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The StoriesAnn
ann's wedding photo
In 1966, Ann's life looked good.

In 1966, Ann's life looked good. Ann threw in her lot with the Americans as soon as she left high school in 1966. She clerked for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and soon married a South Vietnamese Army officer. Ann even gave birth to her first son on an American "Huey" helicopter sent to take her to the hospital. Eight years after their wedding, Ann's husband died suddenly of an infection, leaving her with two boys and a baby girl to raise. At first, Ann felt lucky to have a well-paid embassy job.

 

tony and tim nong, ages 5 and 7.
Tim and Tony Nong, ages 5 and 7.

The Fall of Saigon changed everyone's future. But as the North Vietnamese advanced on Saigon, Ann worried about what would happen to her family if the North punished those who had worked for the "enemy." Her boss secured four seats for Ann and her three children on an evacuation flight, but Ann was concerned about how her parents would survive. On the day of the flight she took her children to the airport. Once there, she saw that there were many Vietnamese waiting to board the flights who didn't work for the Americans or the military, and she hoped she might also be able to get her parents seats as well.

evacuation planes take off round the clock in the war's final days
Evacuation planes take off round the clock in the war's final days.

On her decision to send her sons to safety:

I asked the kids, ‘Should I go home and gather your grandparents or just go?’ Tony replied ‘Let’s go, Mom.’ But I saw how simple it was for people to get through, so I rushed home to gather my parents.

Her decision to leave the boys might be difficult for Americans to understand, but in Vietnamese custom it was Ann’s duty to take care of her parents – just as much as it was to tend to her children. Torn between her obligations, Ann sent sons Tony and Tim to safety without her, thinking she would catch up with them the next day.

man gets help climbing into embassy
All Americans were evacutated, but many Vietnamese who worked for the embassy were left behind.

Ann tries to enter the US Embassy compound:

When I returned to the embassy, the crowds trying to enter were tremendous. There was no way to get in; my father tried to climb over the wall, but he couldn’t. I went to the docks to inquire about a boat, but they wanted $5,000 and I didn’t have any money. I came home and told my father that there was no way out. The whole house cried. Everyone huddled together and cried.

In the dramatic days after North Vietnamese forces entered Saigon, no one knew what would happen to people like Ann who had worked with the Americans and the South Vietnamese government. The answer came quickly. Punished by the North Vietnamese for her service to the Americans, Ann spent 18 months in a re-education camp. Upon her release, armed with only her wits, Ann struggled to support herself, her daughter and her parents.

After the war life gets even harder:

The 1980s were hard on everyone in Vietnam. The U.S.-led trade embargo against Vietnam devastated the country economically. Jobs were scarce and Ann had to use her one asset – a refrigerator purchased at the American PX – to earn money by selling ice on the street for pennies a day.

Another effect of the embargo was a complete cutoff of all communications between the U.S. and Vietnam. There was no way for Ann to know that Tony and Tim were being raised by a distant relative in California, who feared contact with communist Vietnam.

tony and tim as children

On trying to locate her sons:

I had no word from my children. I gave letters to friends going to France and Norway to send. But there was no answer.

In the late 1980’s Vietnam began to move towards a market economy, Ann decided to open a travel agency with slim hopes of meeting someone who could help her find her sons. In 1991, a few years after Ann Tours opened its doors, that’s exactly what happened.

the boys distant relatives
The boys were encouraged to forget about the mother they left behind in Vietnam.

Tony explains how his mother found him:

A Vietnamese-American [businessman] who had taken a trip through my mother’s travel agency happened to live in San Jose, California. When he got home, he opened up the phone book and found my name. My last name is very unique for a Vietnamese, so he called me and asked if I had a mother in Vietnam.

The businessman brought Ann back a picture of her two sons. Finally, sixteen years after she put them on the evacuation plane, Ann was able to pick up the phone and talk to her children.

The family reunites, December 1991.
The family reunites, December 1991.

Tony hears his mother's voice:

It was four o’clock in the morning. I was staying at the San Juan State University dorms, and I got a phone call. The voice at the other end said ‘This is your mother speaking. Do you miss me? Do you remember me?’ And she cried, and I would never forget that day.

Tony and his brother Tim went to visit their mother and sister, Mimi, in 1992. The next year they returned to live with Ann and help run the travel business. Tim was never comfortable in the land of his birth and after four years in Vietnam, decided to return to California, but Tony was back to stay.

Ann Tours was one of the first private tour companies to open in Ho Chi Minh City.
Ann Tours was one of the first private tour companies to open in Ho Chi Minh City.

After 16 years, Tony returns to Vietnam:

In 1975, I was part of a great exodus from Vietnam. In 1993, I was one of the first to return to Vietnam. Life here hasn’t always been easy; I’ve had to relearn my culture and relearn my language. But every year I’m seeing more and more people returning to Vietnam.

Ann Tours was one of the first private travel agency's set up and ready to do business in Ho Chi Minh City. Ann's popularity with taxi drivers and cycle peddlers proved to be a great bonus. They often dropped their customers off at the agency's door. Today Ann Tours is thriving. Since Tony has joined the agency, the mother-son team has branched out. They have a thriving import-export business and, when the US Vietnam trade agreement was signed in 2001, they began to help US businesses interested in getting started in Vietnam. Ann has been able to turn her attention and some of the company's profits to Vietnam's poor.

To have Ann or Tony assist you on travel plans for Vietnam go to their website: http://www.Anntours.com.

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