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The Great Escape
By: Lydia To
College Now Course - BSS 1

My father was born during the Vietnam War. He lived in the capital city of South Vietnam in Saigon. My dad was orphaned at a young age of three years old. His father supposedly died of a car accident (some of my family members even told a rumor that he was actually a criminal and just simply ran away) and his mother died from a disease. It was up to the young boy's grandmother to take care of him, which years later deemed more than she could handle.

He was a mischievous boy. Everyday after school my father would always climb trees and spend the rest of the day there. He rarely spent his time on homework and studying. My great aunt once told me that one time he had climbed a tall tree and up from there he would use a rubber band and twigs to make a sling-shot. Using seeds as bullets, he would use his teachers as target practice. His grandmother would spend more energy punishing the boy than actually raising him.

Despite his personality, my father was talented at mechanics. At an early age, he was able to build things from scratch. At the age of 10, he was even able to build his own mechanical fan out of scrap metals and wires just to keep him cool from the hot and humid weather. As he grew up, he was able to fix anything from a small radio to a car. Even to this day my family had dubbed him as the "handy man." There was nothing he could not fix. I was always dependent on him to fix my computer whenever it crashed.

When my father had reached the age of 13, his grandmother had died. His aunt and uncle decided to take him in and raise him. My father then began high school and simultaneously worked at a factory to earn some money. He had always told me that he disliked working in a factory. It was noisy and boring. But, he said that he was lucky to work in a candy factory. He would sometimes have the chance to sample the sweet little treats right out of the oven. He was also able to learn how to make candy and learned more about machineries.

By the age of 18, he graduated from high school, but he was drafted into the South Vietnam army. The war was reaching its climax, and in desperation more men were needed for service. My dad was exempt from fighting on the front line because he was specialized in mechanics. He worked in the military base near his home and fixed broken machines and weapons. Although he never fought, he had to go through the rigorous basic training of using guns, grenades, and protective gears. My father had never told me what the war was like, but just knowing the look on his face, I knew that he had seen many grim things.

The war was finally over in 1975, the US was pulling out and the Vietcongs or the Communists had taken over South Vietnam. The army had been dispersed and my father quickly went back home. Instead, he found the city in turmoil and chaos. Weapons, grenades, and debris had littered the street. Buildings were damaged and the streets were empty. People were too scared to walk outside in fear of the Vietcongs. The Communists were stripping and searching every single person's home. The people were not allowed to leave the city.

My father quickly used the opportunity and collected the weapons and grenades from the street. He started to formulate a plan to escape from Vietnam. After a few days, he had collected enough grenades to sell and earn enough money to sneak out of the city. But, he had to figure out a way to hide it from the Vietcongs. He cleverly dug a hole in the ground of his backyard and uncovered an underground pipe. The pipe was cracked and he managed to cut a rectangular hole from it. He then stashed away the grenades into the pipe and then sealed the cover back on. After the searches were over, he would then dig up the grenades. He and his friends spent their time taking apart the grenades and selling only the gunpowder in it to a man that made firecrackers.

He gathered the money and supplies he would need to escape. A month had passed, and it was time to leave. My dad carried out his plan without any flaws and was a lucky man. He had to bribe the guards before leaving to keep things hushed and lied to officials that he was a government worker and had to leave to work somewhere else. The officials were corrupt people and bribing them for things was easy. Everything was carried out smoothly. He and his family were then able to escape, riding in the back of a truck.

The trip lasted for hours, but they soon entered a coastal town. Many refugees were also there. They were in the process of building a ship and to hopefully leave the war torn country. My father was one of the people helping to build the ship. Everything was done in secrecy. I did not know how they had pulled off this dangerous plan, but two years later, after many hardships and risks, they were able to finish it. They picked a day where there was good weather and sailed out. They disguised the ship as a cargo ship and (with more bribing and lies) they were able to sneak out of the harbor.

After days out at sea, they had reached Cambodia. Knowing that they could not stay too long there (there might be a Vietnamese police force stationed there to catch them) they quickly tried to get as much supplies at the harbor and a compass. They then sailed again, but with the compass they were able to know where they were going.

The plan was to reach Indonesia and from there the Red Cross can help them since one of their headquarters were stationed there. Eventually they did reach the country, and they were able to stay there for a while. My father had never seen the place and was amazed to see the beautiful beaches and palm trees. He and the refugees had to stay in Indonesia temporarily for a year before the Red Cross could locate them to the US or Australia, where they were accepted. During his stay, my dad had built himself a home and the rest of the refugees also built their own little community. My father was an independent man and wanted to support himself for a while.

He told me once that life was boring and pointless in Indonesia. He could've just stayed and lived there, but he wanted to live in a city instead and explore other places. He told me that all he did was spend his day at the beaches fishing and having barbeques at night with the whole community. I only stared at him awkwardly. Although he was supposed to be the "refugee" he was able to get along with the Indonesians and he seemed to have lived a simple life there. No machineries no cars, no tall buildings; just a beautiful beach by your house and a close knit community to live in. I would rather choose that simple life over living in a city.

After a year; his time in Indonesia had expired and he was brought to the US. He was lucky to have relatives living in Michigan and was able to start a new life there. He had changed his name to Paul after getting his citizenship and moved to New York City. It was then that he met my mother and started a family on Staten Island. I am happy to be one of the first generations of my family to be born in the US. It is remarkable how he had squeezed his way through from the clutches of the Communists to freedom just on his wits and skills. He was truly a lucky man.