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Vietnam Boat People Memorial.

Vietnamese Boat People Memorial

Field review by the editors.

Westminster, California

The Vietnamese Boat People memorial commemorates the victims of an all-too familiar collateral effect of war or drastic regime change -- fleeing your homeland in the hopes you won't be killed. The monument, in the corner of a large cemetery, centers around a bronze sculpture.

Vietnam Boat People Memorial.

After the Vietnam War mess and America's military exit from 1970-73, a large chunk of South Vietnam's population was in hot water. They'd sided with their failing government and the U.S., and dreaded punishment that might be meted out by the victors. Soon after the fall of Saigon to communist forces on April 30, 1975, the first refugees started climbing into boats in search of hospitable (non-communist) landing spots.

What started as a trickle of refugees soon ballooned as the new regime put its management and "re-education" plan into effect. In late 1978, when larger ships jammed with refugees were denied entry into countries in the region, people resorted to smaller, less seaworthy craft. Many thousands of Vietnamese drowned, starved or otherwise succumbed en route. Some estimates put boat people deaths in the hundreds of thousands before they finally ceased in 1992.

Over 400,000 eventually resettled in the U.S., and part of Westminster, California is known as "Little Saigon" because of its large community of Vietnamese refugees. Cam Ai Tran and Hap Tu Thai barely made it out alive in 1979 (their boat capsized), but once in the US they vowed they would build a monument to all those who died in the journey. The pair, publishers of the Saigon Times, finally saved enough to do it right, commissioning the sculpture by artist ViVi Vo Hung Kiet. The monument was unveiled in 2009.

The monument is in the remote southwest corner of Westminster Memorial Park. In the center of a fountain shaped like a ship's hull, desperate bronze figures clump on a stone raft: a man helps an elder woman, a young mother holds a baby. The figures face the ship's stern, and the mother, with a tear on her cheek, stretches her hand back towards Vietnam.

The fountain is surrounded by 54 stone blocks chiseled with the names (written in Vietnamese) of more than 6,000 dead boat people.

Vietnamese Boat People Memorial

Westminster Memorial Park

14801 Beach Blvd., Westminster, CA
In Westminster Memorial Park's Asian Garden of Peaceful Eternity. I-405/San Diego Freeway exit onto Beach Blvd, then drive north one mile. The cemetery is on the left.
Gates open daily summer 7-7, winter 7-5. Local health policies may affect hours and access.
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Nearby Offbeat Places

Dachshund RacesDachshund Races, Huntington Beach, CA - < 1 mi.
Building Shaped Like a CameraBuilding Shaped Like a Camera, Westminster, CA - 1 mi.
Ronald Reagan StatueRonald Reagan Statue, Fountain Valley, CA - 3 mi.
In the region:
International Surfing Museum: World's Largest Surfboard, Huntington Beach, CA - 6 mi.

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