The War that Never Left - The Stories from Cam Vu
Profilers: Uyen Nguyen, Sean Bang, Liam Uys, Partho Gupte
The War and Re-education Camps
Why don’t you tell us a little more about yourself and your role in the military?
Okay. My name is Cam Le. My nickname, like a pen name, is Cam Vu. The people already know me as the name Cam Vu, it’s my nickname. So, I was born in 1950, my family is middle class. My father was a soldier in the Indo Chinese Union French. In 1969, I volunteered for the army. I studied to become a medical assistant. So, in the army, I had been selected to the Medical School. After 1975, I was caught by the communists at the front line and then I went to re-education camp like so many people. They say re-education camp, but actually, that is a prison. Not a re-education no. The people are hungry, working, cold, and suffer everything. Even for 3 years, 4 years, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, 13 years, or 17 years. When people come out, they are only 37 to 45 kilograms. That means the weight is about 80 pounds and 110 pounds maximum. That meant no more, anybody.
How long were you personally in the reeducation camp?
Four years. Very terrible 4 years. But I keep my psychology in my time at the reeducation camp. I have to agree with that because it was not my fault. I believe that God let me out. When I was released from the re-education camp and went home, my father passed away. A month after my father passed away, I went with the boat people. I don’t have any money. I went to visit my parent’s friends and they allowed me to go together with them.
Life in America
What was your experience like coming to America?
In Indonesia, I stayed there for only four months. Because my uncle was the Chief Security in the US embassy before. And then at that time he worked for the city of Green Bay in Wisconsin. So the mayor from Green Bay sponsored me to go to America. In Wisconsin, it was so cold and I stayed there for a few months and went to California. And I studied to become an emergency medical technician. But unfortunately, even when I was ready, I couldn’t find a job because they needed the person to have good health. My health was not good enough to do that job. So, I worked a job like a mechanic. And at night, I went to school to study acupuncture and oriental medicine.
Looking back on it, how has your experience in the re-education camps affected you to this day in America?
People in re-education camp have been mentally damaged. Even me, I have nightmares every day, every week, and every month for 15 years. I still sometimes feel nightmares about being back in the re-education camp and the Viet Cong shoot me. Then I open my eyes and say “Oh, I’m in America.”
Lasting Effects of the War
What are your current thoughts on the Vietnam War?
I am so very sad in the Vietnam war. Do you know how many people died? Around three million people. I am crying. So many of my relatives, my friends, passed away. And Vietnam [doesn’t] have any happy ending today, under control by communists.
What are views on the state of Vietnam today?
Yes, the war is over, but actually it’s not over. Because they are the winners, like Communist Vietnam, they are the winners but they don’t know how to run the country. Make the country bad, bad, bad. That’s why the war is not finished yet.