Quang X. Pham: Ford's Finest Legacy

Roundup: Talking About History

[Quang X. Pham, who was born in Saigon, served as a Marine pilot in the Persian Gulf War. He is a businessman and the author of "A Sense of Duty: My Father, My American Journey."]

"Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned. . . . [T]hese events, tragic as they are, portend neither the end of the world nor of America's leadership in the world."

President Gerald R. Ford uttered those words in a speech at Tulane University on April 23, 1975, in the final days of Vietnam's long war. The rowdy crowd roared and gave him a standing ovation. The military draft had ended and American troops and POWs had returned home two years earlier. America had washed its hands of Vietnam, yet millions of lives were still at stake.

Halfway around the world, my family experienced the unfolding of those tragic events in South Vietnam. For us, it was the worst of times. It seemed like the end of the world to me. I was only 10....

... Ford became the savior to those lucky enough to escape the taking of Saigon by the North Vietnamese army. "I pray no American president is ever again faced with this grave option," Ford said at a public forum on the legacy of the Vietnam War 25 years later. "I still grieve over those we were unable to rescue." He added that he was thankful America was able to relocate 130,000 Vietnamese refugees (less than 1 percent of South Vietnam's population) and that "to do less would have added moral shame to humiliation."

My family and those other blessed South Vietnamese found ourselves stuck in refugee camps across the United States. Outside the camps, public sentiment against Vietnamese refugees ran high, although at the time we did not feel it directly. The book on Vietnam had been closed for most Americans until the refugees arrived in unprecedented numbers. Only the Hungarian and Cuban refugee resettlements were of comparable scale. Newspapers portrayed the country as split on what to do with the refugees....

April 1975 was indeed the cruelest month for us. But thanks to President Ford's leadership, we experienced America's kindness and generosity during our darkest days. We owe him our deepest gratitude in remembrance.

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