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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Best of the Ford tributes

Of all the various tributes and remembrances I've read since President Ford's passing, Quang X. Pham's in today's WaPo is only one that taught me something about him that I didn't know, and I think overall it's the best. The by-line informs us that Mr. Pham "was born in Saigon [and] served as a Marine pilot in the Persian Gulf War." He was 10 in April 1975, when the last helicopters left the American embassy in the city and country of his birth, and he and his family were among the 130,000 "blessed South Vietnamese" (less than 1% of its population) whom the United States was able to relocate into "refugee camps across the United States."

Key graphs (italics mine; bracketed portions and second ellipsis in original):

In the end, after two decades of flailing diplomacy in that tiny peninsula, Gerald Ford dealt with the aftermath: empty guarantees made to an ally, promises he could not keep and a "peace with honor" that the congressional Watergate class would not enforce....

In a May 1975 article in the New York Times, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) commented that "barmaids, prostitutes and criminals" should be screened out as "excludable categories." Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) "charged that the [Ford] Administration had not informed Congress adequately about the number of refugees" — as if anyone actually knew during the chaotic evacuation. "I think the Vietnamese are better off in Vietnam," sniffed George McGovern in Newsweek.

At the time, unemployment in the United States hovered near double digits. Perhaps this had something to do with the anti-refugee emotion. In Larry Engelmann's "Tears Before the Rain: An Oral History of the Fall of South Vietnam," Julia Vadala Taft, head of the interagency task force for refugee resettlement, recalled such opposition. "The new governor of California, Jerry Brown, was very concerned about refugees settling in his state. Brown even attempted to prevent planes carrying refugees from landing at Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento.... The secretary of health and welfare, Mario Obledo, felt that this addition of a large minority group would be unwelcome in California. And he said that they already had a large population of Hispanics, Filipinos, blacks, and other minorities."

The refugees were extremely fortunate. Our biggest supporter, outside of Julia Taft, was the president of the United States. Even though he had described the Vietnam conflict as "a war that is finished as far as America is concerned," Ford's attention was now focused on the refugees. In May 1975 he visited the camps, and soon after refugees began leaving to start new lives across America. The government wanted to disperse the refugees to spread the cost among many states and communities. By Christmas of that year, all refugee camps had been closed, and the refugees were resettled in every state.

I am not aware of any other politicians, antiwar protesters, esteemed journalists or celebrities visiting Fort Chaffee, Ark., where my family was temporarily housed for two months. But Gerald Ford did.

The same supposedly compassionate doves, in other words, who'd opposed America's efforts on behalf of the South Vietnamese people wore their compassion on their sleeves, but quickly replaced that with armbands of bigotry and racism — while Jerry Ford, stymied and forced by Congress to watch as our nation broke its promises and abandoned an American ally, nevertheless did his own best to mitigate the harsh effects of that betrayal.

Mr. Pham doesn't use the phrase "cut and run." But see if you can read his op-ed without thinking of that phrase — and its likely consequences, and the parallels from Mr. Pham's history lesson and Jerry Ford's life — in the context of today's Iraq.

Posted by Beldar at 08:12 AM in Current Affairs, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Best of the Ford tributes and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) DRJ made the following comment | Dec 30, 2006 1:30:54 PM | Permalink

The refugee issue rings a bell with me. Many of the refugees were sponsored by local churches in communities across the nation. Our Texas town sponsored dozens of refugees and my church provided many with legal services. I know this because, as a young lawyer in a large firm, I was the designated legal provider for several refugees. Initially, legal issues were the least of their problems. Food, housing, jobs, learning a new language, and finding lost relatives topped their list. Eventually, however, many were faced with a variety of legal problems.

Fortunately there were more experienced lawyers who volunteered to handle the refugees' citizenship issues, since I'm sure that would have been beyond me. Sadly, though, I did help several get divorces from lost spouses that could not be found and might have been dead or relocated anywhere in the world. I helped many more with complicated wills so they could do their best to provide for family members, present and missing. I also handled a few name changes for those who wanted Americanized names.

The challenges these refugees faced were enormous and the circumstances for most of them were tragic. The ones I knew were amazing - strong, resilient, and brave - and our community is fortunate to have them. Beldar, I appreciate that you have pointed out President Ford's role in helping the Vietnamese refugees.

(2) DC made the following comment | Dec 31, 2006 12:26:51 PM | Permalink

To add to the comment by DRJ: I am fortunate to have come to know the former Chief Surgical Officer of I Corps. He, his wife and kids were on the last plane out. They were in the Arkansas relo camp during a bunch of tornados and he keeps a letter of thanks present to him from Pres Ford. He was in a group of 4 docs who came to the US for training before things really got hot in VN. When all were called back to service, he was the only one to go back. The other 3 went to Canada to hide out. During the war, he did airborne medical jumps for both RVN and our guys.

In Austin, he runs a solo family practice clinic with patients primarily Hispanic and other minority.

Heres the kicker: He's currently defendant in a premises liability suit where the actual incident occurred on the adjacent property. Agressive trial lawyer just keeps going after deep pocket. Does this dovetail with your John Edwards piece?

(3) Carol Herman made the following comment | Jan 13, 2007 11:02:31 PM | Permalink

Most people don't remember this, but Gerald Ford, for awhile, had been the last living member of the Warren Commission.

It didn't give him any problems, to sit on a commission that white washed the death of our young president.

For this reason I don't see all the hoopla that was staged for Gerry Ford. Who did the "good thing" of stepping into Nixon's White House, BLOCKING Nelson Rockefeller from that slot!

Of course, Gerald Ford was weak. He had to take Nelson on as his veep. But then, that ticket didn't get anywhere. And, we got Jimmuh Carter, instead.

Turns out its through mistakes like that, that Reagan was finally able to get into the White House.

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