Imagine yourself on a small boat travelling across the Pacific Ocean. Not knowing where you’re going. Not knowing whether or not your family, the family you just left behind in your home country still lives. Not knowing whether or not tomorrow you will be alive or dead. Your stomach is growling, you haven’t eaten anything for three days, the boat has run out of supplies and the only water left is the seawater that surrounds the boat. You lie at the bottom of the boat, unable to move. You’re helpless! Questions wander through your mind. Will you be saved? Will you reach a refugee camp? Will a storm erupt or will pirates invade the boat? This is the suffering that many of the Vietnam War refugees had to go through.
Today I want to take you all on a journey through the Vietnam War. Not as an Australian or American veteran recalling memories, or as some bystander that watched it on TV telling you facts. I will tell you facts, but some of these aren’t the facts that you would normally read in books. I want to take you as the refugees and the people of South Vietnam. These are the people whom I believe have been forgotten about, yet they are probably the ones most effected by this conflict!
The Vietnam War - a conflict that lasted from the mid 1950’s - 1975. A conflict that went on for 20 years. 20 years of fighting! The Communists against the anti-Communists. Russia, China and the Viet Cong - the Vietnamese communists against the South Vietnamese, America, Australia etc. And the battle ground for this conflict? South Vietnam. It was because of this conflict that there are Vietnam refugees today. But why all the refugees?
The year’s 1975 on the 30th of April, the Communists have won the war. Over 2 million South Vietnamese, dead! 58 thousand Americans, dead! 504 Australians, dead! Three times the amount of bombs dropped in WW2 have been dropped in this one conflict. This is when the refugees start to run! Why? They’re scared. The Communists are capturing all those who were involved with the South Vietnamese Government, the army, the navy and the air force. If you were captured then you left your family to go to prison. The South Vietnamese believed that they had to escape in order to give their families a future. How did they escape? By boat of course. Boat People was a term used to describe all the refugees who fled after the Vietnam War.
The process of this escape however was very time consuming and could take 2 years. The refugees had to sell all their valuables in order to obtain money to buy equipment. The boats would normally be only 3 by 10 metres and of wood and yet they had to fit up to 100 people. The escaping night was very frightening. The refugees had to move to the boat in small groups of 3-5, so that they wouldn’t look conspicuous for if the Viet Cong did spot them they were either imprisoned or shot. Once the refugees had all met up they boarded the boat. Now, don’t think it was relaxing in that boat like it is on a Caribbean Cruise. It was probably one of the worst experiences these refugees ever had. They were packed in like sardines. This means that when they got sea sick, where do you think they vomited? Right where they were of course. They needed to go the toilet, where did they go? Right where they were. If that wasn’t enough, there was the fear of Thai pirates. They would invade the boat, steal all the supplies and kidnap the young women to be either raped or sold! The others would be left on a deserted island to die. Other fears was that a huge thunderstorm would erupt or the boat would run out of supplies and everyone starved to death. If the boat was lucky then it might be saved by the French and German ship called ‘Cape D’amour’ or reach one of the refugee camps.
So now it’s the present one again, one million of these boat people are dead and the others live in countries like Australia leading basically normal lives. But what about all the soldiers and people of South Vietnam that were unable to escape? What happened to them? Well, the soldiers were kicked out of the hospitals they were in and sent to prison. All these soldiers still wounded from the war. Their families left to support themselves. When they were released, if they were released they were sent to the jungle to live. Forbidden to enter the city. They couldn’t get jobs, couldn’t support their families and couldn’t give their children an education, the education that we all take for granted. This is the suffering that the South Vietnamese veterans still in Vietnam went through and are still going through today. The Australian veterans were supported and are now national heroes, the Americans are heroes, and even the Communists are heroes to their people. But what about the soldiers of South Vietnam living in Vietnam today? They have practically been forgotten and yet they are the biggest heroes of them all! Not only for defending their country in this devastating war but also for putting up with everything that the Viet Cong put them through.
So now your journey ends, you have seen the traumatic journey the Vietnam refugees had to go through. You have heard about the devastating lives the South Vietnamese veterans in Vietanam are leading. I ask you not to forget these forgotten soldiers. And the conflict between the North and South that caused millions of people to die, thousands of bombs to be dropped and what did it accomplish? A country that used to be filled with smiling people in cultural dress everywhere you went now replaced by Viet Cong policemen.
Vietnam will never be the same again....
By: Nguyen Viet Huong
Public Speaking Arwards
April 30, 2000
Free Vietnamese Community in Queensland Australia