It was a dark and humid night with lots of thunder in the air. The thunder sound was not from a storm or from nature; it was from all the explosions that constantly haunted us. Ever since we received a letter from America a month earlier, everyone in the house was acting strange and secretive. The adults in the house whispered mostly and stopped talking when I or any other children were nearby.

But tonight was a different night; everyone was scurrying around the house packing their belongings into was mostly clothing and food. Mom also packed my clothes in bags and suitcases for me. I asked her what she and everyone else was doing, and Mom just told me to go look after my younger brothers and sisters. I'm the oldest of all the children. I was seven at the time.

After the packing was done, everyone waited for the sun to go down; and then we all headed to the bus station. I asked Mom where we were going, and Mom said "to visit grandma and grandpa." There were some people on the bus that Mom knew, and they asked Mom where's everyone going; and Mom replied that my grandpa died, and everyone is going to his funeral. I was shocked...Mom never told me that grandpa died.

Several hours later, when we reached grandpa's house, he and grandma were sitting on his bed waiting for us. I looked at Mom and said, "Grandpa is still alive; he didn't die."

Mom looked worried. She kept asking my aunts where was everyone else. There were a total of 31 family members divided into two buses, but the other bus was nowhere in sight; and now there was only 18 of us left.

We slept at grandpa's house that night, and the next morning Dad arrived in his army uniform. I got to see Dad only once a year for about a month, and then he had to go again. I often asked dad how come I hardly saw him at home, and he just told me that he had go to protect us from the communists.

Mom and Dad were arguing outside. Dad yelled at mom for lying to him that grandpa died, and Mom just yelled back saying that she's saving Dad's life. Dad wanted to stay and fight, but Mom said that the country is lost and that dad will die if he stays.

My parents saw me standing in the corner watching them fight, and Mom walked over to me and explained that we're going to America to live; and I can not tell any strangers about it. I asked Mom where is America, and she said it's a place very far away where there are no communists and no bombs landing on us.

Then Mom turned to Dad and said Dad should make a choice...stay and die or go to America and live with his wife and children. Whatever choice Dad makes, Mom and and the rest of us are going to America as she had planned.

Dad chose to be with his family. He took off his uniform and buried it in the yard. As he turned to me, tears were pouring from his eyes. Deep down, Dad knew that Mom was right. He had lost his country, and he didn't want to risk losing his family, too. Mom assured Dad that he had made the right decision and if the family stayed that she and dad would certainly die, leaving children homeless and without parents.

Mom worked for the U.S. Embassy under the direction of the C.I.A. Dad worked for the South Vietnamese military intelligence. Dad's job was to intercept the enemy's message and also to seek out those who took bribes and committed treason against the country.

On the third day, my aunt 4 from America arrived at my grandpa's house. Aunt 4 asked Mom where was the rest of the family, and Mom said she didn't know and that there's only 18 of us left. Aunt 4 said we could not wait for them any longer because time was running out, and we must leave for the U.S. Embassy right away.

Mom has six children, and she gathered all of us together to leave; but one of my younger sisters, two years younger than me, yelled and screamed that she was being kidnapped. My sister lived with grandma since she was born, and she thought that grandma was her real mother. She didn't recognize us.

Mom tried to explain to her, but she didn't believe Mom. Grandma came out and told Mom to leave my sister with her because, if we take my sister along, all her screaming and yelling would raise suspicion; and we might be captured by the communists. And besides, if we died, at least my sister will be alive. Dad agreed and Mom resented him for agreeing, but she knew that my sister would endanger us.

As we arrived at the U.S. Embassy, aunt 4's husband was waiting for us at the gate. That's the first time I had ever seen him. He was this big white man in an American soldier's uniform. We took the stairway to the top of the U.S. embassy. Halfway up, I was tired; and my aunt's husband picked me up and carried me all the way to the roof top. On the roof top, there were lines of people waiting to get into the long helicopters, which my family referred to as the flying caterpillars.

When it was our turn, there were two helicopters in front of us. An American soldier split our family into two groups of nine and pointed to both helicopters. I saw my aunt arguing with him, and then her husband came and talked to the soldier. My aunt explained to us that the soldier split us up so that if one helicopter goes down, half of the family would still survive. She then told him that she wanted to keep everyone together, and it's either we live together or die together.

The people in line behind us said to us "if you're not going first then we're going first," and the soldier pointed them into the first helicopter and directed our family, all 18 of us, into the second helicopter.

As I climbed into the helicopter, another American soldier smiled at me. He was sitting by the door with a big long gun, and I have never seen so many bullets in my life hanging out on the side of the gun. I sat near him and kept on marveling at this big gun he had. I was curious.

After a few moments, both helicopters took off at almost the same time. We looked down at the city, and everything was burning. All of a sudden, the helicopter in front of us exploded and went down in flames; then my aunts all started to scream and cry and shout that we're all going to die.

Then the soldier next to me started screaming and yelling in a language that I didn't understand as he pulled the trigger on the big gun he was holding. He sounded angry; and the more he shot at the people below, the more he screamed in the strange language. I leaned over to look out to see what he was shooting at, and he shoved me back and screamed at me and pointed to the nets hanging along the wall of the helicopter. Grabbing my arm, he forced me to hang on to it.

I sat there and watched everyone cry and looked at the bullet shells landing on the floor of the helicopter. After a few moments of the helicopter twisting and turning, the soldier stopped shooting and everything was quiet.

We landed in Thailand, at least my aunts told us it was Thailand; and we stayed there for two days. Then a gigantic boat came, and everyone was taken on board. It was the U.S.S. Hancock.

Everyone filled up the boat fast, and I stood and watched as soldiers pushed the helicopters over the edge of the boat into the ocean to make room for more people. We were all packed like sardines in cans, and it was very hot inside the boat. Then the nice soldiers came by and took fans and fanned the place by hand and opened the round windows to cool us down.

I was holding a Vietnamese Dong (Vietnamese money) in my hand, and a nice soldier came by with an apple and traded me the apple for it. He also gave me some milk to drink.

We reached Guam and stayed there for several days; and from there, we flew on a big airplane to America. I felt sick and threw up all over the plane because it was moving so fast.

When we reached America, the lights were so beautiful. There were lights everywhere, and I'd never seen so many cars in my life. The people I saw in America all spoke the language I didn't understand. Even my aunt 4 spoke the same language. Mom cried a happy cry and said we were safe and free at last.

Years later, I asked Mom what would have happened if our family didn't make it to America. Mom just looked at us and said that if we didn't make it, we would probably be dead. Before we left, Mom had bought poison and her intent was, if we never made it to the U.S. Embassy, to return to our house and have our last meal together because she would rather die with her family than us being separated and tortured and killed by the communists.

Well, I'm glad we survived, and I'm thankful everyday for everyone who risked their lives to let us have a taste of freedom that can only be found in America.

Vu Tran

copyright © 1996 by Vu Tran, all rights reserved

Vu now works in the engineering department of an aviation controls division of Honeywell. He and his wife have recently celebrated the birth of their first child. Vu may be contacted at: