* By My-Thuan Tran Los Angeles Times *
‘Images at War’s End’ shows weddings, baptisms, Buddhist ceremonies, even a hula hoop contest. Refugees say they think often of their experiences at the base.
Nguyen The Hung and Nguyen Thiskieu Anh stand with Nguyen Thi Tuiet Oanh and Phueng Van Hao, from left, during a double wedding ceremony at Camp Pendleton.
A few years ago, Faye Jonason received a call from a Vietnamese couple from Roseville, Calif., who asked if she had a photo of their wedding. The couple were married at one of the “tent cities” erected at Camp Pendleton that housed tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees after the war.
Jonason, the Marine base’s museum division officer, rummaged through her archives and found a black-and-white photo of a young, smiling bride in a white dress kneeling beside the groom and another couple. It was dated May 22, 1975.
In the archives were 150 more images taken by Marine photographers depicting the lives of Vietnamese refugees on the base, Jonason said. “I thought, ‘Gee, this is a gold mine,’ ” she said. “I kept bringing people in to see it.”
Now, 36 of the photos are featured in an exhibit at Camp Pendleton called “Images at War’s End,” which runs through Sept. 30.
In addition to rows of tents housing refugees, the photos also show lives slowly being rebuilt. There are images of weddings, baptisms, Buddhist ceremonies, English language classes, even a hula hoop contest.
“It was a hard time in the U.S. and a hard time in Vietnam,” Jonason said. “There was a lot of sacrifice on both sides. Coming from a war-torn country, this period of history represents, in some ways, joy.”
Nearly 35 years ago, tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees were airlifted from Vietnam on military aircraft or by boat in the days leading up to the 1975 fall of Saigon.
The largest U.S. camp to temporarily house Southeast Asian refugees was at Camp Pendleton, which 50,000 refugees, mostly Vietnamese, passed through.
The camp would eventually reshape Southern California. Many refugees stayed for the warm weather they were accustomed to in Vietnam. In central Orange County, refugees found cheap housing and plentiful jobs in Westminster, where they erected Vietnamese businesses along the strawberry and bean fields, drawing Vietnamese scattered in other states.
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