In 1974 my homeland was being over-run by Viet Cong, guerrilla forces of North Vietnam in a war that cost an estimated 2 million civilians their lives. Villages in South Vietnam were being wiped out and over run by the forces of the north. There was believed to be more death and destruction than in any official report.
Somewhere amidst the death and ravaging I was born of two Vietnamese villagers. Facing what was most likely certain death, it’s theorized my parents left me at an orphanage,and subsequently were killed, as millions of others were during the time period. They left me at the An Lac orphanage in Saigon.
As the city of Saigon fell to enemy forces, many orphans were evacuated to the United States. Evacuation was unpopular with many of the American people at the time. Not all evacuations were successful. A plane full of orphans and nurses crashed, killing 78 orphans – their remains sent to Thailand and ultimately cremated. It was in the wake of this crash that a sense of urgency began. Many brave American soldiers and South Vietnamese soldiers died defending the city. To them I will be forever grateful and try to bring honor to their sacrifice every day.
I and 200 of my brothers and sisters soon followed, loaded on an airplane through the efforts of an American woman named Betty Tisdale, known as ‘The Angel of Saigon’. As babys were loaded, there were not enough baskets for each baby. I am told I was loaded i na cardboard box. My birth parents were most likely dead by now, killed by the enemy. I don’t even know what they named me. I simply have a manifest number. I was baby 170-something. I do not recall the exact number. There is a name assigned to me by the orphanage but none on record for what my birth parents named me.
Out of the 200 orphans, the sickest of the sick were sent to California for further treatment. I was one of those 60 orphans. I had a 10% chance of living by all accounts. As I was transported to Pennsylvania, I was placed with a funeral director, I am told due to my survival odds not being much above 10%. I am told the doctors said my ability to survive was not in their hands. I was told that I was placed with a funeral director who could bury me quickly, quietly, and without publicity – the evacuation was still not popular during this time. Negative press of dying babies would not be helpful. Thus I was passed off to be buried. This is what I have been told by some.
But by the grace of God I survived. That was totally unexpected. The reality is if there had been no war, I still most likely would have been conceived and born -to the same sickness – and without an evacuation program during a state of war, and South Vietnamese medicine not to the level of American medical care, most likely would have died as an infant in South Vietnam had there been no war.
I’ve tried to make the most of an uncountable number of sacrifices of life that happened in Vietnam. There are so many orphans that were killed, thousands of American soldiers who gave their lives, and the millions of civilians – my family – who died. And then there was my own illness – and almost certain death – instead of serving orphans in Africa, doing community outreach in East Nashville, and jumping into a controversial parenting role, that entire course of events of my life would have been replaced with a few weeks of life as an infant – “there but for the grace of God, go I. “
— Written by Ron Hall