“I flew to Saigon as a passenger on the very last Pan Am flight into the city. I processed through immigration then and received a stamp in my passport. However, I stayed in Saigon after the last flight left.
A few days later I departed on an Air Force C-130 refugee evacuation flight, without any exit visa from Vietnamese immigration.
In 1994, I returned to Vietnam as a businessman with the first Hawaiian state delegation to Vietnam since the 19 year-old embargo was lifted by the Clinton administration.
We flew from Hawaii to Hong Kong, then to Hanoi in North Vietnam. Although the embargo was lifted, there were not yet formal relations between the two countries, so we received “travel documents” instead of visa stamps in our U.S. passports. They would only stamp exit visas on the travel documents not in our passports.
We toured north Vietnam, then went to south Vietnam, the “old” Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City.
The public relations people covering the delegation were interested in my story and we actually got to side-track to the old town house my ex-in-laws rented in Old Saigon. I rang the doorbell, and in fluent Vietnamese explained to the current residents who we were and who my family was in 1975. The current residents were kind enough to let me and the entire American film crew in to look around. This was astonishing to all of us.
When our delegation was processing out of the airport, the same airport from which The Last Flight Out departed from 19 years earlier, I hung back a bit. When my wife and I got to the Immigration passport control booth the two agents were speaking to each other in Vietnamese about the previous night’s World Soccer Cup match, which I had also watched. I spoke to them in fluent Vietnamese about the soccer match and they were clearly impressed.
Feeling that I had quickly “bonded” with the immigration agent processing me, I dared to ask for a favor. I told him about my arrival on the last Pan Am flight 19 years earlier and how I stayed in Vietnam. Because I left on a C-130 refugee evacuation flight, I explained I did not have an exit visa in my passport. Still speaking in good north Vietnamese I asked him if he would be so kind as to not only stamp my travel documents with the exit visa but my passport as well. That was illegal and risky to ask ! He looked at me, looked at my documents, looked at his comrade in the next booth, glanced at the surveillance cameras and back to my passport. With a less than relaxed face he stamped both my travel documents and my passport.
I now have a passport with an entry date stamp of April 1975 and a separate passport with an exit date stamp of June 1994 – a 19 year 2 month spread! I thought that was cool.”