On April 29, 1975 my family and I fled Saigon (the former capital of South Vietnam), now Ho Chi Minh City, by getting on a cargo ship just before South Vietnam fell to communist North Vietnam, marking the end of the Vietnam war.
The ship was overloaded with refugees like us, occupying all space in the ship – from the cargo bay to the entire upper deck. We could barely move past each other but were lucky enough to have a small ration of food – a small cup of cooked rice and drinking water for each person.
I still vividly remember when our ship arrived at Subic Bay in the Philippines, on a sunny day in May 1975. At the time, I was a 19-year-old boy, with my sister, brother-in-law and 2-year-old niece in a very crowded ship that must have held at least 500 people. We were hungry and very dirty – we’d gone without a bath for at least a week while at sea.
The sense of relief when the ship finally approached land was palpable. We all tried to squeeze into the upper deck to see the land at the end of the journey.
As the ship got closer, we could clearly see the beautiful beach in front of us and even make out people who appeared to be waiting for us to come ashore. When we got on land, the first group of people who came to us were from the Red Cross. They introduced themselves as volunteers from the U.S. and warmly welcomed us with food and drink, leading us to tents in the refugee camp that had been set up for us by the U.S. Navy in the Philippines.
I still remember each of us getting a ham sandwich and a cold bottle of water. It may not seem like much, but to those of us who had been half-starved on the ship for a week, the sandwich and water were like gifts from heaven!
At the time, I did not have adequate English skills to say more than a few words like “hello” and “thank you”. The actions and manner of the volunteers left a profound impression on me that lasts to this day. What amazed me at the time was the selflessness of the volunteers. I wondered why people, who had not even known us before, came to help us from halfway around the world.
Shortly after, we settled in Houston, Texas and have been here for more than 45 years. Throughout the years I have seen the American Red Cross continuously support disaster relief within the U.S. and around the world. Red Cross has shown me that if all of us would help each other when in need, our world would become such a wonderful place to live in. I also realized that we owe it to ourselves to support charity organizations, whether in the form of labor or in a financial manner, so that this good deed would keep on going among all of us in an endless chain.
This Giving Tuesday, December 1, 2020, join with the American Red Cross to #GiveWithMeaning by
- Making a tax-deductible financial donation to help a family who has lost everything in a home fire: redcross.org/gifts
- Donating blood or platelets to help someone who ill or injured: redcrossblood.org
- Volunteering to support your neighbors and community: redcross.org
Story by American Red Cross donor, Andy Nguyen