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APRIL 2015


Amidst the chaos of the last days in Saigon, U.S. government personnel

risked their lives to save Vietnamese.


Anne D. Pham is currently a senior State Department adviser in the

Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources. Prior to that, she served as

director of the Office of Strategic Planning and Evaluation, and worked

in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and the Office of the

Secretary. Overseas, she has worked in the U.S. missions in Laos and

Vietnam. Previously, Ms. Phamwas a faculty member in the National

Security Studies department at Industrial College of the Armed Forces

(now the Eisenhower School), National Defense University.


y journey to America began 40

years ago, when I was plucked

out of the Pacific Ocean during

the last days of the VietnamWar.

While that tumultuous period is

fraught with tragedy, there were

alsomany instances of hope and

heroism. Indeed, I would not

be where I am today were it not

for the courage, kindness and compassion of countless person-

nel from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International

Development, members of the military and others who risked

their lives to save endangered Vietnamese amidst the war’s chaotic


The war in Vietnamwas a hot conflict that had emerged from

the ColdWar global confrontation between the superpowers. It

was a war by proxy: China and the Soviet Union funded Com-

munist North Vietnam, while the United States supported South

Vietnam and served as its key ally. Canada, Australia, South Korea,

Finding My Heroes, Finding Myself:

From Refugee Child to

State Department Official



Philippines and Japan also assisted with various aspects of the

U.S.-led effort.

Many South Vietnamese, my father among them, had worked

in various capacities in support of the American effort to ensure

the freedom and independence of the Republic of Vietnam, a dem-

ocratic country. Such individuals were at grave risk as North Viet-

namese communist forces advanced, yet the U.S. was concerned

about the appearance of abandonment that could come with overt

evacuation planning. Nevertheless, many American civilian and

military personnel scrambled to save the lives of these endangered

individuals, sometimes defying orders from their superiors and

disregarding their own safety to follow their conscience.

Among themwere Foreign Service officers Lionel Rosenblatt

and L. Craig Johnstone, who brought attention to the need for evac-

uation of South Vietnamese employees and associates at risk. After

being denied permission to go to Saigon in the spring of 1975, these

young diplomats took personal leave, purchased tickets with their

own resources and saved several hundred people. Other FSOs, such

as KenMoorefield and LacyWright, alsomade significant efforts to

gather people fromvarious locations throughout the city.

15 Minutes to Flee

My father, JosephThinh Pham, came home on the evening of

April 29, 1975, and toldmy mother that we needed to flee for our

lives. He had just learned from an American at his workplace that

the airport was under rocket fire, and that most roads in and out of

Saigon were closed due to the fighting that would soon envelop

the capital. The day before, he had witnessed smoke billowing from