After I finished "Born Under an Assumed Name", I found that Sarah Taber's father, Charles, had written a short book about his experiences in Vietnam before Saigon fell to the communists in 1975. He had been the part of the CIA there, running a propaganda radio station called House Seven. When it looked like the fall was inevitable, he realized that all of his Vietnamese employees (KIPs ... or "Key Indigenous People" in CIA-speak) were in very real danger. Charles Taber wasn't about to leave them behind. We all know what happens to collaborators in war.
Against incredible odds, Taber arranged for the evacuation of more than a thousand people, the employees and their families, to a remote island off the Southern coast of Vietnam, Phu Quoc. They camped at a former US military base there. Over several days the people had been ferried to the island on American C-47's. Tabor negotiated with an American merchant ship, the American Challenger, to take the group to safety to Guam and Hawaii. Of course it wasn't a matter of the folks showing up at the dock and sauntering on board. In the middle of the night, a Landing Ship Utility or LSU had to make three trips out to the ship, anchored five miles offshore, carrying more than 500 people at a time.
|An LSU (Landing Ship Utility)|
One of my dearest friends from the Philippines, Lisa Andrews, arrived in Manila for the fall semester in 1975. Her father had been with the Asia Foundation in Saigon, and was the commencement speaker at our graduation in 1978. Lisa's brother David was my date to the Christmas formal in 1977. Neither spoke to me of their experiences leaving Saigon until just the other day.
I don't know how much warning the Andrews family had that they were going to be evacuating Saigon. (Remember Lisa and David at that time were around 15 and 14 years old. Flying out on the last commercial flight. Alone.) Like the teenagers at Tehran American School, they left in the face of a revolution. No quiet talk at the dinner table from dad, "We're moving again!" It was a matter of life and death. It was "Get out any way you can." Sudden grief ... like a sudden death, not a long lingering one. A traumatic amputation.
As I dig further into what comprises the soul of the Third Culture Kid, I find that there are too many untold stories. Usually we are reluctant to share these stories, either because they are too painful to revisit, or we are certain that no one wants to hear them. Who in the world would ever relate to us? We're all too familiar with that "glazed over" look in our non-TCK listeners when we start reminiscing about the past. It is only by sharing these things with each other that we can put the sadness and the grief in their proper place. Not to put them behind us, or to negate them, but to acknowledge them.
|David Andrews and yours truly at the 1977 Christmas formal.|
|Lisa today with her husband Mark, and two of our classmates, Fouad Assad and Steve Assad.|