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Oklahomans remember fall of Saigon 25 years later

Tuyen Nguyen was 14 when he watched American helicopters fly off into the evening sky over Saigon 25 years ago.

The American's didn't return, giving way to North Vietnamese tanks that rolled into the city and began communist rule on April 30, 1975.

Nguyen, now an Enid resident, doesn't like to recall the anniversary of South Vietnam's surrender.

"We want to forget this," he said.

In the years following the fall of Saigon, four of Nguyen's brothers and sisters would die trying to escape the communists. Two perished on a boat that capsized and claimed most people on board. Nguyen survived, but he and other family members would spend time in prison.

His father, Tu Nguyen, a member of the South Vietnamese army, was incarcerated in a communist re-education camp.

Nguyen fled successfully in 1983. His father, who also lives in Enid, finally escaped 10 years ago when he swam the Mekong River to Thailand.

"My mother was the only one who flew out freely," Nguyen said.

Ron Kirkwood was only in Vietnam for a few weeks and figures he was exposed to Agent Orange for less than an hour.

But the results of that experience have stuck with him for the last 30 years. They are in each disabling headache. Each time he can't sleep. Each fit of temper.

By war's end, a conflict in the warring southeast Asian country had cost more than 58,000 American lives and wounded 300,000 more.

Then there are the Ron Kirkwoods, who returned home only later to face debilitating physical and mental disabilities.

He is writing a memoir about his experience in Vietnam, a record he wanted to leave for his children.

As a 26-year-old 2nd Class petty officer with the U.S. Navy, Kirkwood writes that his memories of arriving in Vietnam in 1969 are still strong.

"Everyone knew some wouldn't return and see their family or loved ones again. None knew what lay ahead. I wondered which of us wouldn't grow much older, but instead return in a black plastic body bag or cloth-lined coffin," he writes.

Assigned to a spot about 65 miles southwest of Saigon, his crew patrolled a river and stopped people from crossing a border between Cambodian holdings and Vietnam.

Within a month of his arrival, he was sent home to care for his sick father, who died a year later.

Among Kirkwood's personal baggage from the war is the guilt that he came home and others didn't.

Vietnam was home for Minhchau Nguyen.

She said she remembers stepping through corpses in the streets during the Tet offensive of January 1968 when she was a girl of maybe only 6 or 7.

Her family escaped by boat weeks after the fall of Saigon. A sentry's bullet grazed the cheek of 14-year-old Minhchau as the vessel pulled away from shore.

After 30 days at sea, the refugees were picked up by a tanker and ended up in the United States.

But if Vietnam was a bad dream for Americans, it was Minhchau Nguyen's childhood nightmare.

"I had these dreams for years," she said. "Walking through the bodies. Sometimes, the hand of someone you thought was dead would reach up and grab you."

Click on the link below to see a photo gallery from The Dallas Morning News entitled Vietnam: 25 years Later.

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