“Vietnamese Members Housed at Camp Pendleton, California,” Ensign, July 1975, 77–78
(Editor’s Note: Information and photographs for this report on Church members from South Vietnam were sent in by Jack Lythgoe of Laguna Beach Ward, Newport Beach California Stake.)
The 70 Vietnamese members of the Church among refugees at Camp Pendleton, California, were functioning almost as a regular branch several days after their arrival in California. Almost immediately, they began holding regular meetings, including a Mothers Day program. Two were set apart as stake missionaries—Brother Tran Van Nhon and Brother Tam Minh Miner—and there had been two convert baptisms. Members held priesthood and Relief Society meetings, and recreational and English language classes.
A total of 98 Church members and children of record left South Vietnam when it was taken over by the North Vietnamese. The majority of these ended up in Camp Pendleton, although some arrived in the United States at various other points. Between 150 and 200 members remained in South Vietnam.
The Church has been designated as one of the relief organizations to work with the refugees; Newport Beach California Stake has been assigned the program at Camp Pendleton. The stake gathered clothing and supplies for the people, even exceeding their needs. Stake members also held a special fast, with the fast offerings going to the Vietnamese. Medical and dental care has also been supplied by members, with nurses available daily.
Gradually the Vietnamese are being assigned sponsors and are leaving the camp. There are reportedly more offers from members who want to be sponsors than are needed. However, since all sponsors must be approved by the government, the process of releasing the refugees is slow.
After the first group of 17 Vietnamese members had arrived, President Spencer W. Kimball visited them, assessed the situation, and assured them that they would be cared for.
There is a story behind every family in the camp—of the sacrifice and trial involved in leaving Vietnam. Sister To Thi Kim Thanh had an especially interesting experience. On May 11, just a few days after she arrived in the United States, Sister Thanh gave birth to a five pound, 11 ounce girl—by birth, a citizen of the United States. At that time Sister Thanh did not know where her husband and father were and feared they had been left in Vietnam. Two days later both the husband and father were located on Guam, where many of the refugees originally went.
Brother Tran Van Nhon, with his wife and six children, was baptized into the Church in March of this year. He had worked for various U.S. government agencies and it was considered dangerous for him to remain in South Vietnam. Brother Nhon sent his three youngest children with his sister, who worked for an orphanage, leaving a few days later with the other three children and his wife. As yet, however, the three younger children have not been located.
Brother Nhon has been the spokesman for the Vietnamese members in Camp Pendleton, besides conducting the meetings, because he speaks English. He says that at first the Vietnamese members all wanted to go to Salt Lake City but they now understand that the Church is established in many parts of the country and there are many temples. He feels the Church will continue in South Vietnam as long as there are members there and prays they will be protected and be able to spread the gospel.
As a stake missionary, Brother Nhon feels that his job is right in the camp—even after he gets his family settled. He believes the time is ripe for many to join the Church—as evidenced by the great number of interested people in the camp who stop to talk with the members. He said about half of those who attend the meetings are investigators.