By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
What the people of Ukraine are fighting is achingly familiar to the people who were in South Vietnam almost half a century ago.
That’s why Saturday’s Vietnamese Cultural Center ceremony commemorating the fall of Saigon ended with a spirited show of support for the Ukrainians.
It was 47 years ago Saturday – April 30, 1975 – that the capital of South Vietnam was captured, at the end of a war that took hundreds of thousands of lives, both Vietnamese people and those who fought for them, including Americans. They were remembered and honored with a wreath-laying during Saturday’s ceremony.
Seattle Deputy Mayor Kendee Yamaguchi joined in the wreath-laying with Dr. Dat P. Giap, who spoke of those “who gave their lives for our freedom” – mentioning more than 48,000 Americans as well as people from Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea, and the more than 600,000 Vietnamese people who died fighting, as well as the hundreds of thousands more who “perished on their journey to freedom.”
For those who made it, he said, “The U.S. is a paradise … not because of its economic power, but because of its compassion for immigrants and refugees.” He urged those present not take freedom for granted, and to pray for those fighting for freedom in Ukraine. “May God bless America, our America,” he concluded.
Those in attendance included many South Vietnam military veterans, wearing the uniforms in which they fought. Toward the ceremony’s start, they saluted as the South Vietnam flag was raised, after the U.S. flag:
Dignitaries in attendance included two who have made history – our state’s first Vietnamese-American state senator, Joe Nguyen of West Seattle, the son of refugees:
Sen. Nguyen, in our photo with Vietnamese Cultural Center director Lee Bui, called April 30th “a day that has seared itself into our memories.” It’s also part of a banner for the center’s founding:
Other dignitaries included Washington’s first Vietnamese-American State House member, Rep. My-Linh Thai:
Rep. Thai (photographed above with City Councilmember Sara Nelson) came to the U.S. as a refugee at age 15. Another refugee among the dignitaries, Hamdi Mohamed, director of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs for the city and an elected Seattle Port Commissioner who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia at age 3. She told those gathered she shared their “commitment to freedom.”
The most impassioned words were those of another Vietnamese-American who arrived as a refugee, Michelle Le from the Vietnamese Community of Seattle.
“We must learn from history – we can’t forget or erase it,” she implored. “Forgetting the past is not the answer.” And she too mentioned Russia’s war on Ukraine as “a reminder of what we went through … Losing freedom is losing everything. … Always stand up for your country and your humanity.”
The Vietnamese Cultural Center is at 2236 SW Orchard and is open to the public noon-3 pm Saturdays.