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Texts From My Parents: What It Was Like To Leave Vietnam

Aircraft carriers, refugee camp, and a lost shoe.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed / Thinkstock

Today is the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. This morning, my dad texted my mom and me.

And so began my parents' retelling of what happened that week in 1975 to their eldest daughter, who grew up loving pizza Hot Pockets more than anything in the entire world.

They left Vietnam four days apart: my mom from the central region and my dad from what is now Ho Chi Minh City.

My parents met three years later in an ESL summer school class at my mom's high school. Lol.

I remember visiting the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, D.C., for the first time in 2011. It's a giant slab of polished granite with the names of over 58,000 fallen soldiers etched on its surface. The wall is nestled in a bunker-like enclave in the Constitution Gardens, near the Lincoln Memorial. It's quiet, peaceful.

There was a group of veterans there that day who were also seeing the wall for the first time. I talked to one. I told him I was Vietnamese and his reaction was literally: 😳

He was floored. He had never met an American-born Vietnamese person before. Weird to think: If it hadn't been for the efforts of American soldiers, like him, to successfully bring thousands of refugees to safety, I most definitely wouldn't be here.

My dad and his family stayed in San Diego's Camp Pendleton. My mom was shipped to Arkansas. She lost one of her shoes along the way. :( But she was lucky not to have lost more.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed / Thinkstock

It was a deeply personal and emotional thing, reading my parents' memories of fleeing their home country.

My dad just thought his family was on vacation. He wouldn't return "home" for decades.

I grew up in San Jose, California, a city with the biggest population of Vietnamese Americans outside of Vietnam. Having parents who were once refugees was just a fact of life. We never talked about the war.

I learned of the war mostly through the horrifying Pulitzer Prize-winning photos (much like these) in U.S. history textbooks.

Thursday's conversation with my mom and dad was more educational and meaningful than those photos ever were.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed / Thinkstock

"We can not fail." This hit me like a ton of bricks. They were very lucky to make it out. Many didn't.

Nick and Booj are my brothers. They're too young to understand now, but my parents (and my parents' parents) went through a hell of a lot so that we could have the best chance at living a fruitful life. So that we could live in a place where opportunity and Hot Pockets are plentiful. They did it for us, and I'll spend the rest of my life trying to make the most of it.