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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/11/18

We Can Help Thousands of Persons Fleeing Violence in Central America. We Helped Over 131,000 Vietnamese in 1975

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Photo of political will -- President Gerald Ford visits Fort Chaffee refugee program (with Ann Wright in the background).
Photo of political will -- President Gerald Ford visits Fort Chaffee refugee program (with Ann Wright in the background).
(Image by Photo by Ann Wright)
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The United States has a history of accepting large numbers of refugees during crisis situations in their home countries.

The caravans of thousands of people fleeing violence in Central America are small numbers compared to those the United States took in and gave refugee status in 1975 from Vietnam and other Indochina countries. With the collapse of the U.S. war on Vietnam, U.S. signing of a peace agreement with North Vietnam and the North Vietnamese take-over of South Vietnam, in the spring of 1975, over 131,000 South Vietnamese fled the country, some on the last planes out of Vietnam and other in flotillas of small boats.

Between 1975 and 1986, about 750,000 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos resettled in the U.S. through two initiatives from the U.S. Congress: the Refugee Parole Program and the Orderly Departure Program.

Five years after the initial wave of refugees from Indochina, in a six-month period from April 15 to October 1980, 125,000 Cubans arrived on the shores of the U.S. as a part of the Mariel boat lift during the Carter administration. 15,000 Haitians also arrived on the shores of Florida in 1980.

After the U.S. signed a peace agreement with North Vietnam, U.S. military ships were still off South Vietnam and began picking up hundreds of Vietnamese each day that had left South Vietnam on small boats. The vast majority of the refugees had been supporters of the U.S. war and knew that the new communist government from the North was not going to be sympathetic to their loyalty to the South and to the U.S. war on the North. In fact, many knew they would, as a minimum, be put into re-education camps, or, quite possibly, be killed for their support to the government of the South. They, just like those in Central America who are fleeing the violence of the gangs and drug cartels, much of which has been fueled by the drug consumption of millions of the U.S. citizens, were fleeing the violence of the conditions created by a U.S intervention in their country.

In 1975, the U.S. military was mobilized again -- not on the border to keep people out, but to take care of those arriving as refugees until they could be processed and sent to communities all over the United States. In 1975, the U.S. military was used not to deny access to the U.S., but to help those fleeing the violence in their country.

I was one of thousands of U.S. military who received the Vietnamese, first on military ships, then at U.S. military bases in the Philippines and Guam, ultimately in the four refugee camps set up in the continental United States--Camp Pendleton, California; Camp McCoy, Wisconsin; Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida and Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.

Entrance to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, one of four U.S. military bases used for refugee camps.
Entrance to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, one of four U.S. military bases used for refugee camps.
(Image by Photo by Ann Wright)
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At the time, I was attending Law School at the University of Arkansas, 50 miles from Fort Chaffee, Arkansas and was in a U.S. Army Civil Affairs Reserve unit. The U.S. Army was notified on April 25, 1975, that the four military installations would be used and immediately a call from the Pentagon went out -- the Civil Affairs and Quartermaster Reserve units requesting volunteers to help set the military installations to receive and house up to 30,000 persons at a time. The first refugees arrived at Fort Chaffee just seven days later on May 2, 1975 on a plane carrying 70 persons. Within 22 days, there were 25,812 refugees, making the military installation the 11th-largest city in the state of Arkansas. By June 14, 1975, there were 6,500 Army Reserve personnel working at Fort Chaffee. At the peak of the airlift, as many as 17 flights a day landed at Fort Smith Municipal Airport and in the seven months Fort Chaffee was used as a refugee center, a total of 415 refugee flights landed there.

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Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran, a retired United States Army colonel and retired U.S. State Department official, known for her outspoken opposition to the Iraq War. She received the State Department Award for Heroism in 1997, after helping to evacuate several thousand (more...)
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