Chot Duong was a 30-year-old captain in the Republic of Vietnam’s air force on April 30, 1975, when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese.
He had been in the military since he was 20.
Duong, who has lived in Richmond since 1976, remembers there being a great uncertainty as the communist force overran the city.
Nobody knew what to expect, he said, but everyone was looking for way out — “by boat, by plane, by anything.”
Duong managed to commandeer a military plane and flew to the U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield outside Bangkok in Thailand.
A year later, he was here, “heartbroken and homesick” and without a homeland. It would be almost a decade before he was able to talk to his family again.
On Sunday at the Virginia War Memorial, Duong joined veterans who fought for the U.S. and South Vietnam in the Vietnam War for a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.
For the thousands of South Vietnamese who resettled in the U.S., April 30, 1975, is known as “the day we lost our country.”
Thanh C. Chau, chairman of the Vietnamese Community of Central Virginia, said Sunday’s remembrance is a way to honor those who fought in the long and bloody war.
“We want to honor all the sacrifices they made and remember what the American vets have done for our country, that they fought for our freedom,” he said. “We want to recognize and honor them for that.”
The anniversary commemoration included a memorial service with a special prayer for the servicemen from the Republic of Vietnam and the U.S. who died in the war.
There were re-enactors in authentic Vietnam War-era uniforms, Vietnamese foods, a wreath-laying and a showing of the new PBS “American Experience” documentary film, “Last Days in Vietnam.”
“We’re always and always remembering” that day, Duong said of April 30. “And we cry.”