Excerpt from Boat Boy
Based on the true story of a refugee boy’s journey to freedom
In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I want to recognize the contributions they’ve made to the United States by focusing on the personal story of a soldier I have know for 20 years, Lan Dalat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68P4EAb9GCg
He and his family escaped the dictatorial Communist regime in North Vietnam in the early 1980’s by fleeing on the South China Sea. Though the U.S. Navy rescued Lan, and his family, many of the “boat people,” sadly perished. However, stories like Lan’s, demonstrate the inspirational accounts of refugees and immigrants who not only survived, but thrived and demonstrate their gratitude by serving their adopted country.
I am currently working on a fictional version of Lan’s real journey to freedom, “Boat Boy.”
Katherine Kruckow, a young inspiring graphic artist specializing in digital art, is illustrating my historical fiction short story.
My interview with Lan over a year ago: https://militaryfamilies.com/military-video/a-war-refugees-journey-to-the-us-army/
Day and night, waves slammed the planks of our pitiful boat in a relentless pounding. The taste of salt was constant, and the stench of putrid fish hung in the air. People were getting seasick. Someone couldn’t reach the stern in time and ended up spewing bile on me and my sister. We washed in the splashing swells, but the sour stench persisted. Everyone huddled in groups. To lift spirits, a young man played his guitar, while a couple of others sang love songs.
But after a couple of days, my brother began whimpering, “Please buy me water Mẹ.”
“Son, I will buy you all the water you want when we land on shore. Do not worry, we will be there soon,” she assured him.
Then tilting her head upward while shielding her eyes, she declared, “I see an airplane.”
Our mother began searching through the bag she wore over her shoulder. She pulled out a compact mirror and proceeded to show us how she was going to communicate with the plane’s crew. I looked up, straining to catch a glimpse of an aircraft, but couldn’t see anything. The sun’s glare bounced off the water and into my eyes.
“Listen,” she whispered.
All I heard was sloshing and the rumbling engine. But she continued demonstrating how to reflect the sunlight off her mirror, and towards the plane. A few seconds later, she said it passed and let me practice in case another one flew overhead. I spent the rest of that day and next searching the skies.
Our precarious journey continued with the boat’s engine sputtering with every upsurge. The South China Sea was determined to end our exodus. Finally, five days after taking a beating, the motor protested one last time, sputtering to a halt, and leaving us adrift. Our old craft carrying 138 people, floated with no end in sight.
Water rationed one soda cap per person, per day, ran out two days after the engine stalled. The chanting of Buddhist and Catholic mantras diminished. People lay motionless, drifting in and out of sleep while muttering delusional ramblings. I no longer felt ravenous—just numb.
My mother’s soft almond eyes and smooth cheeks had become dark and sunken, and my brother no longer asked for water. He stared into the distance with our mother holding him. My sisters sat nearby; their thin, limp arms embraced. I began to think my mother hallucinated about seeing the airplane.