Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Nhu Nguyen, August 10, 2022

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: All right. My name is Thomas Wood, and I'm here with Joaquin and Nhu Nguyen on behalf of West Chester University and the University of Kentucky, working on my oral history project about the Vietnam War.

Segment Synopsis: Thomas Wood introduces Nhu and Joaquin, and discusses where he's conducting the interview and that's it's part of his oral history project.

Keywords: Joaquin Nguyen; Nhu Nguyen; Thomas Wood

Subjects: Oral histories; University of Kentucky; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; West Chester University of Philadelphia

00:00:25 - Birth in Hanoi and escape to South Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: What was it like growing up in Hanoi?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen discusses what she remembers of her early childhood in Hanoi. She says her family was forced to leave because of the invasion of North Vietnam, where Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong occupied Hanoi. Nguyen believes that they had American help from the time they left Hanoi.

Keywords: Forcibly displaced; North Vietnam; South Vietnam; Viet Cong; Việt-Cộng

Subjects: Communists; Hanoi (Vietnam); Hồ, Chí Minh, 1890-1969; Mặt trận dân tộc giải phóng miền nam Việt Nam.; Refugees.; Tet Offensive, 1968.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

Hyperlink: Vietnam war map
00:02:00 - Recollections of family’s escape from Hanoi

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Partial Transcript: Was there any particular reason your family was worried about Ho Chi Minh taking over?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen discusses the difficulties her mother had getting the family to the airport to fly to Saigon to escape the takeover of Hanoi. She says her mom became ill, which exacerbated the situation, and she believes this was induced by the stressful circumstances.

Keywords: Saigon; Young children

Subjects: Communism; Hanoi (Vietnam); Ho Chi Minh Trail.; Hồ, Chí Minh, 1890-1969.; Refugees; Single mothers.

GPS: Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon
Map Coordinates: 10.80936, 106.69696
00:04:40 - Father's absence from her life

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Partial Transcript: Was your dad around when you were growing up?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen's father passed away when she was ten. Her memory of father is vague, and most of what she remembers she's heard from friends. She doesn't have real insight of what has happened to her father, although she thinks he may have been captured by communists prior to his death.

Keywords: Captured

Subjects: Communists; Refugees; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

00:07:05 - Assistance in resettling in Saigon

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Partial Transcript: When I when we get there, we don't have nothing.

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen recalls that her family received lots of help once they had resettled in Saigon because they arrived with nothing. She discusses her experience as a refugee and the charity she received from the American government and Catholic charities. She remembers feeling that all their needs were attended too.

Keywords: Resettlement; Saigon

Subjects: Catholics; Charity; Refugees; United States; Vietnam

00:08:18 - Mother's work as a midwife

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Partial Transcript: Was your mom still working as a midwife when you went to Saigon?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen discusses how her mother supported the family and worked as a midwife. She describes their house, and how it had an adjacent room so that her mother could help deliver babies from there. She talks about the burden on her mother of raising a family, and financial support also. Nguyen says that she did not pay much attention to the babies being born.

Keywords: Saigon

Subjects: Midwives; Single mothers; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

00:13:53 - French occupation of Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember the French being in Vietnam?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen felt the French were in Vietnam to control the people. She says she did not have exposure to any French people during the French colonialization, but her grandfather spoke French and knew a lot more about the subject than she did. Nguyen says she only knew about the French from history class, not firsthand knowledge, and the influences in baking and cooking.

Keywords: Catholicism; Colonization; Occupation

Subjects: Baking; Colonies; Cooking; France; Imperialism; Indochina; Vietnam

00:18:20 - Differences between North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese

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Partial Transcript: My understanding is, and I don't speak Vietnamese, so correct me if I'm wrong, but the people from the North, like the Hanoi area, have an accent, compare a different accent, different way of speaking, then the people who live in the South.

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen talks about the differences between North and South Vietnam. She was very young and as a child did not notice as many differences. She recalls that there different kinds of lemons and a slightly different cooking style.

Keywords: Accents; Cuisines; Lemons; North Vietnam; South Vietnam

Subjects: Language and languages.; Vietnam

00:21:13 - Civilians protest against the Government and President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963

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Partial Transcript: So the Communists completely took over the north--

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen talks about some details about the political events in Vietnam in the 1950s and 1960s. She recalls the protests in 1963 in Saigon, by high school students. She remembers that there was anger towards the government and President Ngo Dinh Diem. Nguyen doesn't remember all of the details, but knows she became more aware of the issues in the country during the 1960s.

Keywords: Government; High school students; Ngo Dinh Diem; Protests; Saigon; Viet Cong; Việt-Cộng

Subjects: Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Mặt trận dân tộc giải phóng miền nam Việt Nam.; Ngô, Đình Diệm, 1901-1963.; Vietnam

00:26:09 - Vietnamese Catholics / Life in a refugee camp

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Partial Transcript: Were you Buddhist?

Segment Synopsis: When she first lived in Saigon, Nguyen lived in a large refugee camp run by Catholic charities. She recalls that Catholics did not face discrimination in Vietnam because there were so many of them. She had many Catholic friends, and attended church. The Catholic charity built houses for them, and later rebuilt the homes so it was more like a town, and not a camp.

Keywords: Christian organizations; Refugee camps; Saigon

Subjects: Buddhism; Buddhists; Catholics; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Vietnam

00:30:46 - From high school to married life

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Partial Transcript: What did you do when you graduated from high school?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen describes getting married and moving to Da Nang to live on an air force base, where she raised two children. She talks about her husband in the military, who had to leave Saigon for fear of being imprisoned.

Keywords: Airforce bases; Da Nang; Saigon

Subjects: Helicopter pilots; Vietnam

00:34:47 - The Siege of Hue and the Tet Offensive

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Partial Transcript: In, in 1968, there was the big Tet Offensive, early in the year, I think it was.

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen recounts that shortly after she and her husband married in 1968, they went to Da Nang while he was stationed in Hue. Nguyen discusses separating from her husband during the Siege of Hue, where she had to beg for food for herself and two children. She remembers the severity of the military conflict in Hue.

Keywords: Da Nang; Siege of Hue

Subjects: Hue, Battle of, Huế, Vietnam, 1968; Huế (Vietnam); Tet Offensive, 1968; Đà Nẵng (Vietnam)

00:37:45 - Hiding out during the Siege of Hue

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Partial Transcript: So you were in Hue, when it was attacked and captured by the North?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen discusses the lengths that she and her husband had to go through to hide from the Viet Cong in Hue. Her husband had to hide under the neighbors fathers bed for a week or more to avoid being captured. The Viet Cong scaled the neighborhoods in search for South Vietnamese soldiers, and also for food.

Keywords: Occupation; Siege of Hue; South Vietnam; Viet Cong; Việt-Cộng

Subjects: Huế (Vietnam); Mặt trận dân tộc giải phóng miền nam Việt Nam.; Tet Offensive, 1968; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:42:37 - American soldiers help the South Vietnamese troops

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Partial Transcript: American troops come over trying to help.

Segment Synopsis: When Nguyen and her family came out of the house they couldn't believe that most of the houses were destroyed by the rockets. They were shocked that their house had been spared. She says they were very happy, but only for a few hours. American troops helped Nguyen and her family to get out of Hue, and out of harms way. She says the Americans told them to run to safety. The Viet Cong were all around Hue.

Keywords: American Joe; Rockets; Siege of Hue; Viet Cong; Việt-Cộng

Subjects: Huế (Vietnam); Mặt trận dân tộc giải phóng miền nam Việt Nam.; Tet Offensive, 1968; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:51:39 - Leaving Hue and Returning to Da Nang

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Partial Transcript: Then my husband comes out and he told me, "let go and go, let's go."

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen talks about how her husband flew her and the children back to Da Nang on his helicopter, hoping to get them to a safe place, but found more fighting there. She recalls that in 1968 on New Years Day there was a ceasefire agreement, but it was not abided by. Nyugen says she was very worried for her husband, since he was still flying a helicopter for the South Vietnamese army while the fighting in Da Nang continued. She mentions that she and her husband both agreed to only have two children, because if he were to die in combat she would still be able to raise the two children on her own.

Keywords: Ceasefires; Da Nang; Hue; Huey helicopter; Huế (Vietnam); Saigon; War in Ukraine

Subjects: Huế (Vietnam); Russia; Tet Offensive, 1968; UH-1 (Helicopter); Ukraine; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Đà Nẵng Bay (Vietnam)

01:01:55 - Bien Hoa Air Base

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Partial Transcript: So you said you were in Da Nang for a few years, then you moved to the Bien Hoa.

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen recalls her life at Bien Hoa Air Force as relatively peaceful, but because of her experiences in the war, she was still on edge. She talks about running out of the barracks at night because she hears a noise. She also remembers more fighting in South Vietnam in 1972. Her husband took part in the invasion of Laos, although it seemed to her just like a normal part of his job in the military. Sometimes he would leave in the morning and be back by the afternoon.

Keywords: Air Force bases; Bien Hoa; Invasion of Laos, Cambodia

Subjects: Biên Hòa (Vietnam); Cambodia; Laos; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

GPS: Bien Hoa Air Base
Map Coordinates: 10.972829442, 106.817663396
01:07:49 - Escape from South Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: When did you leave Bien Hoa?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen explains that she left Bien Hoa after the southern government collapsed in Saigon, and that she did not know the details of what was happening, but when the fighting stopped in Bien Hoa, Nguyen's husband knew that he must get his family out. She describes how he flew his family to Saigon to Nguyen’s mother’s house, and then they went to Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport, where they found many other people fleeing. She recounts the harrowing escape via helicopter that she and her friends experienced, and that she was forced to go without her husband. She remembers that the helicopter landed on a boat and they made a stop in the Philippines for around a month before traveling to the United States.

Keywords: North Vietnam; Saigon; South Vietnam; Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport

Subjects: Airports; Bien Hoa Air Base (Vietnam); Helicopters; Philippines; United States

GPS: Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport
Map Coordinates: 10.8185, 106.6588
01:19:21 - Arrival at Refugee Camp in Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania

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Partial Transcript: And then from there, they fly us over to the Indiantown Gap.

Segment Synopsis: After the escape, Nguyen and her family fly to the United States where they arrive in a refugee camp in Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania. As Nguyen and her family are waiting for sponsorship at the Refugee camp, they are very content to have an abundance of food and to be safe. They did not have a choice as to where they went in the United States, but were happy to be here. She is used to military life, and because of that doesn't mind living in the camp, even though it does not feel like home.

Keywords: Refugee camp; Vietnamese

Subjects: Indiantown Gap Military Reservation (Pa.); Vietnam

GPS: Fort Indiantown Gap, PA
Map Coordinates: 40.43612213419252, 76.59773762966962
01:24:31 - Resettling refugees in Exton, Pennsylvania.

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Partial Transcript: So then after Indiantown Gap, you said a family sponsored you out in Exton--

Segment Synopsis: Nyugen describes adjusting to American life, and the ways she approaches adversity. She talks about her husbands work, and his desire to be a productive member of society.

Keywords: Diversity; Lionville (Pa.); Resettlement; Welders

Subjects: Exton (Pa.); Indiantown Gap Military Reservation (Pa.); Pennsylvania; Refugees

GPS: Exton, Pennnsylvania
Map Coordinates: 40.032582, 75.627458
01:27:15 - Final thoughts

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Partial Transcript: Is there anything I didn't talk about that you'd like to talk about?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen gives her final thoughts on the interview, saying that the war was terrible, and doesn't want other people to go through that kind of experience. She describes her feelings about the Viet Cong, and considers the war as very bad for all Vietnamese people.

Keywords: Viet Cong; Việt-Cộng

Subjects: Farmers; Mặt trận dân tộc giải phóng miền nam Việt Nam.; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.