voice of America were all that many families lived on then. That dream did come true as in 1989, the in-country processing of the Humanitarian Operation (HO) Program started. My family had to pay a lot of money for an “application fee”. Some families could not afford the fee. The family waited and waited yet was not called for an interview.
For several years, I put in an application for family reunion in Australia. My family paid more fees to the Emigration Office for passports to Australia. Soon, the family was interviewed by the Australian Official Team and accepted to leave Vietnam in November 1990.
Details of the departure was kept secret till the last minute for fear of wicked plots from hostile neighbours, relatives and the local police, which could have lead to all passports being cancelled. Even after arriving at the airport, he was still very afraid that the family wouldn’t be able to leave. On the Vietnam Airlines plane to Singapore, he was still scared that the Communists could ask the whole family to go back to Vietnam. He only sighed with relief when he had boarded a Qantas plane from Singapore to Sydney.
My family’s arrival in Australia marked the end of my loneliness. For years, I dreaded weekends, public holidays and cultural celebrations as outside of study and work, I didn’t have a family to spend time with. I felt quite vulnerable when I was sick as I had no one to look after me. For years, my homesickness and desolation were temporarily relieved with bits and pieces of pity, sympathy and kindness, from friends, acquaintances and strangers.
I’ve now a family,
For love, support and care,
After long lonely years.
Cry no more as loner,
On empty days and nights,
I’ve now a family.
Seek no more a haven,
From strangers on this earth,
For love, support and care.
The drought of happiness,
Has finally ended,
After long lonely years.