My father, like many other Vietnamese people desperate to flee to safety, escaped via fishing boat in the middle of the night. Over a bowl of brown rice and thịt kho, he recalled:

When I used the boat to escape to international water, we saw a lot of other boats, but nobody wanted to rescue us. Until the third day on the high sea, an American boat rescued us [the USS Fox]. They sent us to [a refugee camp in] the Phillipines. Chú Tám, Chú Tư [his brothers], Chú Tám’s friends and I were there. I was the first to go to the US because I spoke English. They sent Chú Tám to another camp to learn English and western culture. So I was the first one to come here in 1980. 

Certificate for Honorary Cruiser-Destroyerman

Because he was the only person who spoke English on the fishing boat, he facilitated the rescue between the crew of USS Fox and his fellow passengers. The captain of the Navy cruiser awarded my father with an honorary certificate, which now sits in a dusty, faded frame buried under papers in his office.

After a family lunch at our parents’ house on a Sunday in 2017, my father was feeling particularly chatty. He found a copy of a letter he had sent to the captain of the USS Fox back in 1981, shortly after he arrived in the US, and showed it to us proudly. In this typewritten letter, he talked at length about how much he loved that ship and how thankful he was for everything the USS Fox had done for him and his brothers. Then, unbeknownst to my sister and me, there was a sentence that was something along the lines of “When my wife and I have a baby, I’m going to name him Fox.”

Our mother swiftly vetoed that option and decided to name us after Catholic saints instead.


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