My grandparents and family waited for a month in Guam for sponsorship from America. After their paperwork was completed, they flew from Guam to Camp Pendleton, San Diego, CA.
On their way from the airport to Camp Pendleton, Mai Hương saw lights on the ground. “Wow,” she thought, “America was paved with gold and lights.” What people had told her in Vietnam was possibly true. Everything was clean and huge. She was amazed and captivated by the lights on the ground.
They lived in Camp Pendleton for another month. Mai Hương discovered the strange toilet. Yes, as simple as it may seem, the toilet was mystical to my family. That was the first thing we all remembered noticing. Of course, Mai Hương’s first instinct was to squat with her hind legs on the seat. She eventually figured out that she had to sit on the seat. “That was way too easy and much more comfortable.” Thought Mai Hương.
My grandparents had four families traveling together with a total of 21 people. Their group consisted of my grandparents, five of their siblings, three close family friends, two workers, a cousin, and Mai Hương. Two siblings were married with their own children so they were considered two families. The remaining three siblings were unmarried. They were in their early twenties and late teens. My grandparents, the three unmarried siblings, the two workers, Hoàng ̣(our cousin), and Mai Hương were considered to be the 3rd family. The 4th family was the close family friends.
While waiting for the paperwork to be processed, my grandparents had a choice of two different sponsors. Mai Hương remembered that my grandfather wanted as many of our families to be sponsored together so they could be close. It took a while before they found someone to sponsor more than one family.
St. Paul United Church of Christ from Pekin, Illinois was willing to sponsor three families, 17 people. At the same time, there was a church in Seguin, Texas that was willing to sponsor the 4th family. The families were ecstatic.
While in Camp Pendleton, Chú Phương proposed to aunt Ðóm. She accepted. Cô Loan and uncle Voòng never hooked up. In the end, they both stayed as friends and went their separate ways. To this day, Cô Chắt regretted her decision to leave the ship. She was married and created her own family in Vietnam after the downfall of Saigon.
My Final Thoughts
My grandparent’s families all arrived at their destination in mid-summer of 1975. Chú Tế, the naval officer, and his family settled in Seguin, Texas while the other three families settled in Pekin, Illinois.
I did not know Mai Hương much until my family migrated to America. When we met again in 1978, somehow, I felt connected with her as if I knew her all my life. I found myself wanting to be like her when I grew up. When Mai Hương was a flight attendant, I wanted to travel and be a flight attendant. When Mai Hương joined the Navy, I wanted to join the Air Force academy. I was too timid so I didn’t follow through with the flight attendant or the Air Force. Mai Hương was my idol. I was very proud of her and her achievements.
Mai Hương is now a successful computer specialist working for a government agency in Washington DC. She is happily married to Mark Lytle and they have three beautiful daughters.
Mai Hương’s oldest daughter, Hannah wrote a wonderful senior report called “Fleeing from Vietnam“. Hannah interviewed our aunts and many other cousins in the family for their stories and perspectives. It was refreshing to read the stories told by others about our own journey.
My grandparent’s families were very fortunate to have left Vietnam and went through an easier journey than many others who left later than 1975.
My family and I left in 1978. That was a totally different experience altogether. If interested to learn more, please visit “My Journey to America – The Journey Began.”
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