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Fall of Saigon Continues to Sting Vietnamese-Americans

FILE - Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai, pictured in October 2014, says it's time "for everyone to sit down to find ways to restore" his country, but "everyone must have a voice in the process."

Forty years after the fall of Saigon signaled the end of the Vietnam War, the event still stings for many Vietnamese-Americans.

Hundreds of Vietnamese-Americans recently participated in a somber event to mark the 40th anniversary of the war's end by singing the anthem and waving the flag of American-backed South Vietnam.

While many in the U.S.-Vietnamese community still call April 30 a “National Hatred Day,” authorities in Vietnam have mobilized thousands of people to join military parades and festive activities to celebrate what they call a reunification day or victory day.

Do Thai Kieu, who fled Vietnam for the U.S. as a 16-year-old refugee, said it is emotional for her and for members of the Vietnamese community as the day approaches.

“I did not like the communist regime, so I had to flee from our country," she said. "Hatred fades with time, but I will never forget that I lost my nation, and I hope that the country will become a democratic one where people are freer and more independent.”

This sentiment is shared by Nguyen Kim Hoa, who was taken on an American helicopter out of Vietnam one day before Saigon fell. “I always feel so sad recalling the day I left my homeland,” said Hoa, who has lived in San Diego, California, since coming to the United States.

Millions of Vietnamese-Americans live in the U.S., making them the largest overseas Vietnamese community in the world.

Hundreds of thousands left Vietnam for the U.S. and other Western nations after the war, including many who took risky trips by boat.

Professor Nguyen Ngoc Bich, chairman of National Congress of Vietnamese in the United States, said ideological differences have led to a division among Vietnamese since the war. He said Hanoi had not done enough to ease the pain of the prolonged conflict.

Prominent Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who was deported to the United States after being released from prison in Vietnam last year, echoed Bich’s opinions.

“Conflicting ideologies split Vietnamese into two sides, leading to the war," he said. "Therefore, it is now time for everyone to sit down to find ways to restore the country. But everyone must have a voice in the process, although the communist party maintains that only it rules over the nation.”

Hai was sent to the U.S. before his prison terms ended as Vietnam seeks to strengthen relations with Washington while facing with its giant neighbor, China.

In a visit to the U.S. last year, Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang said Vietnamese-Americans play an important part as a bridge between Hanoi and Washington.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.