“I joined the army at 18 so I could choose the branch I wanted, which was the Air Force. I became a helicopter gunship pilot stationed at Nha Trang near Cam Ranh Bay. I was the squadron leader. We escorted troops on combat missions and destroyed many enemy targets. There were many battles.
In April 1975, just before Saigon fell, I was sent with three choppers to protect Tan Son Nhut airbase in Saigon. In the evening of April 29 around 6 o’clock we saw two South Vietnamese jets fly over Tan Son Nhut and drop bombs on the base—they must have been commandeered by the enemy. About 2 o’clock in the morning, the NVA shelled the base with artillery and mortars—thousands of rounds. I jumped in a foxhole and stayed for 3-4 hours—the shells were exploding everywhere.
At 8 a.m. on April 30, we gathered to discuss the situation. I saw a C-119 gunship in the air get hit by a surface-to-air missile and crash in front of my eyes. Two hours later they sent me with three choppers to fly around Tan Son Nhut base to see what was happening and protect the base. I realized it was hopeless and decided to fly to Con Son Island. We got lost on the way there and almost ran out of fuel but we were lucky and were picked up by a British tanker. We only had 20 minutes of fuel left.
My family was left behind in Vietnam. I felt guilty that I didn’t take them with me when I flew out of the country. For ten years afterwards, I dreamed constantly about flying my helicopter to take my family to freedom. In some dreams I landed on top of my house to pick up my family. Once they arrived here in the U.S. the dreams stopped.
We fought the war but we could not win because the Americans gave up on the war. If we had enough ammunition and weapons we never would have lost the war. The American government abandoned us and left us there to fend for ourselves. We don’t blame America. We were just victims of the political situation.”