Saturday, April 18, 2015

Special Edition Lunch and Learn: Black April and the Fall of Saigon

(Correction: an earlier version of this blog reflected the date of the Lunch and Learn as Wednesday, April 22. It is actually Tuesday, April 21.)

For those who lived through the Vietnam War, the phrase “Black April” is loaded with complex meaning. It was in April, 40 years ago, when Saigon fell, and the American military officially ended its involvement in Vietnam. In commemoration of Black April, a special edition of the International Services Lunch and Learn event on Tuesday, April 21, will feature two speakers, two women, whose lives were forever shaped by their experiences in Vietnam.

Thu-Thuy Trong
Thu-Thuy Truong was 13 years old when her mother and siblings fled South Vietnam as part of the first cohort of "boat people" to leave the country. Although her father’s work as a high-ranking official afforded her family a relatively comfortable life during the conflict, he was unable to follow his family out of Vietnam. After an arduous voyage, first by boat, then by cargo ship, Thu Thuy arrived at Fort Chaffee, in Arkansas. At the military base, she and her family sought out the services of the Red Cross and the Restoring Family Links program, which eventually put them in touch with her father. The family eventually settled in Berkeley, Calif., where Thu-Thuy eventually earned her bachelor’s in chemical engineering and began a career in technology.

 For Thu-Thuy, an avid volunteer for the Red Cross and an advocate for Restoring Family Links, Black April is a time remembered with mixed feelings. "I think for me it is bittersweet. The bitter part is the part about losing people back home, but the sweet was getting to come to the US, and enjoy that freedom, and have a new life. For the older generation, I think, it is more bitter than the sweet, because they lost a lot more, their homes, their fortunes, everything." she said. "But I came to the US when had my whole future ahead of me."

 While Thu-Thuy was making her voyage to America, Red Cross volunteer Jackie Norris’s days in Vietnam were behind her. Jackie had served from 1967 to 1968 as a "Donut Dolly" following her graduation from college, providing moral support to American troops at Red Cross recreation centers in country. Back home in Colorado, Jackie saw the impact of the fall of Saigon and wanted to help. She volunteered with the Red Cross for President Ford’s Operation Babylift program, a coordinated evacuation program for Vietnamese children that began immediately after the fall of Saigon. The work involved picking up very young children and infants at Stapleton airport, and transporting them to a nursing-home-turned-nursery in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood to await adoption.

Jackie Norris
For Jackie, whose husband served in Vietnam as well, memories of Black April are very different than Thu-Thuy’s, but just as lasting. "That particular period of time was especially meaningful for those of us who were there [in Vietnam], because we remembered the war," she said. "[Black April] was the end of the war, which was really meaningful for my husband and me, and it was also the opportunity to do something really constructive with Operation Babylift."

Both women hope the Lunch and Learn lecture will provide an opportunity to shed light on the realities of the Vietnam War era, as well as the ways that the Red Cross services for refugees and troops continue to make a positive difference for people affected by conflict today. For Thu-Thuy, the Restoring Family Links program was vital to the success of her new life in the United States. "Even though it seems small, it's so important to a refugee or an immigrant like myself to have that family connection." Thu-Thuy said. "Once our family was intact, we had a unit, we had a support structure. We could face anything. I want people to know the effect of that."

 The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Tuesday, April 21 from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by 11:30 a.m. Monday, April 20, by clicking here. Webinar options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.

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