Historic Vietnamese refugee program ending

A recent dinner party at the home of Porter and Marty Halyburton in Greensboro, North Carolina, included a notable moment: one American and four Vietnamese veterans of the Vietnam War, all former prisoners of war, raising a toast together to freedom.

Kristy Nguyen and Marty Halyburton
Marty Halyburton (right) teaches at Greensboro's main English language school for refugees.  While the school was on December break, she organized English enrichment classes for recent Vietnamese refugee arrivals at their apartment complex.  Kristy Nguyen (left) volunteered after reading an article in the Greensboro newspaper.  "She and her family had come to the United States five years ago as refugees and she wanted to help us as she had been helped," Marty said.
Photo courtesy Marty Halyburton.

A recent dinner party at the home of Porter and Marty Halyburton in Greensboro, North Carolina, included a notable moment: one American and four Vietnamese veterans of the Vietnam War, all former prisoners of war, raising a toast together to freedom.

Adding poignancy to the moment is the fact that these Vietnamese men and their families – all of whom have resettled to the United States since August 2009 – are among the last few of the last wave of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees resettled to the United States since the fall of U.S.-allied South Vietnam to communist North Vietnam in 1975.

This last group of mostly ethnic Vietnamese is arriving under the Humanitarian Resettlement Initiative, a temporary reopening of the Orderly Departure Program. Once the final few hundred arrive – most by the end of January – all immigration from Vietnam apart from the occasional individual (“P-1”) refugee referral will be through regular immigration channels.

Church World Service is receiving a number of these refugees and placing most of them in Greensboro, North Carolina.  “We received 53 people from August through January,” said CWS Greensboro’s Director Sarah Ivory, “with another 22 people assured, most for arrival by March.”

Ivory and her staff are providing resettlement services.  Greensboro’s well-established Montagnard and ethnic Vietnamese communities also are reaching out to the newcomers, as are volunteers – including the Halyburtons.  They are among cosponsors of the Pham family – a father, mother and their 22-year-old daughter.

The Halyburton’s story is one of a “bad Vietnam experience” transformed into a good one, Marty said.  She was 24 and at home with their young child when Porter, a U.S. Navy pilot, was shot down over North Vietnam.  He was captured and held as a prisoner of war from 1965 to 1973.

Their suffering gave them a deep empathy with the Vietnamese who lost everything in the war.  In 1998 they joined a group of former POWs for a visit to Vietnam.

“It was a good trip for Porter, and a life-changing experience for me,” Marty said. “We were in the north.  The former enemy welcomed us and said they had forgiven us long ago!”  Marty has returned to Vietnam five times, mostly to teach English, and Porter has been back three more times.  

The Halyburtons lived in Rhode Island, where Porter taught at the Naval War College in Newport and Marty had her own landscape design/build business.  When they retired to Greensboro in 2006, they joined Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, a past refugee cosponsor and current host of a network of local refugee services providers.  There they met CWS staff, including Ivory, who enlisted them as cosponsors of two Vietnamese families, including one that has relocated to Boston.  

The Halyburtons lecture often on their Vietnam experience, and led a six-session adult forum on refugees and immigrants at their church that Marty said was so popular “we made a DVD of it” and shared it with other churches and organizations.

Media Contact:
Lesley Crosson, 212-870-2676, lcrosson@churchworldservice.org
Jan Dragin, 781-925-1526, jdragin@gis.net


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