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Zung Dao (2008) Jeffrey Wolin

Zung Dao
ARVN Lieutenant Special Forces

“Late afternoon of April 29, 1975, after 3 days of recon in Nhi Binh, our team returned to the base camp in the outskirts of Saigon with a ‘borrowed jeep’ and found it was deserted. We contacted Special Forces HQ for specific orders, but there were none, so we decided to go our separate ways to where we originally came from or to wherever.

I returned to my home in Saigon’s Fifth district, and the next morning, April 30th, I drove to a friend’s home, where I had left two soldiers for his family’s protection while I was away. I found out that my friend and his family already had left Viet Nam, and staying there now was my friend’s aunt and her family of seven, whom I had met a few times in Da Nang. Capt. Long, a harbor pilot, who was married to my friend’s aunt, asked me for my assistance to escort him and his family to the Saigon River to find a way to get out of Viet Nam, which I agreed to.

Chaos was choking Saigon: gunfire, explosions, cannon shelling echoing from everywhere. We drove up and down the road along the Saigon River for a while to look for any sign of a ship we might possibly board until we saw some activity at the 10-foot tall cement sidewall on gated Pier 5. I went down to investigate, and there it was: a man-made hole about three meters in diameter with three Marines guarding it. Capt. Long paid a ‘small entrance fee’ to get though into a huge, almost emptied pier with a cargo ship named Viet Nam Thuong Tin. It just returned from India at the dock awaiting its captain to return with his family. We rushed to board it with about 350 others already on it—within minutes hundreds and hundreds of people poured in from the front gate. They overwhelmed the dozen marine guards who kept shooting their machine guns into the air trying to stop them, without effect. The desperate people were rushing to the ship as the First Mate in a panic ordered the ladder to be pulled up and the anchor lines chopped to free the ship from the dock as it drifted away from the pier.

Around 11 a.m., about ten seemingly eternal minutes after the ship undocked, someone was pointing to and shouting at the row of Soviet-made tanks with NVA flags on them crossing the Saigon bridge en route to the heart of Saigon, as the First Mate sailed the ship away with its Captain looking on hopelessly from the pier with his wife and his two children at his side. As we were heading toward the sea, the ship’s portside was hit with three rockets. One blew a six-foot hole mid-ship at the water line, disabling the hydraulic steering. Another rocket hit the bottom of the second deck killing a famous Vietnamese writer and his grandchild and wounding several others. The third embedded in the upper portside bow but did not explode. The ship was drifting aimlessly toward the bank of the river for a few minutes, and luckily, the now-captain started to gain control of the ship with the back-up electrical steering system; we finally got to the sea and reached international waters in the late afternoon and heard on the BBC news that the South Vietnamese President, Duong Van Minh, had surrendered. After the ship’s captain radioed the US Navy Seventh fleet for advice and consulted with some high-ranking officers on board, the ship limped for three days to the US naval base in Subic Bay, Philippines for repair and supply for another journey to the refugee camp in Guam and from there to an unknown future that lay ahead for me.”