“I’m looking for the Malaysian Naval Officer who has my picture.”
My name is Lynne. I am a quarter Vietnamese and three-quarters Chinese. I come from a family of ten children, and at the time of my escape, 3 were already in the United States and 1 had decided to stay in Vietnam. On April 30, 1979, when I was 17 years old, my parents, five of my siblings, and I fled Vietnam from Rạch Giá. Our boat had 32 people, consisting of my family and our friends. We actually escaped on our own family’s boat - we were a fisherman family. We invited some of our friends to go with us so that we could use the money to get the supplies we needed, such as oil.
We crossed the Thai border, where we were robbed eight times. We then made our way to Malaysia, but we weren’t allowed in, and became stranded on a little deserted island. Finally the Malaysian Coast Guard found us and towed us to a big Malaysian naval ship. We stayed hooked on to the naval ship for ten days, and during that time, about seven or eight boats filled with refugees were collected with us. Ultimately another ship came and we were transferred to it and towed to Indonesia, but we had to go the rest of the way to Galang Camp on our own. I ended up staying at Galang Camp for about ten months. I had a sister, an older brother, a younger brother, and an aunt who were in San Francisco at the time, and they sponsored us over to the United States.
I arrived in the United States on February 28, 1980. We first flew into Los Angeles for processing, and then flew to San Francisco. I actually thought that we were in San Francisco when we landed in Los Angeles, and had called my sister to tell her that we had arrived. She rushed to SFO, only for all of us to find out later that we actually had to take another flight to finally get to San Francisco.
Once we all got to San Francisco, we all lived together. I took ESL classes at the Alemany Campus of City College of San Francisco, and then took accounting classes there, but I ultimately joined the hair industry. I now work at a hair salon in San Francisco.
Every day this one naval officer would peer down from the big ship and check to make sure that everyone was okay. He would throw down food and supplies to us, and always asked if we needed anything. Because of the language barrier, we would use sign language to communicate to each other. Also, since our ship was the first refugee boat to attach to the ship, we formed a close bond. He would save specific items for me, and before we detached from the naval ship, he asked for a photo of me. Most of the possessions we brought with us when we escaped were destroyed by the pirates, but I still had a photo of me to give him.
I hope that there is a way to find out who this Naval Officer is, and to thank him. Even though he was probably just doing his job, he greatly impacted my life, and I won’t forget his kindness. I wanted to reach out to him once I arrived in the United States, but I didn’t know how to find him. I talk about him and my story to my customers a lot, and now that my friend Amy has connected us all, hopefully we will be able to get closer to finding him.