One woman's story of an escape from Vietnam by boat

The unforgettable escape Tell me what you think

No escape would be completed without the strength of seeking freedom by boat people. No words could describe how terrifying boat people suffered on that unforgettable escape.
     The fall of Saigon was the beginning of our adventures to the unknown future. Some of us made it, but others were gone forever!
     Leaving the homeland on a little wooden boat with an old rebuilt engine, dozens, hundreds of people sat next to each other like fish in a can. Days and nights went by, then the engine suddenly stopped. We were floated by the wind without food and water. We dealt with fear from the crashing waves every minute. While hearing those sounds we grew worried, and felt like the monotonous tone and rhythm of a boring song playing over and over again never ending. Besides, we suffered the storms, the robbery, the rape repeatedly. We lost husbands, wives, children, parents, friends, relatives. Some of them were abducted, others killed and buried at sea. No more tears on those faces, no more crying or complaining, but holding our breaths to face the unfortunate fact and built up the strength to beat the fate.
     Many were passed but others had to survive, maintaining our lives to tell the world our tragedy and what hardship boat people endured. Some of us finally made it!

According to the report of United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees, 1/3 of boat people died at sea by killing, storms, illness,and food shortage. Out of a total   250,000 mixture ages of men, women, and children.
    However, there were 160 people died on Kho Kra island, 1,250 rescued within a year. Currently, there are over 1.6 million boat people spread all across the world :  USA, Australia, Canada, France, England, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea,  Philippines.

The below picture was given by Thomas Richardson, who served on the USS FRANCIS HAMMOND (FF1067) in 1977 and 1978. On August 9, 1978, somewhere off the coast of Vietnam, the ship rescued two boats of refugees, for a total of 77 people. The enclosed picture is of the first boat, before his captain, Commander James E. Auer, gave the people in the boat permission to come aboard his ship.
Thomas said: "That day, I was never more proud of my ship and its captain, my navy, and my country. And I thought that the Vietnamese in the boat were brave (including a very old woman in her eighties)".
The Great Story below was written by Pete Pehl of US Navy:
From 1978 to 1980 I was stationed aboard the USS Grayback which was a submarine home ported at the US Navy Base, Subic Bay Republic of the Philipines. Late in 1978 we encountered a group of Boat People at sea that had just been through a terrible experience the day before. They had been attacked by Thai Pirates!
We first became aware of the situation when our lookouts saw a bed sheet on the boat with SOS written on it and the Captain order the sub to approach it. We put an inflatable boat over the side and one of our officers who was married to a Viet Namese lady and he could speak the Viet Namese language was sent to find out the nature of the assistance needed.
The leader of the group on the boat was a former officer in the Republic of South Viet Nam Army and he told us how at gun point the men had been thrown overboard, the women and children raped and brutalized and all their valuables, food, and water looted. After the pirates left the Viet Namese men swam back to the boat and started looking for help. We encountered them the following morning.
This was possibly one of the first encounters of a US Navy vessel with the Boat People and there was no official policy on what to do. Our Captain sent a message to his commander for guidance. He really wanted to take everyone aboard but there were more people than we could accommodate. There was also the problem of where do you take the people to. Our Captain received a message ordering him to render as much assistance as possible short of actually taking the boat in tow.

******* We appreciate all volunteers, rescuers and countries those rescued and supported us! Without you, many of us would not survive!

This site is dedicated to all survivors of the horrible tragedy, and to our younger generations.

We filled all of the boats empty water jugs, gave them all the rice as we had on board, we also gave them our emergency c-rations, can goods, and powdered milk. Our ships doctor and medical corpsman tended to those who were injured. Fortunately there didn't appear to be any immediate life threatening injuries but you could see the trauma in the eyes of the young children. We also gave them tools so they could keep their engine going, material to patch their hull if it sprang a leak, charts of the South China Sea area and a navigational fix to help them get to Malaysia.
The next day we spotted another Viet Namese boat and this time it appeared that a Thai fishing boat was approaching them. Our submarine maneuvered in between the two vessels and the captain ordered us to mount machine guns in the submarines sail (conning tower). When the fishing boat saw that we were ready for action they took off and didn't look back. This Viet Namese boat needed only water from us which gave them along with navigational information
I have attached one of the pictures that I have in my archives of us bringing water to the first boat and a picture of the submarine. If anyone in your group is familiar with this story or were present when it unfolded I would appreciate very much to hear from them.
Peter Pehl II, Lieutenant USN (retired)
Pete Pehl
P2 Diving Services
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