Have I earned the life my father gave me?
It’s taken me some time to speak publicly about the situation in Afghanistan and the events leading up to the Unites States withdrawal. The unraveling of 20 years of war in Afghanistan made me reflect on my own family’s escape from Saigon and how I came to live in America. It also compelled me to evaluate how I live my life.
My father was an entrepreneur. It was his entrepreneurial spirit that enabled us to survive the fall of Saigon in 1975. My father was just 17 when he went to basic training then off to Vietnam at 18. He started a family having two children, while serving in Saigon. When his enlistment was up, he took a civilian contractor job in Vietnam because he was determined to stay with his children. It was during his time there as a contractor he and one of his friends started a bar. My love for a good cocktail came honest. While I have no memory of the escape nor the bar, I still remember his friend and business partner. His name was Fred. We would later live with Fred when my father took another contracting position in Israel, but that’s a story for another blog.
It was the earnings from the bar that enabled my father to bribe South Vietnamese officials and soldiers in order to secure passage for us on an airplane. The North Vietnam Army had already reached the outskirts of Saigon. Law and order were breaking down. It must have been a chaotic and terrifying scene. No doubt my little brother and I were confused, scared, and crying.
South Vietnamese soldiers stopped us at the airport. They let my biological mother and I board the plane, but physically held onto my infant brother until my father could prove he had no more money to give in exchange for his son. There was a real danger the plane would leave, stranding my father and brother in Saigon as it fell to the communist forces. What must it have been like for him, a very young 21-year-old, father of two, as he desperately tried to convince the rogue soldiers he had no more money for them to extort? Finally, the soldiers gave him his son back, and he ran for the plane.
Observing images of so many Americans, allies and Afghans desperately struggling to get a flight to safety, makes me imagine the panic and chaos my father had to get us through to escape Saigon.
I am so incredibly thankful for him and his entrepreneurial spirit which enabled him to accumulate the means to get us out of the war zone. We would finally come to live in America.
Dad is still my hero. He was a true patriot who loved this country, went to war for his country, and came home to continue his entrepreneurial adventures, becoming a successful businessman and, with his family, living the American Dream.
Watching events unfold in Afghanistan, I wonder what would have happened to my brother and I, two half-American children, citizens of the United States by birth, if my father had not rescued us. Would we have been imprisoned with our mother? Would we have been killed?
I have given most of my adult life to the service of my country. Like him, I am a true patriot, combat veteran and an entrepreneur chasing the American Dream. Taking pause to reflect on it all, I wonder if I’ve done enough. Have I earned the life my father gave me? As he looks down on me from heaven, am I making him proud? I hope so.
Michael D. Ellis
1953 – 2016
Special thanks to my Uncle Mitch, Dad’s oldest brother, for helping to ensure the recount of my father’s fight for his family’s survival was accurate. Love you, Flower Face.