In the tumultuous aftermath of the Fall of Saigon in 1975, Camp Pendleton, a United States Marine Corps base in California, became a temporary haven for over 50,000 refugees fleeing war-torn Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. As the conflict drew to a close, a wave of individuals sought refuge and an opportunity for a fresh start, posing a profound humanitarian test. And one of the places that stepped up to provide assistance was Camp Pendleton.

With little time to prepare and less than 24 hours notice, Camp Pendleton hastily transformed into a sprawling ‘Tent City,” providing shelter, support, and hope to those in desperate need. Among the refugees was Kristen Mai Pham, whose remarkable journey from a life of luxury to the confines of Camp Talega became a transformative experience that shaped her into a successful author and proud American citizen.

fall of saigon
The most iconic picture of the evacuation during the Fall of Saigon. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Arrival at Camp Talega

In a 2017 interview, Kristen Mai Pham vividly recalls her arrival at Camp Talega, one of the sections within Camp Pendleton’s ‘Tent City.’ The journey by boat had been arduous.

She recounted getting seasick and longing for the taste of clean water, free from the scent and flavor of gasoline. However, her mother reminded her of their inability to return home and encouraged her to make do with what was available. It was a stark reminder of the new reality they faced.