As I look over my journalism career, some things stick out because they righted a wrong or helped somebody or some group.

I wrote the story that got Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker fired from his 24th Division command in Germany because he steered the voting of his soldiers to favor conservative Republicans.

I did the 1963 story about Honolulu Scientology practicing psychological counseling on their many gullible “patients.” The Legislature passed a law requiring licensing for such therapy.

I wrote about the grim conditions at the old Palolo Chinese Home. It embarrassed the Chinese community into fundraising for a new, modern facility.

And then I started taking local, elderly Nisei soldiers back to Italy to visit the WWII battlefields where they fought and so many comrades died.

But maybe the event I’m most proud to have participated in was getting Nguyen Oanh, his wife and three of their children out of Vietnam after that war.

Nguyen Oanh ran a Saigon shop that sold art works and souvenirs, mainly to American GIs and civilians. He rented an upstairs room to my now-wife, Denby Fawcett, when she was a wartime reporter for the Honolulu Advertiser.

When the war ended, Nguyen Oanh didn’t want to live under the communist government. Three sons were smuggled out as boat people at considerable cost. Nguyen applied for the Orderly Departure Program for the rest of the family. An American team from Bangkok came to Saigon regularly to interview people for clearance to migrate to the U.S. But Nguyen’s number was never called by the new Vietnam government. I suspect he was being punished as a “bad” guy who had fled North Vietnam when the communists took over Hanoi from France in 1954 and whose three boys had surreptitiously fled the country. 

Nguyen Oanh and his wife in their Saigon home.

I had come back to Saigon about a dozen years after the war to do a TV documentary. I went to Nguyen’s house but he shooed me away, said he was under surveillance, and asked me to come back at 5 a.m. when it was dark. I did. He cracked the door, let me slip in, and told me his non-departure story. He was desperate to get out. Communist soldiers lived in his upstairs rooms.

I’d met the head of the American Orderly Departure team (the Hanoi government had agreed to that program to let the unhappy decamp), so I wrote him, told him Nguyen’s story and gave him Nguyen’s Orderly Departure file number. He asked the Saigon government “why hasn’t this number ever been called?”

The next month, it was called. The Nguyens were accepted, and flown to live with sons established in Westminster, Calif. The senior Nguyens lived out their lives there. My wife and I maintain contact with two of the three sons who were boat people. Bryan Nguyen is an executive at a credit union in California and Paul Nguyen is a retired hospital pharmacist in Texas.

Maybe it’s not an earth-shaking event but it gives me a good feeling when I think back on it.

That’s generally the best we can ask for ourselves.

         

Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Vietnam War, Iraq #1 in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. Married to Denby Fawcett, one daughter. Brett Jones.

3 replies on “Getting Out Of Vietnam”

  1. Yes, what a wonderful favor you did for those Vietnamese friends of yours. I met a Vietnamese woman in Bangkok, Thailand in 1969. She stayed in the room next to mine at the YWCA. Her husband was in a nursing home nearby, and she was studying to be a tailor in order to support her 6 kids still in Saigon. Her husband had been a diplomat in Saigon, so I wonder what happened to the family when the Communists took over in 1975.

  2. I can certainly identify with that experience Bob. Good for you. I suspect there are a number of similar stories from “our” generation floating around out there that will never be known but for the lives they impacted and changed forever. Well done old friend.

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