I had a later shift at work that day and had been meaning to check out the "Images at War's End: Refugee and Marine Images from the Col. Waterhouse Collection and Marine Staff Photographs from Camp Pendleton Archives" exhibit before it closes at the end of this month.
Camp Pendleton might not mean much to you unless you're military or Vietnamese-American, in which case, I suggest reading my post on Little Saigon and Vietnamese American history first to get you acquainted.
On April 28, 1975, General Paul Graham was told that Camp Pendleton was one of four military bases in the United States that would receive and house refugees from Vietnam. The other bases were Fort Chaffee, Arkansas; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; and Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. The refugees were then dispersed across the country, into every state and as many as 813 zip codes.
In 36 hours, the marines worked around the clock to build eight tent cities and to provide water, food, clothing, medicine, electricity, power, and security for the first 18,000 refugees. By October, Camp Pendleton had been home to more than 36,000 refugees.
The exhibit also shows drawings and paintings from then-Major Waterhouse who arrived in May 1975 to document the refugees' arrival.
"Gossip," acrylic on masonite.
"The New Coat," acrylic on masonite.
The images were loosely organized into themes, arranged in groups of three or four, but I've sorted the photos a little more to give coherence as you're looking through all the photographs in this post. There were about three dozen pictures arranged on simple folding screens in three rooms.
New arrivals and preparations.
Vietnam War-era marine uniform.
This is one of my favorite pictures. Look at the kid in the background kicking his or her heels.
May 5, 1975. Young refugee children wearing "extra long" field jackets to walk through one of the camps. The jackets help the children acclimate to the weather in their new country.
by Maj. G.L. Gill
Even in the midst of limbo, I was struck by how life goes on with baptisms and weddings, learning English, playing games.
Former First Lady Betty Ford visited on May 21, 1975.
Former South Vietnamese Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky on June 14, 1975.
Even Rosemary Clooney came out to entertain.
If you watched "Green Dragon" this scene might look familiar. That's where the families left notes with their names and sponsors' addresses in case later family made it out and so they could find each other.
"Lost, Found, Wanted," acrylic on masonite.
Cleaning out the quonset huts in preparation for another round of refugees. The U.S. expected about 25,000 refugees would come after the Vietnam War ended; they ended up with 125,000.
A map showing where the various refugee camp cities were located inside Camp Pendleton.
General Graham who headed the whole operation.
The outside of the ranch house as I made my exit.
Even though no one in my family came through Camp Pendleton, the images reminded me of how far the Vietnamese American community has adapted, grown, and woven ourselves into the tapestry of America. My story came at another time (1979), another place (Hong Kong), and yet it was essentially the same.
For more information about the exhibit, check out:
The Los Angeles Times' article, "Exhibit Reflects Camp Pendleton's Role as Refuge for Vietnamese," which includes several photos of the "Images at War's End" exhibit as well as photos that aren't in the show from photographer Don Bartletti's photos for Vista Press when the Vietnamese refugees arrived at Camp Pendleton in 1975.
The "Images at War's End" exhibit is located at the Camp Pendleton Ranch House on the corner of Basilone Road and Vandegrift Boulevard.
The exhibit is a free self-guided tour open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"Images at War's End" will end on September 30th.
Directions: From I-5, take the Camp Pendleton exit in Oceanside, once you get through the gates, keep straight on Vandegrift Boulevard. Drive for about 15 to 20 minutes and you'll see the white ranch house coming up on the left side. Turn left on Basilone Road.
United States Marine Corps
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton
Public Affairs Office
Marine Corps Base
Camp Pendleton, CA 92055-5019
760-725-5043 or 760-725-5044
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