Vol. 11


A Failed Attempt to Escape Vietnam

1982; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

After the Vietnam War1 ended in 1975, my dad’s family suffered hardship as other Vietnamese families did. My grandpa was put in political prison camp for five years because he had worked for the old government. He was released in 1980 but faced unemployment. To find a better future for his family, my grandpa took my dad and uncle on a journey to escape Vietnam by boat when my father was ten years old. Even though it seemed a failure at that time, it was a blessing from God.

On June 1, 1982, my grandpa and uncle warily walked to a big fishing boat, pretending to be fishermen working for the boat owner. My dad took a bus ride to the pick-up location in Ho Chi Minh City. For five hours he waited with seventeen others at a tiny house located next to a canal with pitch-black water and an unforgettable smell of raw sewage.

At 10:00 p.m. a small fishing boat arrived. My dad and others climbed into the boat and sat in the “brace” position.2 They were covered with fishing net, bananas, and tarps to avoid detection by the police. They rode two hours in heat and humidity, always fearing authorities who might find them. Then my dad reunited with my grandpa and uncle on a bigger fishing boat.

The “mother boat” was limited to eighty people but became overloaded with one hundred trying to escape Vietnam. Two hours into the journey, the boat’s engine stopped working. Water had leaked into the engine room, causing the engine to shut down. My grandpa helped other men to fix the engine while they attempted to continue moving.

After two hours the boat was finally fixed, and the journey continued. Around 5:00 a.m. the boat encountered the coast guard patrol. The captain tried to avoid it but surrendered after a thirty-minute chase, when the coast guard started shooting and throwing grenades at the boat.

Consequently my grandpa, uncle, and dad were jailed in the prison camp for people trying to escape the country. My dad and uncle stayed in the area for women and children, while my grandpa resided in a separate jail cell. Even though my dad was shocked and scared, he remained tough to take care of my uncle. After twenty-one days my dad and uncle were released. My grandpa was transferred to a different jail and then released after two years.

Even though the escape failed, it was a blessing from God. According to my grandparents, if the boat had not been stopped, everyone would have perished at sea due to the overload and water-leaking problems.

In April 1991 my dad’s family came to America via a special program called “Humanitarian Operation,” which was approved by the United States government. Even though it was a long wait and my dad’s family had been through a lot, my dad says it was worth it. He believed that it was God’s plan, and he thanked God for it.

Timothy Lai; Missouri, USA


1. In the Vietnam War, North Vietnam and other communist countries fought against South Vietnam, the United States, and other non-communist countries. After the war, North Vietnam and South Vietnam became one country under communist rule.

2. Sitting in the brace position means to sit with your body folded together in a way that will help protect it in case of a crash.



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