From the Philippines to the AntiWar Movement in the U.S.
Profilers: Aaron Ines, Audrey Nourse, Andrew Ines, Nicole Nourse
My name is Fordelis Oania. I was a student college student during the war, but I became aware of it when I was still in the Philippines. And I came to Hawaii in 1963; I was almost 12 years old.
Introduction and Early Life into the Philippines
What was it like growing up in the Philippines?
It was a small farming community. Many of the people were farmers; my parents were farmers. My dad was actually a contracted sugarcane plantation worker in Hawaii, so he used to come home for two years then go back again. Growing up, it was just a typical small-town—a very rural farming community [and] very safe. We used to play hide-and-seek at night during a full moon, and we used the whole town to hide. We were in groups of course, but it was a very safe community.
Did you have any opinions about the war while you were in the Philippines?
I was aware of the conflict in Vietnam because of its proximity to the Philippines. We used to have—just in case the Russians got really crazy—we used to have bomb drills. But I didn’t know that much about [the Vietnam conflict]. I heard some things about it from Peace Corps volunteers in my community. I first heard about what they called the Domino Theory. At that point, I was almost in the fourth grade, and I didn’t know what it was, until we were playing dominoes and realized that’s what the Domino Theory was. And we were afraid of communists because you know the Philippines is very close to that area, so if one country becomes communist, who knows the Philippines might become [Communist] also. So, there was that fear of communism taking over. I don’t know if I took sides then; I just knew this was happening.
How did Catholicism shape your view on the war?
I was born Catholic. My parents were very Catholic, and I guess how the war impacted my belief was when this man that was being shot in the head, and the Buddhists were burning him in the streets. I was in Hawaii when that happened, but that triggered something in my religious belief. I don’t know if it brought me closer to my religion or if it took me away Because I could not see how people could kill each other that way.
Transition into the U.S.
Why did you come to the U.S.?
Well, like I said, my dad used to be a plantation worker. He was aware of a better lifestyle and living conditions in Hawaii. In the Philippines we were not rich, but we were comfortable. We did have property; we were not big landowners, but we did own land. So he just wanted his family to move to Hawaii. And we came in groups. My mom, my dad, and my youngest brother came first. And then six months later my younger sister and I came. And then we waited for my oldest sisters and brothers to graduate from high school and college before they came.
How was the transition moving into the U.S.?
It was extremely difficult. We had to go through numerous interviews even though my parents were already here [in the US]. And of course once we got here, even though we spoke English, there was a language barrier. Having a very thick accent, I was reluctant to speak up in class. I think I only spoke when my teachers called on me, and even then, I remember being so nervous that my voice would choke because I was afraid that other students would laugh at me. Other than the language thing, we were up there with them in our classes, like science, math, and all that. We were not behind. The education system in the Philippines, even though we did not have the materials, we were not that far behind, and we were able to catch up really fast. But many of our teachers were Japanese, and there were times when I felt like they were wasting their time on me. Even though I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I felt like they were wasting their time on me. And that was manifested in high school when I was applying to colleges. I applied by myself, and I got a scholarship by myself. They were kind of surprised when I got it.
In your college career, how did you understand what was happening in Vietnam?
Many of my close friends were activists. In fact, I think that’s how I got involved. They would invite me to go to meetings, [and] they encouraged me not to pay my taxes because the government funded the war. You know, things like that. Hunger strike sit-ins. I think that the news made us more aware of what was happening in Vietnam, that we were not getting the full truth about Vietnam… like the Blanket Bombing of North Vietnam, the napalms being dropped, the Mining of Haiphong Harbor. I think the worst one was the My Lai massacre. When you saw people burning from the napalm, you were kind of like, ‘wait this is wrong.’ I think that’s when I started personalizing the war because my brother went to Vietnam in 1972. As far as my activism, other than attending sit-ins, going to meetings, not paying our taxes and our phone bills—supposedly AT&T was funding the war, I don’t know—that was it. I went to a couple of marches, but they were relatively peaceful; they were not the violent ones that were in newspapers. Again, I can also mention to you that when attending meetings, they used to prep us on how to dress up. We could not wear our hair in ponytails because it was easier to grab, or where hoop earrings because people can grab them and tear them off your ears. But at the same time, they always said that it will be peaceful. If we get arrested, we get arrested, but I only attended one when some people got arrested. That was a sit-in in San Francisco. I don’t remember any dates though.
Thoughts and Personal Impact on the Vietnam War
What were your thoughts on the draft lottery?
By the time it came around, I honestly believed that the war was wrong. So, the lottery itself was inhumane. People were waiting, [wondering] when are they gonna get killed? If you were number one, you said, ‘Oh my god, I’m gonna die soon,” so it did impact some traumatic psychological trouble into many of the young men at the time. And, I was scared for them. Many of my friends were forever tuning into the news, or looking at newspapers when their birthdays were going to get called. That was the talk of the day, the mornings. It was traumatic for many people.
The massacre got into this Mob Theory; you know when your leader tells you you have to do it, but at the same time you have to ask yourself, ‘well, this is wrong.’ It’s wrong. It is wrong to kill. And, they did it, and they covered it up. I still get emotional about it. It was a very strong turning point in my anti-war efforts.
Why was the My Lai Massacre so pivotal in affirming your stance on the war?
Because so many people died, and people covered up for it. No one would ever know that this thing happened. They buried them. They just went into the village and randomly shot people for no reason. It’s wrong, but at the same time they did it. What makes people behave that way? That’s when I got into this Mob Theory; you know when your leader tells you you have to do it, but at the same time you have to ask yourself, ‘well, this is wrong.’ It’s wrong. It is wrong to kill. And, they did it, and they covered it up. I still get emotional about it. It was a very strong turning point in my anti-war efforts.
How did it make you feel that the Americans were covering up the My Lai Massacre?
It happened in 1969, and I became totally aware of it when I entered college. So, that was two and a half years later. And that’s when you question your country. Is my country right or wrong? Is my country so important that I have to kill for no reason? And if you didn’t, you were deemed unpatriotic, and you were called all kinds of names. It’s just wrong. And then you start thinking about it: if America can do this, can lie about it, what other parts of the war did they lie about? That’s when you say, ‘Okay, my country is lying to me.’ It’s time to stop.
At this point, did you find it hard identifying yourself as an American?
I still considered myself an American… Because there were so many good things about America. There’s still a lot of good things, but as far as the Vietnam War, that’s the one that you didn’t want to talk about.
What impact did your brother being in Vietnam have on your family?
We didn’t hear that much for my brother when he was in Vietnam. Once in a while, he would write us and say that he was okay. As far as affecting us mentally, I don’t think it did [affect me], except for my parents. My parents were always worried if he’s gonna come home. In fact, every evening, we used to pray for his safe return. So, it did not affect me as much as I thought it would. All I know is that he was fighting for America, and therefore, I should be loyal to America. But as far as him, oh my gosh, when he came home, he came home just before New Year’s, and Hawaii has a lot of fireworks. As soon as he heard that, he dove under the table. He just said, ‘Oh, I thought that was—’ Then he just left the room; he wouldn’t explain. He would not talk about it. When he heard something, he would just shut down, either leave or just not say anything. I think the one time he talked about it was when my youngest brother asked him, ‘What did you do?’ He worked in the medical unit in camps. His words were: ‘he patched people up.’ He helped patch people up, and that’s as far that he would talk about being in Vietnam.
What lesson should be taught to younger generations about the Vietnam War?
I don’t know if we can do anything about it, but we need to question, we need to question our government about why we do some things. We need to know why we are there, what we are trying to save—anywhere, even our involvement in the Middle East. We need to question our purpose. That you cannot just be a follower; you need to know where you’re going. Again, it sounds a little altruistic, and it is, but what else can you do? What else can you do?
Flordelis L. Oania, known as Deli, was born on July 7th, 1952 into a Catholic family and grew up in a small farming community in the Ilocos region of the Philippines. In 1963, Deli’s family immigrated to Hawaii in groups—first her mother, father, and youngest brother left, then six months later Deli and her younger sister departed. Upon arrival in the United States, Deli’s cultural assimilation process was a challenging one, burdened by language barriers and foreign stereotypes. Nevertheless, she managed to excel in school and applied to Cal Berkeley herself, earning a spot and scholarship there. By the time Deli entered college, she became more aware of the violence in Vietnam, particularly the uncovering of the My Lai Massacre in 1969, overall viewing the war as an intrusion to Vietnam’s sovereignty. Like many of her friends and other college students, Deli joined the antiwar sentiment by participating in peaceful demonstrations against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. While it was hard to identify herself as American, Deli did so because her brother participated in a medical unit for the U.S. during the war in Vietnam. Later, Deli joined the Peace Corps representing the United States on a small island, called Marinduque, where she trained teachers and participated in projects with the sole purpose of forging friendships with the local islanders. Deli returned home in 2017 and has traveled back every year since. This is her Vietnam War story.
Aaron and Andrew Ines are both junior undergraduate students studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. Audrey and Nicole Nourse are both sophomore undergraduate students studying Business Administration at the University of Southern California with a focus in sports business. Working together, they aimed to retell Deli’s experience and relationship with the Vietnam War, bringing her story and past to life.