Profilers: Robert Eskanos, Victoria Berggren, Piyounik Hakopian
My family and I lived in Nha Trang Vietnam. Nha Trang is a beautiful city with magnificent beaches.
We were met at the airport by an American coworker of my dad we also had I believe nine other families that also knew this American gentleman. When we were going through the lines, there were young American soldiers with big smiles on their face just trying to get us through as fast as they could.
I don’t remember the rest of it until I remember we were sitting in a ditch. Again I looked up and I saw the control tower right in front of me and then it got dark. We were all together, but I don’t remember being panicky or screaming. There were lots of screaming around us, but for me I don’t know. It was either out of fear I was frozen.
But I remember it starting to get dark. And no one knew what was going on and then all the lights went off so it was completely dark at the airport. And then all of a sudden, again looking up at the control tower, and on the left of it we start seeing warplanes flying across and also we saw bombs coming down. And again there was no fear in me. I was just sitting there like watching a fireworks show or something. But it was scary. You know as soon as someone was like, “look at the bombs.” There was just too much to take in at the time.
And once again there were people screaming, trying to run away, or you know do something. But somehow our group just stayed. And then, at some point in the night, we saw this image just coming towards us. And the closer it got, it turned out to be a big cargo plane. But of course, they didn’t have their lights on or anything because I guess they didn’t want to get bombed on. Then the back of the cargo plane opened up and I think we got the command from someone to run.
So all of us, everybody, just ran into this cargo plane and we were just standing around or grabbing on to a rope or anything that we could. They just packed it in and I don’t know at what point they closed the door. I don’t know how they determined…I don’t remember that part. And then we took off.
The next day when we woke up and went to the breakfast place, that’s when we found out that the airport was bombed the night before and we were the last plane out.
My first reaction or just first memory was of course everybody who was camping out at the airport would be dead or injured. My vivid memory was those young soldiers, which were not scared but were wiling to help us to get out. They may not have gotten out before the airport was bombed. So I felt sad about that part of it.
We stayed at an island for a about a week or so then we were transported to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas.
Arriving in America
When we landed in Arkansas. I was laughing because just looking out it was all this cornfields along the runways. In my head I was thinking, “This is America?”
As it turned out, we were the first ones to arrive at Fort Chaffee. So we got first class treatments. Everyone was so wonderful to us. After that, we started hearing stories about camp Pendleton, how it was overcrowded and it was just crazy over there. We were lucky to not be in camp Pendleton.
We had buildings with bunk beds, which divided up so called rooms, but within a room. They would have two or three bunk beds in there. All eight of us were in one room with four bunk beds I guess. And then all the families with us, with our same group, all stayed within the same building.
So once again just imagine living in a house and then ending up in one room with bunk beds. But once again, I don’t know, but somehow I just learned to adapt to everything and not look at it as something sad or why didn’t we have this or why didn’t we have that.
We had to get in line to get all of our necessities and we also had to get in line to get food and things like that. I mean I’m sure it was difficult for our parents, but for us kids, once again, we met up with the families’ kids and we were playing outside.
But the big difference was in Vietnam we had the outdoor markets and everything was fresh. Every day we would go to the market daily and get food to cook it that night. Of course we had a refrigerator, but we just mainly ate farm to table. In America, the first time we walked into a super market, everything is all piled up neatly. But that was one of the big differences that we were dealing with.
Return and Reflection
I did make a trip back about six years ago and because I finally had the time to do it. Plus, I wanted to see our house and my sisters said, they even have pictures, one of them said that, two years prior half of the house was gone. And so I would still be able to see part of the house, and that is what I was looking forward to. When we got to Nha Trang, our driver, I gave him the address, and he took us straight there. I remember the corner. Like, our house was in a triangle lot. And I looked up and I was like, “Is this the address?” and he said, “yes.” I looked up and the house was gone. Now it was just a government building. And the whole area looked so small, comparing to when we were living there. And so we just took a couple of pictures, and I said, “Let’s go to the beach.”
So, we walked down there. I was in tears because it was not what I remembered, and I guess they had a tsunami or something a few years back, and everything was washed up. The restaurant row was still there, but just looking around, I finally said, “I can’t take this.” I want to remember it as how I remembered it. So in a way, going back, it was good, but now I have that big old building in my head, instead of our house.
One thing I wanted to do was to find this big, white Buddha statue that I remembered and, low and behold, the driver knew exactly what I was talking about. We drove straight up there, and I looked at it and I said, “That’s my Buddha!” I ran up there. I didn’t remember there were steps going up. And so I ran up there and touched the Buddha. I mean, I couldn’t touch his tummy, but that was one of the highlights.
So anyways, we are happy and grateful that we had the opportunities here in America. We are always grateful and always will be.