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
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.
take off round the clock in the war's final
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 Lets go,
Mom. But I saw how simple it was for people
to get through, so I rushed home to gather my
Her decision to leave the boys might be difficult
for Americans to understand, but in Vietnamese
custom it was Anns 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
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 couldnt.
I went to the docks to inquire about a boat,
but they wanted $5,000 and I didnt 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
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 1980s 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, thats
exactly what happened.
The boys were
encouraged to forget about the mother they
left behind in Vietnam.
Tony explains how his mother found him:
[businessman] who had taken a trip through my
mothers 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
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
The family reunites,
Tony hears his mother's voice:
It was four oclock
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.
After 16 years, Tony returns
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 hasnt always been easy; Ive
had to relearn my culture and relearn my language.
But every year Im 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.