By the time the war ended, 58,220 American soldiers had died in Vietnam. And, in a strange irony, 50,000 of the people they’d gone to save had been evacuated to the United States. It was the largest airlift in U.S. history.
I remember when the refugees arrived at the Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County, just minutes from where I lived and studied at the University of California, Irvine.
During that long, hot summer of 1975 (the hottest in thirty years), wave after wave of uprooted Southeast Asians settled into reinvented lives. “Little Saigon” in Garden Grove became the largest enclave of Vietnamese (over 200,000) outside of Vietnam. Nguyen Cao Ky, the former president of South Vietnam, ran a liquor store there.
I sensed some sort of circle had closed when, in the mid-90’s, I overheard a couple of teenagers drooling in “totally” SoCal girl accents over a dress in a mall window. I turned to see two first generation Vietnamese-Americans.
Today, while the airlift generation’s grandchildren play, the soldier’s grandchildren plan trips to the Vietnam Memorial. Nothing happens the way we expect it to. Lives that were supposed to go on end. And lives that were afterthoughts continue.
In honor of those who gave their lives.
And those whose lives were changed forever.