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Reporter, Former Vietnam Refugee Thuy Vu Recounts Her Escape From Saigon 40 Years Ago

(KPIX 5) -- Forty years after the Fall of Saigon, KPIX 5 has been exploring stories of some of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who escaped to the United States to build new futures in a new land.

Among the refugees, a face you may recognize but probably haven't heard her whole story until now.

Thuy Vu is a well-known, award-winning journalist and host of the venerated "KQED Newsroom." It's hard to imagine 40 years ago, a violent and chaotic moment in history would change her life so dramatically.

"I look back and I think what an incredible journey," Vu said.

Her parents married and settled in Saigon where they raised a family. Vu was the second to the youngest of eight kids.

In 1975, as the North Vietnamese invaded the South and communist troops closed in on the capital Saigon, fear and panic gripped the streets. When Saigon fell, Vu and her family had to flee.

"I didn't realize we would probably never return to Vietnam to ever live again," said Vu. "I didn't realize we were losing our country and our home."

To get out, the family had to split up. Half went by cargo ship, the other half by plane. On the boat was Vu and several siblings. On the plane was her mother who made sure to bring one son.

"She said she wanted to have at least one boy with her so that if we all died at sea she would have a son to carry on the family name," Vu said. "It breaks my heart."

An American ship rescued Vu and her siblings after a perilous journey. They were brought to a refugee camp in Guam and housed in a tent city.

A few months later, they discovered the other half of the family had landed in Fort Chaffee, Ark. at a relocation center. Then a Lutheran church group in Duluth, Minn. sponsored the family, which would settle into a harsh Minnesota winter.

"Going from Vietnam to Duluth, Minnesota -- wow what a shock," Vu said.

After a few years, Vu's mom decided they'd move to sunny California where the schools were great. The family ended up in Silicon Valley, where chips had replaced crops and motherboards and microprocessors ruled.

Her parents worked on the assembly lines, as did Vu during the summer. "I was putting in transisters then capacitors," she said.

Vu graduated from University of California, Berkeley with honors in Rhetoric. At Cal, Vu fell in love with journalism. She anchored a morning newscast on the campus radio station.

The young college grad landed numerous local gigs in broadcast news. She worked at KPIX 5 as an on-air journalist, and among her accolades was an award for her report on the continuing impact of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

As for her incredible journey to the U.S., Vu marvels at what she calls her life lessons, which she hopes to pass along to her daughter.

"You know, tenacity, hope, a sense of hard work and a sense of sticking it out," she said. "Those are the things that will pull you through a lot of situations."


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