Signed, sealed, delivered
A Vietnam War story chronicled over nine years of love letters
My father, Liem Vo Quang, was born in 1953 in South Vietnam. He was your typical Vietnamese teenager. He enjoyed climbing trees and plucking fruit for his friends. He beat up the neighborhood kids when they made fun of his mother.
But he also grew up witnessing several wars. He saw the Vietnamese rise up against their French colonial lords. His childhood home was a mere 100 yards from the American Embassy in Saigon, one of the main sites that the Viet Cong attacked in the 1968 Tet Offensive. He saw violence, prostitution and heroin addiction take hold of the city, and he saw his friends go to war and die. With his country in turmoil, he knew he had to leave.
So he decided to pursue a degree in engineering far from his conflict-riddled hometown. In 1972, he decided to move to Hanover, Germany. He was ready to start a new life abroad.
What he didn’t factor in was that he’d fall for a girl in Saigon.
He had seen her around a friend’s place. Whenever he rode his moped to his place, he’d pass her house. He would see her through her front gate, sitting in her living room, deeply engrossed in her studies.
This was the image he had in mind when he decided to write her. He had been in Germany only for a few weeks when he wrote his first letter to her.
She was surprised to receive it but had a vague idea who he was and decided to write back. And thus began a nine-year-long letter exchange.
To my father, these letters were a way to cope with the difficulties he had adjusting to a new country and to stay connected to a life in Saigon he’d known so well. To my mother, these letters were a way to escape from a war-torn country, with stories of foreign foods and strange cultures. This video explores the ups and downs of these narratives.
Scroll down to explore how my parents’ lives intersected with historical events during the Vietnam War.
Born into a postcolonial world
My father, Liem Vo Quang, is born in Saigon, Vietnam. His mother, Tam Thi Tang, and father, Hon Vo, met on a French plantation under colonial rule.
He is born at the tail end of the Indochinese War, during which Vietnamese forces are fighting their French colonial rulers.
A divided nation
My mother, Lua Nguyen Thi, is born in Saigon, Vietnam.
That year, the Vietnamese defeat the French. Vietnam is split into two countries, North and South Vietnam.
Leaving home for safety
As fighting between the North and South intensifies, Vo Quang decides to leave Saigon to pursue a degree in engineering in Germany. He arrives in Passau, Germany, on Jan. 1, 1972. A few weeks later, he begins a correspondence with my mother, Nguyen Thi.
A first date at the end of the war
After three years of writing Nguyen Thi from Hanover, Vo Quang returns to Saigon to finally meet her and take her out on their first date, a screening of the Charlie Chaplin movie “Modern Times.”
Three weeks into his visit, Northern Vietnamese forces move farther and farther into the South. With the fall of Saigon imminent, Vo Quang flies back to Germany and promises to return for Nguyen Thi when the country has stabilized.
Sealing the deal
A few years after Vietnam unifies and becomes a socialist republic country, the government allows for students to return. Vo Quang goes back to visit Nguyen Thi, and they decide to get married.
To finish his studies, Vo Quang returns to Germany and begins a visa application process for Nguyen Thi to go to Germany.
A new beginning
Nguyen Thi gives birth to Luan Vo Nguyen Quang. As part of a humanitarian policy to unite families, Nguyen Thi receives a visa to join Vo Quang in Germany.