By April 1975, life in Saigon had dissolved into chaos. The army of the North Vietnamese had surrounded the city and bombardments were a daily occurrence. It was only a matter of time before Saigon collapsed. For those trapped in the city who had associations with the U.S. government or military, fear was rampant.
For Chin Nguyen, the fear was real. Her family faced prison, torture and possibly death if they would fall into the hands of the Viet Cong. Every attempt was made to not just get out of Saigon, but out of Vietnam.
By the end of April, the crisis had come to a boiling point. The U.S. military’s Operation Frequent Wind was evacuating South Vietnamese by helicopter to Navy ships stationed just off the coast of Saigon.
On April 28, Chin’s son Coung was staying at her parents’ compound. A relative, who was in the South Vietnamese military, flew a Huey helicopter to the compound, picked up Coung and the other family members there, and flew blindly off the coast hoping to find a U.S. Navy ship before running out of gas. Fortunately, they found Midway.
A few days later, not knowing where her son or other family members were, Chin, her husband, and a few others escaped Vietnam by putting out to sea in a small merchant boat. They spent the next week adrift in the ocean before they were finally picked up by a Navy ship and taken to the U.S. naval base at Subic Bay in the Philippines.
Miraculously, Chin was reunited with her son at a massive tent city on Guam where South Vietnamese refugees were being processed for resettlement in the United States. Together, the family was eventually flown to the refugee relocation Camp at Fort Chafee, Ark. to begin their new life in America.
Now in her 70s, Chin had never seen where her son and other members of her family had escaped to nearly 50 years ago. Living in Colorado now, she decided to head to San Diego.
Standing in front of the Operation Frequent Wind exhibit, her face lit up as she looked at the photos on display.
“There is my son, there is my son,” she said excited with a big smile as she spotted the photo of her son being held by Midway’s executive officer, Capt. Larry Grimes on the flight deck. “I had to come see the ship.”