National Geographic : 1955 Jun
866 U.S. Foreign Operations Administration Tonkin Family "Racks Up" Navy Style Villagers sometimes had trouble with ship's plumbing, but they quickly learned to handle four-tier bunks. planks. The refugees swarmed on the dock side, uncertain, silent, confused. Even as they stumbled away, the bluejackets aboard were cleaning up the ship, preparatory to going back for more. Perspiring, shirt-sleeved sailors gave each family small presents in a farewell gesture: when a mother's hands were full, they pressed the gifts earnestly into a baby's fist. They had gone all out for the refugees on the voy age from Haiphong, trying to encourage them. Now, in wordless sympathy, they helped them ashore with their bulging sacks, all that was left of their old way of life. Capt. Scott K. Gibson, commanding officer of the Mountrail, told me he was on his third round trip, each taking about seven days. "Practically everything that sails is in this ship lift," he said: "troop transports, cargo ships, LST's. "Whole villages come aboard at a time: maybe two small villages of 800 or 900 each, maybe a larger one of 2,000. We berth them by villages. They like to be near their own." Sailors Lend a Hand with Babies The lean, keen-eyed skipper, reticent about his own job, was enthusiastic about his men's response to the refugees. Like the Army in Korea-or, for that matter, like U. S. foot soldiers, marines, and sailors everywhere-the Navy had "shot the works" for the refugees. "Sailors dug into lockers and pay to give them food, clothes, candy. They bathed the kids and played with them, made the old ones feel at home (page 868). When the refugees come on board, they are dejected and be fuddled. When they come off in Saigon they seem to have more of a desire to live." Near the ship, signs welcomed the refugees in three languages: "Good luck on your pas sage to freedom" (page 859). Volunteers handed out "welcome kits" of soap, towel, and toothpaste, and tins of milk labeled "From the people of America to the people of Viet Nam-a gift." Few refugees seemed then to notice the welcome signs. They took what was being handed out stolidly, as if the terrors of the past few weeks had sapped their emotions. Open trucks, with French military drivers, were waiting for them at the dock. Many refugees drew back in fear. To their ques tioning faces, a truck driver bawled in French, "We are going to a reception camp where there is food. It is only temporary."