Tien and Anh Vu are the parents of Vincent Vu (USMA ‘17), but their story begins in separate communities in the Republic of Vietnam. Anh, born in 1962, grew up in Saigon, where her parents moved as refugees from the north when the country partitioned in 1954. Her father worked for the Diem administration, occasionally serving in the South Vietnamese embassies in Thailand and Laos. After Diem’s assassination, her family opened a hair salon and a grocery store. Tien’s family were prosperous farmers in the north. His father fought for the Vietminh against the French colonial occupiers, but as staunch Catholics the family fled to the south in 1954, setting up a business and eventually running a factory in Quang Trung. Tien’s father remembered the starvation caused by the Japanese occupiers during WWII as they took food for their war effort, and he fought against the French, but he viewed the Americans as allies in the struggle against communism. When Tien was nine, the family relocated to Bien Hoa after experiencing the violence of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Tien had to hide under his bed when guerrillas were shooting mortars outside his house, and the next morning he walked past bodies on his way to school. Both Anh and Tien, who was born in 1959, have good memories of American Soldiers. By April 1975, both families were planning their escape from the doomed Republic of Vietnam. Anh’s family had purchased a small ship and were secretly gathering food supplies. Thirteen-year-old Anh knew the situation was serious when her mother told her not to bother studying for her final exams. On April 20, the family fled Saigon for Vung Tau, where they had to wait for a smaller boat to take them out to where their ship was anchored. Anh remembers all the people praying as they waited on the beach all night. They finally made it to their ship and she recalls the seasickness that overtook her and several members of her family, noting that her mother was the strong one. An American Navy ship picked them up, and one of her most vivid memories is hearing the announcement on April 30 that South Vietnam had surrendered, and the emotional transition as silence turned to sobbing. By April 1975, Tien’s father had begun planning to leave the country. He contacted several of his friends, but they valued material possessions more than freedom, and chose to stay. His father was able to lease an airplane to fly the family to Phú Quốc Island, home of a South Vietnamese naval base. There, they boarded one of seven naval vessels that eventually sailed to the Philippines. One of Tien’s most poignant memories is lowering the South Vietnamese flag and singing of the national anthem for the final time on the ship. At the age of sixteen-year-old, he knew he no longer had a country. For both Anh and Tien, it took some time to get settled because they decided to wait for sponsors who could take their entire families rather than splitting up into smaller groups. Anh ended up at a refugee camp on Guam before flying to Ft. Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. Her family was sponsored by St. Thomas Aquinas church in Binghamton, New York. Tien’s family traveled from Subic Bay to Wake Island and Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas, before finally settling in Jefferson, Iowa. Tien’s family had to wait until a community decided to sponsor their three family units (Tien’s, his older sister’s family, and his sister-in-law’s family). Finally, all the churches in Jefferson pooled their resources and sponsored Tien’s extended family. Eventually, both Tien and Anh made their way to Charlotte, North Carolina, where they met at church functions. One of their sons, Vincent Vu, graduated from West Point in 2017.
In this interview, both Tien and Anh talk about their family histories and their experiences as teenagers at the end of the Vietnam War. They describe their individual refugee stories and some of the memorable events of their journeys. Anh feels that they were treated better than they could have expected. She recalls receiving clothing on Guam, and their house in Binghamton being fully furnished and stocked with food when they arrived. Tien remembers his brother, a Lieutenant in the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam), who was tortured while spending eight years in a reeducation camp. One of his most vivid memories is of burning human waste in one of the refugee camps. Anh recalls wondering what her future was going to be, and considers the stress her parents must have felt living with uncertainty. Tien speaks about his father’s determination that his children receive an education. At the end of the interview, they recall their son Vincent deciding to attend West Point, their hesitation based on memories of war, and Vincent’s determination eventually earning their support. Finally, they discuss the normalization of relations with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.