April 30th, 2015, marked the 40th anniversary of an important milestone in recent Vietnamese and American history: the fall of Saigon. What has been revealed about the chain of those disastrous events of 1975 over the ensuing years is that in addition to American personnel, many South Vietnamese nationals managed to escape on the evacuation ships, helicopters and transport aircraft during the final, hectic operations. Carol Brooks, a new employee in Freeport LNG's legal department, was part of that group.
Carol and her sisters with Mickey Gibbar, the family
friend who would later facilitate their entrance to
the United States
Carol was born in Bien Hoa, a northern suburb of Saigon. She lived on the American air force base located just outside of town where her father worked as an aircraft mechanic. Frequent North Vietnamese air raids were a common occurrence, even on the day she was born. That evening, an air raid forced everyone to run for the nearby bunker. However, in their rush to safety, the family forgot the new baby and later found her unharmed, but covered in dust from a shattered shutter over her crib.
When Carol turned eight, the family relocated to the seaside resort of Nha Trang. After two years, the area began to witness the massive exodus of South Vietnamese civilians fleeing the advancing Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. The refugees included not only those civilians who had helped the South’s army or the Americans, but also a great mass of people who feared bad treatment after the communist take over.
Carol's father decided it was time to plan for the family's evacuation from Vietnam. And so, they packed only a change of clothing and left Nha Trang to stay with friends in Saigon to await an opportunity to get out of the country.
Finally, on April 28th, 1975, a military colleague of Carol's father offered them six exit tickets; his family had decided to stay in Vietnam. Carol's family (minus their father—the tickets were only for military personnel’s family members) was dropped off at a holding area next to Saigon's Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base. Air Force C-130s were flying Americans and Vietnamese from here to Clark AFB in the Philippines. But even their bus journey proved dangerous. On the way to Tan Son Nhut, they were shelled and had to jump into a ditch.
The family waited until 2:00 am on the 29th before they were able to board a transport. They were the last group on the second-to-last plane scheduled to leave the airfield. And, continuing her remarkable luck, as Carol looked down at the retreating runway she saw explosions and the plane she almost was assigned to engulfed in flames. By the afternoon of the next day, April 30th, North Vietnamese troops had occupied the entire city and the flow of refugees came to an abrupt halt.
From here, her journey to America progressed through a series of military facilities in the Philippines, Guam and finally, Camp Pendleton in California. Eventually, her family was sponsored by the family of an American serviceman, Mickey Gibbar, who had been a friend of her mother in Bien Hoa. Mickey located them at Camp Pendleton through the Red Cross, and also found their father who had escaped to Wake Island. He then convinced his father, who was Mayor of Perryville, Missouri, to sponsor them so that they could come to live in Perryville.
Carol Brooks' escape on the last flight
out of Saigon
PRESS "F" FOR FULLSCREEN
Carol's father found work in Perryville at Maryland Cake Company where his job was to clean and maintain their large industrial pastry mixer. Eventually he found a job opening closer to his aviation expertise at Northrop Grumman on Ellington Air Force Base in Houston. Carol’s father understood that education was the pathway to success and he chose Houston because it offered a great choice of schools for the children. Carol went to Poe Elementary, Beverly Hills Middle School and J. Frank Dobie High School. For college she majored in management information systems at the University of Houston.
Throughout her career after college, Carol persevered and excelled in many fields: IT, business, banking, and now energy and law at Freeport LNG. In addition to her hard work, she credits much of her continued luck to being able to come to America. "The generosity of the people in this country is amazing, " she observes. "From the time that we landed in Guam, to Camp Pendleton and Perryville, Missouri, people have been so kind and so giving. "