Guam- Many on Guam and many more scattered throughout the mainland U.S. will never forget events here in April 1975 as the Vietnam War came to an untidy end.
Wars almost invariably produce refugees and Vietnam was no exception.
In the next five months, more than 130,000 Vietnamese passed through Guam under ‘Operation New Life [ONL],’ most on their way to resettlement in the mainland United States.
The “Operation New Life Seminar: Untold Stories (35 years later),” to be held Saturday at the Guam Legislature’s Public Hearing Room, aims to remind the Guam community of the major contribution it made so many years ago to serving the needs of that time.
Co-sponsored by the Legislature’s Committee on the Guam Military Buildup and Homeland Security and the University of Guam, the symposium is to be moderated by UOG’s Cathleen Moore-Linn and will include speakers and panelists who were directly involved in ONL, beginning with keynote speaker Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo, who was then First Lady of Guam.
Among those who have come forward to participate in the symposium is Guam attorney Robert Cruz, an Army Reservist in an Engineer Battalion which worked at the refugee camp at Naval Station.
The then Army lieutenant “was in charge of one of two 12 hour shifts that worked on repair of utilities for the camp. We also built a jail, footlockers for soldiers, a ʺcowcatcherʺ barbed wire device that was put on a truck to use in crowd control…”
On the Navy side, Lt. Mike Dodge, a COMNAVMAR plans officer, was confronted with a situation seemingly beyond planning as a Special Assistant to Lt. Commander Richard Wyttenbach‐Santos, the military liaison to GovGuam, who will also be a panelist.
Among many other duties, Lt. Dodge was a staff watch officer at the ONL command center and, in his words, “[I] established the Orote Tent City bus transportation coordination center for refugee movement to AAFB (in the front seat of my Jeep!!)”
Dodge also participated in the planning for the departure of the MV Tong Thien One, the ship which carried refugees who wanted to go back to Vietnam.
Others who volunteered at the camps and worked on behalf of the refugees will describe what it was like to feed, medically treat, clothe and even educate children on a budget of essentially zero with no advance notice.