The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

March 30, 2013

Impossible to forget

(Continued)

NORMAN —

Simmons is now helping organize a Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day in Charleston that will take place Saturday.

“Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another. We stick with that,” said Simmons, president of the state council of the Vietnam Veterans of America. “We go to the airport. ... We’re there when they leave. We’re there when they come home. We support their families when they’re gone. I’m not saying that did not happen to the Vietnam vet, but it wasn’t as much. There was really no support for us.”

A rising panic

Tony Lam was 36 on the day the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam. He was a young husband and father, but most importantly, he was a businessman and U.S. contractor furnishing dehydrated rice to South Vietnamese troops. He also ran a fish meal plant and a refrigerated shipping business that exported shrimp.

As Lam, now 76, watched American forces dwindle and then disappear, he felt a rising panic. His close association with the Americans was well-known and he needed to get out — and get his family out — or risk being tagged as a spy and thrown into a Communist prison. He watched as South Vietnamese commanders fled, leaving whole battalions without a leader.

“We had no chance of surviving under the Communist invasion there.

We were very much worried about the safety of our family, the safety of other people,” he said this week from his adopted home in Westminster, Calif.

But Lam wouldn’t leave for nearly two more years after the last U.S. combat troops, driven to stay by his love of his country and his belief that Vietnam and its economy would recover.

When Lam did leave, on April 21, 1975, it was aboard a packed C-130 that departed just as Saigon was about to fall. He had already worked for 24 hours at the airport to get others out after seeing his wife and two young children off to safety in the Philippines.

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