The Vietnam War brought much death and misery to the United States and to Vietnam. But there were some bright stories that came out of this history, including in 1975. With dozens of other families, a young girl who was 7 years old, named Lauren Vuong, fled in a daring escape from South Vietnam as it was falling to the North. They were at sea for 10 days, and everyone thought that they would surely perish. The young girl testified over 40 years later, "I remember just throwing up, just throwing up so much that I didn't think there was anything left to throw up. And there was nowhere to go to the bathroom. If you had to go, you just go. You're living in all of that."
About 120 ships were on that same route, but none of them ever stopped to rescue them or even slowed. Then on June 29th, 1980, they watched with awe as a ship paused and then approached. It was a tanker named 'The Virgo,' transporting liquefied natural gas.
Two Americans by the names of Ken Nelson and Dan Hansen, were the first two men Lauren can remember seeing. Hansen recently said, "I believe that I threw my ship shoes and stuff over the side when we came back up aboard the main deck of our tanker because the conditions were that bad on Lauren's boat."
His ship mate, Nelson, stated, "There was no way that we were going to let those people go away on that boat. That would've been likely condemning them to death."
Lauren recalled, "When those two men came on board, then the next thing that I know, my mom was laughing, she was crying, all at the same time. And she said to me, 'We're going to live, we're going to live!'"
Lauren's rescue meant not just survival, but she and her family were unknowingly on a path to live the American dream. After the fall of Saigon, more than a million distressed people took flight from South Vietnam in varying means of transportation. Many of the refugees who escaped in small boats became known as the 'boat people.' Currently a successful attorney, Lauren accomplished a lot in the forty years since then. But until recently, one goal seemed to be obscure, and that was finding and thanking the two men who had rescued her at sea.
Lauren elaborated to CBS News Reporter Don Dahler, "At every big juncture in my life, graduation, law school, taking the oath, having children, seeing my parents…in the back of my head, I would always think, you know, 'I have to find these men who stopped to rescue us.' I would ask my mom periodically, 'Do you ever think about them?' And she would say, 'Every time that I have something good to eat, I think of them.'"
Lauren's mother, Mai Tran, stated that her first thought when she arrived in the United States was, "How can I find the people who saved us?"
Lauren began her search to find Ken Nelson and Dan Hansen twenty seven years ago. She researched maritime registries and the internet, which led to communications with officers, photographs, and then an emotional get-together. It was the first time that they had seen each other in close to four decades.
In that reunion, Lauren recalled and told everyone, "Dan stood on the gangway, and Ken stood on our boat, and they had to lift each child, 'time' the swells, and then hand a child over. And so I was delivered by you that day like a baby! I'll never not be Vietnamese, because that's my heritage. I can't help being American, because it's my country. And when I see that hyphen, Vietnamese-American, I don't see it as a dividing factor, I see it as a bridge. That hyphen is a bridge of where I was, who I was, with who I am now, and where I am today."
All agreed to a narrative summary of that day in their mutual history, 'That it was a bridge that owes its existence to a boat of desperate people and its compassionate crew, who did the most American of things that can be accomplished, embracing people yearning to be alive and to be free.'