April 1975  -  April 2015

Washington State Indochinese Refugee Resettlement Program

Xin Bấm Vào Đây Xem Bài Dịch Việt Ngữ


 Honorable Governor Daniel Evansans
Honorable Secretary Ralph Munro
Honorable Commanding General Camp Murray



Washington State Home Sweet Home

"Do You Know Where Washington State Is ? "


This is the title of a report I wrote 40 years ago but have not submitted to you. Today on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Washington State Indochinese Refugee Program (Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian) resettle in Washington State I would like to submit to you the following.

After the fall of Saigon April 1975, hundred of thousands of Indochinese refugees arrived at Camp Pendleton, California. Rumors in the camp in May were that California's Governor did not want the refugees in California made us more nervous.

I was assisting in the clinic when suddenly I heard from the loud speakers calling my name to report to the refugees’ command post. I hesitated. Then a second call, this time I was called to see Mr. Monahan in the Refugees Taskforce Command Post. I knew Mr. Monahan from the time I worked with him at the U.S Defense Attaché Office in Saigon. He was the person loaded me and my family on an airplane to leave Saigon a week ago.

Looking towards the headquarters building in the distance, I saw Mr. Monahan standing there with two other Americans. When I met them, Mr. Monahan introduced me to those men as Mr. Edward Burke and Mr. Joe Aggarga.

Mr. Monahan said to me: "These two gentlemen are from Washington State. They want to find people to resettle there. I suggest you go there. Okay, I will find you later." Then he excused himself and went back to his office.

Mr. Edward Burke introduced himself and said: “We represent Governor Dan Evans of Washington State to find people who want to resettle in Washington State. This is the state’s Resettlement Program Direct Sponsor. Initially we want to resettle about 500. Once you are there, we will have sponsors help you find housing and jobs. The children will get to go to public schools. Washington State will assist in all aspects until you can be independent. Mr. Burke also added, “Governor Dan Evans is the first Governor in the United States responding to the call of President Ford to help the Indochinese refugees.”

While listening to Mr. Burke speaking, I was thinking about the rumor that California did not want refugees, so this offer was too good to refuse.

Then Joe Aggarga asked me: “Do you know where Washington State is?” Well, before I came here I worked many years in the US Defense Attaché Office in Saigon, so this question was too easy for me. I told him: “Yes, I know. That is the Capitol of the United States of America”. Before I finished the last word, Mr. Aggarga laughed out loud. I did not know what was wrong.

At that very moment, Mr. Ed Burke opened his briefcase and pulled out a large National Geographic map to show me. My eyes looked everywhere on the right side of the map, but I could not see Washington State. I was embarrassed and confused. Ed Burke saw that, he tapped his finger and said, “Look at my finger, Washington State is on left side of the map in the Pacific Northwest”, then tapped his finger on the other side and said, “this is Washington DC, the US Capitol in the Atlantic Ocean”. Now I found the letters Washington under Ed’s finger. I said, “So Washington State is up here. It’s near Canada!” I again confirmed with him that I've never heard of it before.

Joe asked me: “Can you find 500 people to go up there?” I replied, “Maybe. I will try.” Ed Burke said: “Binh, you are hired starting today. You are a part of the team. Now you’re in-charge. We must go to a scheduled meeting. We will see you again this afternoon.” Both of them took off.

I went to the command center, collected a couple pieces of papers. Using their typewriter, I started drafting a simple application form. I made many copies. I posted the map on the wall outside a trailer. Standing in the front of the trailer, I started to pass out the application forms. I did not know how many blank applications I passed out, I just hoped that the refugees would fill them out and return to me as soon as they can.

Many people came by and asked where Washington State was. I showed them the map, and answered the question simply. Although people did not know about Washington State, but because they wanted to get out of the camp, so in a few hours they filled out the forms and returned them to me. Of the returned applications I only paid attention to the number of people listed in the application, and carefully added up the numbers.

Eventually Ed Burke and Joe Aggarga came back in the afternoon. Both of them asked me how many people had signed up. I told them there were more than a thousand so far. By that evening, Ed added up some more, and the number now went up to more than fifteen hundred people.

Both Ed and Joe shook their heads and screamed. They did not expect to see many people wanting to go to Washington State. We were trying to find solutions. I sat there feeling shame for making too many mistakes on the first day on the job. Suddenly, all three of us cheering up said to each other loudly that we must find more sponsors.

Ed Burke had to return to Washington State, Joe and I stayed in Camp Pendleton to help the people we sponsor to obtain clearance and immigration papers to leave the camp and book flights to Washington State. A week later, Ed came down to meet us. Ed said: “Camp Murray is ready to receive refugees. Sponsors are ready. We must send people there quick.”

Camp Pendleton was full of refugees, hundred of thousands in the camp. To be able to get out of the camp the refugees needed to have clearance and immigration papers which took a lot of time. Fortunately, we found one group ready to go. On the morning of May 19, 1975 Ed Burke and I lead 30 people, including my family to Washington State. We became the first Indochinese refugees in Washington State. Governor Dan Evans and Mr. Ralph Munro came to receive us. And that day was also the beginning of the Washington State Indochina Refugees Program.

Camp Murray became the first home to the Indochinese refugees. Since that day, hundreds more Indochinese refugees moved into the Camp. At first, most of the refugee families were resettled in the community around the Puget Sound area, then people in Eastern Washington also wanted to sponsor refugees. In response to their open arms, the Indochinese Refugees Program eventually created a small camp in the campus of Cheney College in Spokane.

December 1975 the State has directly sponsored and resettled more than fifteen hundred refugees. That number of refugees was three times more than the initial commitment. The Indochinese refugees finally got resettled in their own homes in time for celebrating Christmas. Camp Murray was closed to receiving refugees. The Washington State's direct sponsorship program also ended.

However, the Washington State Indochinese Refugees Program started assuming the responsibility of providing social and medical assistance, teaching English, and helping to find jobs for thousands and thousands refugees that were brought up by the voluntary agencies.

Governor, under your leadership and the leadership of Secretary Ralph Munro the Indochina Refugees Program progressed significantly. Many families left the camp, resettled into communities all over the state. Many found jobs; children went to schools in the fall, and some young refugees attended colleges.

Governor Dan Evans and Secretary Ralph Munro, today, I am very proud to report to you that I know where Washington State is and tens of thousands of other refugees know it, too. Our lives have been rebuilt in this state. We are very proud to call Washington State “Home Sweet Home”.

Thank You Governor Dan Evans
Thank You Secretary Ralph Munro
Thank You Camp Murray Commanding General
Thank You all Refugee Sponsors
Thank You United State of America


Binh Duong

 

 

 

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