The People We Wanted to Forget Front Cover

Cover art by Ketchikan, Alaska artist David Rubin


By Michael G. Harpold

After the last American left Saigon and 155,000 Vietnamese who left with them were resettled in the United States, Americans just wanted the Vietnam war put behind them. Many Vietnamese who stayed behind could not, and they continued their struggle of staying alive, now under new terms.

Starving, their crops and catches collectivized by the new Socialist Republic of Vietnam, over 1.5 million people fled with their families most in small fishing boats. But they sailed into an indifferent world. No country wanted them, most notably the United States. Faced with a growing, unwelcome population, the countries of first refuge along the periphery of the South China Sea forced the overcrowded refugee boats back onto the open ocean. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese perished.

On a Sunday morning in Thailand, Mike Harpold was on assignment at refugee camps in Southeast Asia to prepare a report for a congressional hearing on the boat people. Alerted by a doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières, Harpold rushed to the aid of thirty-four Vietnamese men, women, and children whose disabled boat was about to be towed out to sea by the Thai Navy and cast adrift—certain death for all aboard. He had ten minutes to come up with a way to save them.

What Harpold did next forced a change in US policy, encouraged Americans to once again look into their soul, and demonstrated how one person with integrity and courage can make the difference in the lives of thousands.

For a tale to restore your faith in humanity and America, The People We Wanted to Forget is a must read.

- Terry Pyles

You can also read about Michael G. Harpold's first book, Jumping The Line.


By Michael G. Harpold



Scott Bowlen – News Staff Writer, Ketchikan Daily News

In "The People We Wanted To Forget," we meet some of Harpold's American colleagues and Vietnamese counterparts and learn of their lives and circumstances during that time of war.

This portion of the book is interesting of itself. Even more interesting is how Harpold's time in Vietnam sets the stage for events that followed the war.

Through a chain of impossible-to-foresee circumstances, Harpold in 1978 found himself in Thailand compiling a report for Congress about Thai refugee camps that housed some of the many Vietnamese people who were escaping their homeland in droves but who were unwelcome in the surrounding countries of Southeast Asia - and the United States.

By chance, he was present when the Thai Navy was about to tow a disabled boat with 34 Vietnamese aboard back out to sea.  The snap decision made by Harpold saved the lives of those aboard, and ultimately resulted in a change in U.S. policy relative to Vietnamese refugees.

Throughout "The People We Wanted To Leave Behind," Harpold writes carefully.  The feel is of a desire to represent things as accurately as possible.  It's a story well-told, but not a work of hyperbole, spin or self-aggrandizement.  As such, it's a clear window onto a different place and time, and a good reflection of the author himself.

Kirkus Review

On a Sunday morning in 1978, the Thai government was poised to drag a derelict fishing boat—the only home to 34 Vietnamese refugees who had fled the new Communist regime in their homeland—into international waters, where the boat would surely sink and drown all those onboard. Harpold (Jumping the Line, 2013), a U.S. official, was alerted to the action by a concerned doctor and rushed to the docks in an attempt to save the refugees. The people were victims of a humanitarian crisis with roots in the decade-long conflict between North and South Vietnam, in which the author, like hundreds of thousands of Americans, participated to varying degrees. Originally sent to Saigon in 1968 as a U.S. adviser to the paramilitary National Police Field Force, Harpold had a front-row view of the evolving impact of the war on the everyday lives of the country’s population—a group left vulnerable when American forces abandoned South Vietnam in 1975. In this book, the author recalls his experiences from the time he landed in Saigon to that day on the dock in Thailand 10 years later, telling not simply his own story, but also the tale of an entire generation of people caught up in a conflict much larger than themselves.  READ MORE.

Terry Pyles – Artist, Ketchikan, Alaska

I've read extensively about American conflict, from the Revolutionary War to the War in Afghanistan. "The People We Wanted To Forget" ranks right up there with some of the best books I have had the pleasure to indulge. This gripping and true story that takes place in the later years of the Vietnam conflict is difficult to set down. 

Michael Harpold's first person narrative reveals a humble man with ironclad morals and a heroic character.  On numerous occasions he unnecessarily places his life and career on the line for complete strangers. His selfless motivation is truly inspiring. A humanitarian of the highest order, Harpold embodies the qualities that define valor.

For a tale to restore your faith in humanity and America, this is a must read.

Bob Boyle – Superintendent of Schools, Ketchikan, Alaska

For those of us of the Vietnam War era, this book is a must read to understand the aspects of the war that still impact daily life in the US. For those who came after, it is a must read to know why Vietnam is forever part of the United States.

Mike Harpold changed the American diet! With his book, our hunger for honesty in describing how the Vietnam war unfolded is fed. And what we chose to eat was changed by his actions.  You may be surprised learn how that Pho Restaurant  in your home town may have arrived. Read his book! and learn what he did during and after Vietnam that changed your diet.

You have seen the photos, the indelible images from the Vietnam War. The graphic scenes that come to mind when the war is discussed. There are explosive events just behind behind those iconic photos that need to be told. Mike's story opens the photo album on steamy jungle episodes and sinking rafts of the boat-people. This book shows you a new image of how the Vietnam war is forever an American family photo album.

Leila Kheiry – News Director, KRBD Radio, Ketchikan, Alaska

Through this colorful, sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing look back, Harpold gives a unique perspective about why South Vietnam lost its war with the Communist north, leading desperate Vietnamese boat people to undertake risky, often deadly voyages to escape.

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