In the days after Saigon fell to the communists in 1975, Tom Ha fled South Vietnam for his life.
Ha, 65, of Colleyville, opened his Allstate insurance office in Haltom City in 1982. On a recent morning, the telephones in his office never stopped ringing. Customers stopped by and Ha greeted each one, sometimes in Vietnamese, sometimes in his fluent English.
His life was far different when Saigon fell on April 30, 1975.
He was 24 and his life had been filled with threats from the Viet Cong and with the violence of war. He was on the island of Phu Quoc, where he had volunteered to provide medical aid to his countrymen during the Vietnam War.
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“My family believed I was killed when Saigon fell,” Ha said. His parents, six sisters and two brothers lived in South Vietnam. “Back then, there was no way to communicate with them.”
He had no thought of coming to the U.S.
“At that time, I thought we would only evacuate for a few months,” he said. “The idea of moving to America and living there for the rest of my life never surfaced. It was unattainable. Usually we don't want to leave our family ... We don't want to go to a country where you don't speak the language well. You don't have a job. And where am I going to live anyway?”
In the 42 years since he arrived as a refugee in Florida in 1975, he has worked odd jobs through the years, settled in Dallas, earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington, married and had two now-adult children.
His chance to leave South Vietnam came from a friendly offer.
“A doctor offered me a chance to go to the United States,” Ha said. “I figured I would go, spend a few months there and return to my family.”
Today, he says he won’t return to South Vietnam in its current state
That's still a dream of mine, but now with the way things are I don't know when I will be able to achieve that ...
“Under the Communist rule that exists now, I would not go back. Homes are burned. People are beaten. That is no place for my family.”