“I wasn’t in Vietnam, my father was.”
He was utterly confused, but that was my fault, I should have clarified the question. So, I shook my head and pieced together an entirely new sentence.
“Mr. Kelvin, I’m not talking about the war in Vietnam, I’m talking about the refugees, did you come across any Vietnamese refugees? Could you tell me about your experience?”
After that, a silent behemoth seemed to consume the room. Douglas Kelvin just stared off to his right side for a few minutes, as if he was trying to remember something that he had once tried to forget.
He was a burly man with bronzed skin, no doubt from years of toiling away under the sun. Legs were crossed with the usual glass of blood-red merlot resting upon a smoky granite table in front of him. Old chestnut eyes glaring into the distance contrasting with the ivory head of hair he possessed.
After minutes seemed like they were bleeding into hours, his deep booming voice finally stabbed at the silence.
“We were doing routine operations in the Pacific Ocean on the USS Tripoli in 1977… very normal… nothing really special happening. On the ships intercom system, they started asking for anyone who spoke French or Vietnamese to report to the bridge, probably for about three or four hours they kept asking.”
“Why French or Vietnamese?”
I eagerly interrupted.
He took a deep breath and exclaimed,
“They had a radio, the radio was working, the refugee boat was desperate. The boat wasn’t sinking, but they were out of food and water. So, all they spoke was French and Vietnamese.”
“I assume these refugees were trying to flee dictatorship, is that correct Mr. Kelvin?”
My voice stuttering with curiosity.
Another deep breath and he confirmed my question,
“Yes, Vietnamese people, refugees, were getting out of the country as the communists came down following the US declaration of non-involvement in the Vietnam War. They were doing everything they could to escape communism, dictatorship rule, unspeakable atrocities. In their very own country they were being executed in the streets, shot in the head and even kids were being shot. You see after the war, we didn’t have the capability of taking all the Vietnamese people that wanted to leave the country with us, so they started exiting the country any way they could.”
Kelvin took a short break to sip his wine and gather his thoughts, while I was finding myself lost in a kaleidoscope of emotion due to the knowledge of these facts. Part of me understood that the US couldn’t do much to help the Vietnamese people trying to leave the country, but another part of me feels like more could’ve been done, more could’ve been attempted to save some innocent lives.
Mr. Kelvin started up once again,
“The Tripoli finally came across this boat that had to of been 40 feet long, the type of boat that we would call a junker. They came alongside our ship and we tied them to the ship, but they couldn’t come on board, it was against policy. There was a canopy over the middle part of the boat, but for the better part, they were just exposed to the sun, to the heat, to the elements. There were probably 50 to 60 people on this 40-foot boat. This included men, women, children, and babies. We put a small motor whaleboat into the water and as soon as we got up close to them they started to try and jump out of their boat and swim over to ours, so we had to pull away from them. After that, we started lowering them boxes and boxes of food as well as water. As soon as the boxes got down to their boat, they just tore into them, some of these were just boxes of raw, frozen hamburger. They went wild over it, they started fighting over it, they were just out of control. I was taken aback.”
“Did you help them any further or did you just provide them with the food and water?”
I asked him even though I figured what the answer would be,
“We contacted other ships on the radio that could come get them, they wanted to go to the United States with us, but that just wasn’t going to happen. So, we stayed with them for about 4 hours then cast them off, had to. We had a mission, we couldn’t bring on Vietnamese civilians. Of course, this upset them, a lot of them were crying and they even tried to follow our ship.”
A certain mood of sadness bleached the area around us. Kelvin swirled his glass of wine, even accidentally spilling some onto the grey granite.
It’s a depressing factor of reality to be so close to people in need without being able to save them. Our world is blind with countries forcing the removal of people, their own blood, into the darkness of the world without a home. Our nation must be more accepting of others, more willing to help those in need. Change must arise for the progress of humanity because the only thing that separates us is the place in which we were born. That provides one with nationality, not identity. Change must arise. The constriction of the world is overbearing, and we must delve into the past and realize we were all travelers, immigrants, and foreigners at one point in time. The world is ours to share. The world is ours to explore. There’s too much fear of that which is unknown, it causes us to lose sight of what is known about love and care and affection and our very own humanity.
by Lindsay Gutting