Raising Children Inside a War

A mother recalls life in Saigon with her nine children after their father was captured by the Communists.

Comments: 19

  1. Reading this; riveting, holy, amazing, difficult. A miracle that this family survived. I feel deeply moved and altered taking in the preciousness of the family--held with such care and courage by the mother raising her children during great uncertainty and terror. How she managed to keep them together, safe, and focused; staying strong for them. What a remarkable woman, a remarkable story. Thank for allowing us to see her heart and experience this story.

  2. The things the Vietnam War did to the people of Vietnam are beyond the comprehension of most Americans, then and still.

    In the Feb 1968 Battle of Hue, the Viet Cong led off whole families of those who had helped the Americans, and killed them.

    One young girl was tied to her mother and led out to die. She managed to wriggle free of the ties in the confusion as her mother and many others were shot en mass, and she ran off. She ultimately made her way to the US, a long story.

    Years later I met her, and we had an 8-year relationship. She'd survived something like the Germans did to Jews in Eastern Europe and Russia. It had similar effects on her.

    It was all because her mother worked as a maid on a US base, when the place was overrun. These were the horrors of that war, among the Vietnamese. We didn't even know, mostly.

    We were only vaguely aware when our own men did the killing, Bob Kerry as an example who was honored for killing a group of civilians to keep them from giving away his mission, not just Lt. Calley who was convicted of My Lai.

    All of that was to "save them." From what? From what they are now, cheap labor for American manufacturers?

  3. What are we to think of our policy today toward translators and others who have kept our troops safe?

  4. Thank you.

  5. informative
    heart breaking
    an incredible tale
    life's many journeys interrupted
    thank you for sharing

  6. Amazing piece. Thanks for publishing.

  7. I taught chemistry for over 43 years and I never encountered such dedication to education as this amazing mother.

  8. It was a war that cost us so much. I was nineteen when a group of Vietnamese students were enrolled through a federal program in the local state college.
    Initially I was taken with their exceptional courtesy. Over time I came to realize that their courtesy was reflective of a real regard for life. The war ran its course and with its end came waves of immigration. I saw the way they studied, worked and contributed to one another's live. Because I was in law enforcement I also saw those who could not behave themselves. Overwhelmingly, they are huge assets to this culture and sustain a pattern of conduct that makes all of our lives better. We are now nearly two generations since the war's end. The proof of their hard work reflects itself in the number of Vietnamese names found as new enrollee in University of California medical schools.

    I am very lucky to share America with them.

  9. This is a thing of beauty. Perfect in composition and presentation.

  10. What a powerful way to present her mother's story. It is incredible that they survived--what a strong mother. She calmed herself by reciting verses about a woman who "survived a much worse fate." So many lessons about resilience, about love, about discipline and endurance, about writing, voice, and poetry.

    We are lucky that this was the country where these brave and talented refugees landed.

  11. When will those who never criticised North Vietnam for beginning
    an un-needed war, realise that the South Vietnamese had the
    fundamental right not to be ruled by the Dictatorship that sought to dominate
    no matter the cost to their own people ?

    That the French never colonised Indo-China.

  12. Wow.

  13. A step Into the reality of everyday people living their war-torn lives in extremis. If the current inhabitant of our White House could read one would hope he might recognise the tragedy of families torn apart by war and turmoil. Instead, he acts as a 'child', willing to exploit our desire to see healthcare provided to the poor, in order to win a few points by pretending to build a wall to keep people such as Thanhha Lai's family OUT.

    What a beautiful, poignant and timely piece. Thank you NYT

    We are surely living through America's darkest days.

  14. This poem ends with the protagonist becoming a refugee, possibly in America, where I was waiting to assist with the next stage in this survival tale.

    The American war in Vietnam ended in 1975 with American helicopters evacuating many Vietnamese to warships anchored off the coast. One of those refugees was Diep and her daughter trying to join Diep's husband in Marin County where I supervised a branch office of a government program that provided career counseling to disabled people.

    Diep became a client of our program and then a career counselor as a result of her background in teaching and fluency in English. She joined her husband, had a second child, and retired from her job in counseling in the mid 2000's.

    While I was pleased to assist in Diep's survival in her new life in America, my own disagreement with my native country's unnecessary wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan led me to become an expatriate in the very country that refused to give up on colonizing Diep's native country until they were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

  15. Thank you Thanhha Lai and the NYTimes for creating and distributing this beautiful, tragic, heroic tale.

    Americans are excessively insulated from the tragedies created by our foolish, selfish, discretionary wars. This story is no real anecdote for that because the only person killed was on America's side. The rest of the family escaped and apparently thrived (which makes the reader glad).

    A full accounting of he suffering of all the victims of this war who were all certain their cause was just is needed. America has to shed our insulation from this suffering in order to stop repeating these idiotic wars.

  16. Here I am, in an airport lounge, reading this beautiful poem - after spending the last ten days in Vietnam on an escorted tour. I can say with some confidence that most Vietnamese have moved on, Saigon (now called the Ho Chi Minh city) is bustling, there are more American tourists in Hue and Hanoi than from any other country. I can speak with some confidence as my tour guide's family is from Hanoi, his father was a journalist from the North during the war, yet he spoke with no malice and joked about the ineptness of the communist government.

    A quarter of this country was sprayed with dioxin, a million tons of bombs were dropped in each of two years. Most of my fellow tourists from the US were a generation younger and seemed totally oblivious to the war other than they knew that McCain was held a prisoner in 'Hanoi Hilton.'

    All I can say is that there are millions of mothers in Vietnam, possessed of the same spirit as this author's mother. Unlike the Middle East and countless other parts of the world, they seem to have taught their children to look forward, not backward.

  17. Beautifully told.

  18. Magnificent, memorable, the story of America's War in Vietnam. We are all refugees and weep for the malign deeds our Government perpetrated on the Vietnamese people! Thank you, Thanhha Lai, for your Mother's exquisite and poetic account of her life and motherhood in Vietnam, '67. May God bless her richly. Am saving this for my grandchildren to savour.

  19. It was none of America's business nor any other nation how the people of Vietnam sought to determine their own destiny and cast off their colonial masters.

    And if a Cheney, Trump, Gingrich, Giuliani, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Cornyn, DeMint, McConnell, Hume, Kristol, Pence, Quayle, Schumer, Clinton, Biden etc. had been in harm's way there would not have been so much bloodshed on both sides.

    The Trung Sister's were the forbearers of this mother. The communists were as nationalist as the capitalists.