She fled Saigon when she was a child. Now she sees parallels in Afghanistan: NPR


Afghans sit on a US military plane to leave Afghanistan at Kabul military airport on Thursday after the Taliban took control of the country.

Shakib Rahmani / AFP via Getty Images


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Shakib Rahmani / AFP via Getty Images


Afghans sit on a US military plane to leave Afghanistan at Kabul military airport on Thursday after the Taliban took control of the country.

Shakib Rahmani / AFP via Getty Images

Scenes of the capture of Kabul by the Taliban have evoked memories of the 1975 fall of the US-backed South Vietnamese government in Saigon to communist North Vietnamese forces.

The United States, then and now, rushed to evacuate the Americans and their allies.

Helicopters taking off from a US embassy, ​​people climbing perimeter walls and people trying to jump on planes in Kabul are reminders for South Vietnamese families who desperately wanted to leave before the North forces arrived. Vietnamese.

Thuan Le Elston is one such person. She was in third grade when her family left Saigon. His father was a former South Vietnamese lieutenant and editor of an English-language newspaper at the time.

On April 29, 1975, South Vietnamese civilians attempted to climb the 14-foot wall of the United States Embassy in Saigon, trying to reach the evacuation helicopters as the last Americans left Vietnam.

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On April 29, 1975, South Vietnamese civilians attempted to climb the 14-foot wall of the United States Embassy in Saigon, trying to reach the evacuation helicopters as the last Americans left Vietnam.

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She is now a member of United States todayeditorial board of. She wrote about anguish that she and others refugees from the Vietnam War are watching the scenes in Kabul.

Elston spoke with Weekend edition on how she feels seeing the scenes in Kabul, her experience of fleeing Vietnam in 1975 and her message to Afghan families coming to the United States

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

What goes through your mind when you see these scenes from Kabul?

It’s more than seeing scenes. Because my husband is an editor for a defense contractor, we have a lot of friends and colleagues who are Afghan Americans trying to get their family members out. We have just learned that a member of the family managed – with a visa approved by the United States – to get to the airport with very specific instructions: “If you can pass the Taliban gauntlet, go to this door “. And yet he succeeded and had to turn around. He saw a woman die in front of him.

I can’t even watch TV anymore.

Your father was a newspaper editor, and when you wrote this article in United States today, it just hit me in the heart. “He came home and said, ‘Our world is coming to an end.’ “

As a third grader it was all fun and playful, you know. Mom used to make backpacks. We had never had backpacks. We had never had tennis shoes, and all of a sudden she bought us tennis shoes. Then, the day after the South Vietnamese president resigned, we were in a taxi. I had never been in a taxi before. It is considered a luxury. We were going to the airport. I had never taken a plane. It is all an adventure.

We were leaving with one of my cousin’s and cousin’s families, as we stood in line at the airport, she gathered some pebbles in a bag which she put in her pocket and she said, “The earth. of Vietnam ”. We didn’t even dare to go to the bathroom because we were afraid of losing our place in the line, what if they called our names? But eventually, we got on a Pentagon C-130 cargo plane. As we took off, American soldiers were looking out the windows and my father asked me why. They said we had been shot, but luckily it was night time so only the wings got gashed.

Afghans gather by the roadside near the military section of Kabul airport in hopes of fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban took military control of the country.

Wakil Kohsar / AFP via Getty Images


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Wakil Kohsar / AFP via Getty Images


Afghans gather by the roadside near the military section of Kabul airport in hopes of fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban took military control of the country.

Wakil Kohsar / AFP via Getty Images

What is it like to be told, “OK, you have to pack a little bag. Put your life in it and go ”?

I don’t think I believed it. I don’t think I ever fully understood what we were doing until the plane took off and we landed in Manila. We spent the first night at an American base in the Philippines, and it was like sleeping bags as far as the eye could see. It was then that I really understood it. Always around me, the adults were saying: “Maybe in a month we can go back. There was just such a feeling of denial.

A night in the Philippines, then a week in Guam. And that was the week in Guam, April 30, when Saigon fell. We were in a Quonset hut and the BBC was announcing the fall of Saigon. My father was translating the radio for the rest of the hut, and there was total silence. That’s when I thought it really struck me: we’re not coming home.

Is there anything you would like to say to some Afghan families who are here now?

I am wholeheartedly with you. Unfortunately, this is the time for your tragedy to unfold. It is as if Washington and the Pentagon had learned nothing from the fall of Saigon. They were amazed at the speed at which Communist forces descended from the DMZ. This time, they were amazed at how quickly Kabul fell. At least in 1975, the US Ambassador then pushed and begged for some semblance of an escape plan. Even though there were tragedies everywhere, people were being evacuated. This time there is nothing for you to see. It’s just awful. It’s just a million times worse.

Gabriel Dunatov and Melissa Gray produced and edited the audio interview. Wynne Davis has produced for the web.


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