General Hieu's Family Evacuation
General Hieu's funeral happened on April 12, 1975. Mr. Richard Peters, the U.S. Consul in Bien Hoa, invited General Hieu's family to a simple reception at his residence after the funeral. I remembered that our father, Tin, and myself accompanied Chi Hieu and her children to the Consul's residence. During the reception, the Consul asked Chi Hieu whether he could help the family in any way. (I acted as the interpreter between Chi Hieu and the Consul on that occasion). Chi Hieu had one favor to request: would the Consul be kind enough to help her two oldest boys Dung and Cam obtain a visa to the United States to pursue higher education. The Consul replied that it was too late, that is, there was not enough time to take care of this matter. I immediately understood the meaning of the message he tried to convey to us. So, after translating the Consul's reply to Chi Hieu, I immediately told her to ask the Consul if he would help General Hieu's whole family to resettle in the U.S.. Chi Hieu was puzzled at first by my suggestion (Chi Hieu wondered why would the Consul help the whole family resettle in the U.S. when he just said that it was too late to obtain a visa for Dung and Cam). But upon my insistence, she repeated my suggested request. I then "translated" her request to the Consul. We were both happy to hear the Consul say that he would certainly respond positively to our request. He then turned to his Vietnamese assistant and told him to get the Deputy Consul to take up and take care of this matter. After having given his instructions to his Vietnamese assistant, he turned to me and said: He would make his best to evacuate everyone; however, he would have some difficulties evacuating Dung, Cam, and Liem who were of army draft age. He gave me his deputy's name and phone number and told me to contact his deputy for further details.
After many unsuccessful attempts to contact the Deputy Consul by phone, the American Consul gave me his deputy's home address in Saigon and encouraged me to go and see him at his residence. So, a few days later, Chi Hieu and I went to the Deputy Consul's home in Saigon. Luckily, we were able to see him as he returned home from work. He asked us to give him the list of names of persons to be evacuated, but limited the number to fourteen. We went back home and worked out the list of names. The next day we went back to submit that list to the Deputy Consul.
A few days later, I received a phone call from him saying that we should be ready to go to a Defense Attache Office (D.A.O) bus waiting on a certain street on April 29. This bus would take us into Tan Son Nhut airport. I moved in and stayed at General Hieu's home on April 25.
However, on April 28, 1975, the airstrip at Tan Son Nhut airport was bombed. In the morning, I answered a call from the D.A.O. operations center, which notified us that all flights had been canceled. In the afternoon, I answered another call from the D.A.O. operations center advising us that Marines helicopters would be coming in the next day to evacuate those who had not been evacuated by plane and that we should be ready to be evacuated by these Marines helicopters. Early in the morning of April 29, another call advised us that the D.A.O. bus would not be available, and that we would have to get to the D.A.O. compound on our own early in the afternoon. By noon time, I called the D.A.O. operations center and asked to speak to Colonel N. (I don't recall his name), the American chief of the D.A.O. operations center. A Vietnamese officer (he did not identify himself during the whole telephone conversation) answered the phone saying that Colonel N. was at lunch and asked whether he could be of assistance. I identified myself as the spokesperson for Lieutenant General Hieu's family and asked him to notify the Marines guards to let us in when we would reach the D.A.O. gate. He said not to worry and just come. Once at the gate, I should ask the Marines guard on duty to call the operations center.
So we left Cu Xa Chi Hoa in two of General Hieu's sedans. I was in the lead car with Chi Hieu. Tin was in the second car. However, when we arrived at Tan Son Nhut we could not come close to the D.A.O. gate. We had to park about two hundred meters away. I had my black robe on that day. I walked to the gate. But the Marines guard pointed his M.16 rifle at me and would not let me come closer than fifty meters. So we stood outside the D.A.O. compound waiting by the fence. Meanwhile, the Marines had landed by helicopters and took position on the other side of the fence pointing their rifles toward the fence. I handed a piece of paper with the name of the Colonel chief of the operations center to one of the Marines on the other side of the fence. I asked him to please contact this Colonel for us. But he came back with a negative response. I realized later that I had misspelled the Colonel's name. We waited there for about an hour. Quite a few rockets exploded around us while we were standing there. Because of the impossibility to contact the American Colonel we decided to go back to Cu Xa Chi Hoa.
Unfortunately, the Vietnamese guards at the entrance gate of Cu Xa Chi Hoa would not let us in saying that we had left to go to the United States and thus had no confidence in them. So why come back. Chi Hieu had the presence of mind to say that we only went to visit General Hieu's tomb. At that moment, Dong, one of General Hieu's chauffeur, drove by in General Hieu's civilian jeep on his way home. He stopped and told the guards to open the trunk and they would find the evidence that we were leaving for the United States. Luckily, the trunk of the lead car could not be opened when we left at noon, so we put all our bags in the second car. The guards and General Hieu's (betraying) chauffeur were surprised to find an empty trunk. The (betraying) chauffeur said that he just wanted to show to the guards the general's two stars plate that was in the trunk. Having found no evidence, the guards finally let us in.
Back home, we discovered that people have already tapped into General Hieu's home phone line and using it as if it was theirs.
I was resigned to the situation and told everyone that we would have to leave this home and find another place to live. Tin prodded me to call the D.A.O. operations center again. So I dialed the D.A.O. operations center phone number once more. Was I glad then to hear the American Colonel himself answer the phone. I told him what happened earlier this afternoon. Apparently he knew General Hieu well because he told me to have General Hieu's family brought back to the D.A.O. compound. He would give the orders to the Marines guards right then. But to prevent what happened earlier, I gave him the license plate numbers and the descriptions of our two cars. He took note of these numbers and descriptions.
Upon arrival at the Tan Son Nhut entrance gate, we ran into a small group of Vietnamese paratroopers who stopped every car. One of them approached me and wanted to collect money for his colonel. I said that being a Brother I had no money to give him. Chi Hieu said she had only a couple of thousand piasters. So he left us alone and went to talk to his Colonel. They would not let us through. I told the chauffeur to remain where we were and to just wait. Luckily, when the paratroopers collected two large bags full of money, they started driving their two military jeeps toward the D.A.O. entrance gate. So we just followed in.
About ten United Nations cars with a blue sky flag preceded us. As we approached the DAO entrance gate, we noticed that the two Vietnamese paratrooper military jeeps had been turned away by the American Marines guards. This caused some apprehension among us. As the United Nations cars entered one by one, we were all quietly worried. After the last U.N. car went in, the Marines guard looked at our cars' license plates then at a small piece of paper in his hand. He then waved us in. At that signal, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Once inside, we took our small bags from the car trunks and let our chauffeurs drive the cars back home.
By 8:00 p.m. we boarded one of the Marines helicopters which flew us in the night toward the high sea and landed us on one of the U.S. Navy ships. Half an hour later, we were transferred to a cargo ship. We sailed for about five days and landed at Guam. During our stay at Guam, General Tho came to Chi Hieu and only then identified himself as the officer who spoke to me from the D.A.O. operations center. An American Air Force captain, whom I spoke to, listened to my petition for an early resettlement on the continental United States, put us on a earlier departure flight. So the second week of June, we were flown to Indiantown Gap, PA, near Harrisburg. By mid-June, we were in Philadelphia, under the sponsorship of the Christian Brothers...
Nguyen Van Tri