On October 3rd, 2014, my children and I went to the Michigan Theater to watch Last Days In Vietnam, a film directed by Rory Kennedy, who is the youngest daughter of Robert Kennedy. This documentary meticulously covers the stressful events that led to the 1975 evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Through never before seen footage of intense interviews with U.S. servicemen and Vietnamese civilians, Ms. Kennedy brings their story to life with unprecedented detail.
Binh attended a screening of Last Days in Vietnam in the fall of 2014. After seeing herself and her family in the documentary, she contacted American Experience to share her story. She asked that we only use her first name for this post.
American Experience announced today that its production Last Days in Vietnam, directed and produced by Rory Kennedy, has been nominated for the Academy Award® for Documentary Feature. This is Ms. Kennedy’s first Academy Award® nomination, and the ninth for the series.
Bunny Sanders is the Mayor of Roper, North Carolina. Her father, E.V. Wilkins was a prominent black leader in Eastern North Carolina and was Roper’s first black mayor in 1967. In her interview for the film, Klansville U.S.A., Mayor Sanders states, "We had the NAACP. They had the Klan." We asked her to elaborate on this and explain how the two very different groups found their own outlets to ensure they were heard in North Carolina during the 1960s.
The First Days Story Project is a collaboration between StoryCorps and PBS’s AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, which aims to collect, preserve, and celebrate the stories of Vietnamese American refugees and Vietnam veterans. The project invites members of the Vietnamese American community and Vietnam veterans with strong ties to the post war diaspora and evacuation to have a 40-minute, uninterrupted conversation with a loved one or friend, in order to document the Vietnamese American refugee experience through the voices of those who lived it.
It took me a couple viewings of "Last Days in Vietnam" before I could fully comprehend its central message: the human cost of war. As a 1.5 generation Vietnamese American, I grew up with the Vietnam War as a constant topic of conversation in my home, amplified by the fact that I am essentially a byproduct of that conflict that has left such a strong imprint on American history. My father was a lieutenant who fought in the South Vietnamese army for a democratic Vietnam alongside American soldiers. When the war ended, he tried to escape Vietnam but was eventually imprisoned in an internment/re-education camp for eight years before making his way to the United States with my family in 1992 as part of the Humanitarian Operations (HO) Program. The local newspaper in Saigon announced my family’s name as part of a series of groups qualified to go to the U.S. at the time. We said our goodbyes to our relatives at Tan Son Nhat Airport as we boarded the plane to start our new lives first in Thailand’s refugee camps for several weeks before arriving in Boston. I was four years old at the time and the fourth of five children. My mom carried my two-year old baby sister and held my hand as my dad led my three siblings, bringing only one big red luggage containing our possessions. My family’s story is one of many Vietnamese American stories from the diaspora that illustrates the refugee experience. These voices are central to painting a fuller picture of what happened during the Vietnam War and its aftermath to the formation of many resilient and vibrant Vietnamese communities throughout the U.S. today.
The importance of the First Days Story Project as an effort to collect stories and as an extension of Last Days in Vietnam lies not only in preserving the voices of the lived human experience of the war -- both of Vietnamese American refugees and American veterans -- but also in sharing these stories to give representation and agency to all those whose lives were affected by the war. As we approach the 40th Anniversary of the fall of Saigon in April 2015, we can use this time to reflect, engage in dialogue and perhaps find some healing in our lives and across communities. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be a part of this project and to participate in a national endeavor to collect and share voices that want and need to be heard.
Last fall, hundreds of people donated to our crowdfunding campaign to make this project possible, and this January the First Days Story Project team will travel around the U.S. to six major cities (San Jose, Westminster, Seattle, Houston, Boston, Washington, D.C.) with concentrated Vietnamese and Veteran communities. With your help, I encourage you to follow along in this journey with us. If you or someone you know has a story tied to the Vietnamese American refugee experience or post-war evacuation, please consider sharing your story by out filling a linked form below.
Find the Vietnamese language form here
Ngoc-Tran Vu is an artist and organizer as well as the Project Coordinator on Last Days in Vietnam with AMERICAN EXPERIENCE. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With his syndicated weekly feature, Believe It or Not!, his radio and television shows and Odditoriums, those dim-lit exhibition halls of the bizarre, grotesque and weird, Robert Leroy Ripley was easily the most popular American icon of the twentieth century.
One of my salient childhood memories is of poring over the Believe It or Not! box cartoon in the lower right-hand corner of the Sunday newspaper’s “funnies” page. A chubby, myopic, bookish child, I was convinced of my own secret weirdness, yet here was a celebrated, infinitely varied province of extremes, peculiarities and wonderment. Here were monsters and saints, the deformed and defamed, the largest this, the smallest that in the world -- always that thrilling phrase, “in the world!” Robert Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoons transformed my child’s hunger for excess, my fascination with oddness into fact-as-entertainment. Ripley fed the nation’s appetite for awe, wonder and terror by recognizing the de-vitalizing effect of the mundane, the electrifying frisson of the foreign and disturbing. A curator of the incredible, he understood that shock makes us feel alive, and that fear and ecstasy mirror one another.