Preserving the History of Veterans and Refugees of the Vietnam War with the First Days Story Project

Preserving the History of Veterans and Refugees of the Vietnam War with the First Days Story Project

The First Days Story Project was an outreach and engagement initiative for the PBS American Experience documentary “Last Days in Vietnam,” which chronicled the final days of the war and evacuation in Saigon. The First Days Project invited members of the Vietnamese-American community and Vietnam veterans with strong ties to the post-war diaspora and evacuation to record an interview with a loved one or friend in order to document the Vietnamese-American refugee experience through the voices of those who lived it.

Quý vị nhớ gì về ngày mình rời Việt Nam? What do you remember about the day you left Vietnam?  Ấn tượng đầu tiên của quý vị về Hoa Kỳ là gì? What was your first impression of the United States? Ấn tượng đó thay đổi ra sao cùng thời gian? How has that impression changed?

 

StoryCorps recorded over 90 interviews in eight different cities. WGBH featured many of the interviews on the project’s multimedia website. Listen to pieces from the First Days Story Project here.

 

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Emily Dinh and Tan Dinh

“I feel blessed to be able to live on American soil.”

FDSP_Tan Dinh and Emily Dinh

 

In 1975, Tan Dinh’s father was sent to reeducation when South Vietnam fell to the North. After his release, the family spent years planning their escape from Vietnam. They finally left by boat in 1981 when Tan was just 13 years old. Tan spoke with his 14-year-old daughter, Emily, about what it was like resettling in Albany, New York, as a teenager. Tan remembers the people that helped him and his family adjust to the new country, and talks about what it means for him to be an American. Listen here.

Recorded in partnership with TNT Radio in San Jose, California.

 

Van Lan Truong and Dzuong Nguyen

“I realized that my human dignity was respected.”

 

FDSP_Dzuong Nguyen and Van Lan Truong

 

Dzuong Nguyen (right) and Van Lan Truong (left) are both Vietnamese refugees who escaped the country by boat. Dzuong served in the South Vietnamese Air Force. After the fall of Saigon, he spent five years in reeducation camps, before escaping Vietnam by boat in 1980. Dzuong speaks with Van Lan about his first impressions of Oakland, California, and starting his new life with a new pair of clothes.

Van Lan escaped from Vietnam with her family by boat in 1975 when she was 20 years old. Her family settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She talks about trying to rebuild their lives, and the importance of family photographs. Listen here.

Recorded in partnership with TNT Radio in San Jose, California.

 

Phuong Lan Wolfe and CJ Wolfe

“Be proud of your roots, and keep your culture.”

 

FDSP_Phuong Lan Wolfe and CJ Wolfe

 

Phuong Lan Wolfe, her parents, and her nine siblings left Saigon in April 1975, just days before South Vietnam surrendered to the North. Their family escaped with hundreds of other refugees on a cargo plane, and eventually made it to Baltimore, Maryland. Here, she sits down with her son Christian “CJ” James, and talks about the first time she met her husband, and how he helped her learn English and start a new life. Their memorable first encounter involved a barking dog and a large knife. Listen here.

Recorded in partnership with the Asian Pacific American Arts Cultural Foundation in Falls Church, Virginia.

 

Rick Butzberger and Aaron Johnson

“I’ve always wished all those people we did rescue good fortune and years to come, because they deserved it.”

 

FDSP_Aaron Johnson and Rick Butzberger

 

Navy veteran Aaron Johnson (right) and Air Force veteran Rick Butzberger (left)  share their experiences and memories about their involvement in the Vietnamese refugee evacuations from Saigon in April 1975. Rick flew a C141 transport plane that loaded up 250 refugees to Guam. The plane only had enough oxygen masks for 180 people. Aaron was aboard a Landing Ship Tank vessel—known as an LST—that helped ferry refugees out of Vietnam. We hear first from Aaron. Listen here.

Recorded in partnership with the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle, Washington.

 

Joshua Nguyen and Colette O’Sullivan Nguyen

“I noticed there was a bus of people coming in almost every day at a certain time. So every day, I would jump on every bus that came through there.”

 

FDSP_Joshua Nguyen and Colette Nguyen

 

Joshua Nguyen was 10 years old in April 1975 when he, his mother, and his siblings boarded a boat and fled Saigon, a city under siege. Determined to get out more family members, Joshua’s father had ventured back into the city, and became separated from his wife and children. Joshua sat down with his wife, Colette, and talked about the family’s stay at a refugee camp in Guam, their first days in the United States in Boise, Idaho, and his experiences assimilating into American culture. Listen here.

Recorded in partnership with Saigon Radio in Houston, Texas.

 

Project Partners

National
The Vietnamese American Uniformed Services Association
Boat People SOS
Dalat Political War College Veterans Association

Boston, MA
VietAID
Boston Asian American Film Festival
WGBH

Falls Church, VA
Asian Pacific American Cultural Arts Foundation
Saigon Broadcasting Television Network

Houston, TX
Boat People SOS, Houston
Hung Vuong Vietnamese Language & Culture School
Saigon Radio

Orange County, CA
Nguoi Viet Daily Newspaper
Boat People SOS, OC
Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce
VietRainbow
PBS SoCaL

San Jose, CA
TNT Radio
Vietnamese American Roundtable
KQED

Seattle, WA
Wing Luke Museum
KCTS 9
Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối
International Rescue Committee Seattle
Vietnamese Friendship Association

 

For More Information:

Custom Services & Partnerships
646.723.7020
customservices@storycorps.org

Each week, the StoryCorps podcast shares these unscripted conversations, revealing the wisdom, courage, and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street.