陌生人,歡迎你們

搭救這些船民之後,我發現同袍的態度幡然改變
TIENIE HOLTZHAUSEN◎撰

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illustration by Victo Ngai

一九八○年七月十日,我在美國海軍驅逐艦「歐登多夫號」上服役,當時該艦正從新加坡取道南海,前往菲律賓的蘇比克灣。這天天色灰暗陰沉,意味天氣即將變壞的烏雲籠罩我們;海風以每小時二十節的速度狂吹,浪高達三公尺,東方三百二十公里外,有個颱風正朝我們的方向前進,全船的人都希望盡快抵達菲律賓。突然間,瞭望手看到海面上有個物體,漂浮在船東大約十六公里處。

信號士用我們暱稱為「大眼睛」的大型雙筒望遠鏡仔細查看後,宣告是一艘載着許多人的小船。眾人當下就知道那是一羣難民,正在遍布岩礁與淺灘的危險海域漂蕩。

當時已近正午,我值的是八點到十二點的班,正準備下哨,艦長卻從艦橋向全體官兵下達命令:我們要靠近那艘小船提供協助。歐登多夫號上動了起來,人人都準備展開救援行動。我離開艦橋,到住艙甲板匆匆拿了個三明治,然後行至我即將展開行動的艉甲板。一路上,我聽到大多數弟兄都在抱怨為什麼要幫助那些難民?我永遠忘不了一個結實的大塊頭油機士瞪着我的眼睛,怒氣沖沖地說:「應該把他們留在那兒等死。」

我們在避免撞上岩礁的前提下盡可能駛近小船, 然後派出一艘小艇和幾名人員前去進一步查看,結果情況遠比我們預期要來得糟。小艇人員回報,那是一艘七點五公尺長老式的木製舢舨船,擠滿大約五十名男女和小孩,每個人都很虛弱,還得想辦法讓正慢慢下沉的小船繼續浮着。得知消息後,我們艦上益發加強準備,有些人向大夥兒收集一切可得的乾衣服,而我負責把通常用來清洗輻射落塵的特別除汙區準備好。我打開艙門,準備好肥皂與必要的醫療用品,然後看着小艇把舢舨船越拖越近。海象險惡,這任務並不容易。

我們終於把舢舨船拖到軍艦旁,但我首先注意到的卻是一陣奇特的嬰兒哭聲。這是我第一次在海上聽到嬰兒的哭聲。接下來,我還聽到船上男女激動的七嘴八舌,聲音中透出痛苦。

船上的婦女都坐着,手抱孩子同時照顧病患。男性則站着,神情冷靜。但是從船上所有人的面容看得出來,他們都已疲憊至極。他們的身體也是如此,飽受日晒,骨瘦如柴。我們協助他們安頓下來,把最虛弱的人送到醫護室,接受最好的治療;其他人則待在輪機兵艙房。我們還要航行兩個晚上,輪機兵很樂意睡在執勤的地方。

搭救這些船民之後,我發現同袍的態度幡然改變,大家都很高興任務圓滿達成。我們發現這些船民無庸置疑地和我們一樣都是人。

第二天,客人都好好休息過後,我們和他們一起吃飯、唱歌、歡笑,並且想盡辦法讓他們舒服一點。

我們很快就得知這羣船民的遭遇。他們來自越南,一個月前離開故鄉,計畫前往新加坡。但是出發才一星期,船的發動機就故障了。獲救之前的十天,他們就已經沒了食物和飲水。出海時船上有五十五人,但一路上死了七個。

外頭天氣逐漸轉壞,但是軍艦上的氣氛卻溫馨愉悅。我們的越南朋友十分開心,他們在那艘小船上撐了一個月,如今一定覺得自己有如登上豪華郵輪「瑪麗王后號」,而不是一艘老舊的海軍驅逐艦。

進港的前一天晚上,我走進輪機兵艙房,看到另一幅永生難忘的景象:那個大塊頭、大鬍子的壯碩油機士,先前根本不想參與救援任務,現在卻坐在桌前,直視我滿臉微笑。他粗壯的臂彎裏抱着一個眼睛發亮的小女嬰,嬰兒身上周密地裹着他陳舊褪色的藍色工作服。小女嬰看起來安安穩穩,他則手拿一罐救命牛奶,溫柔地餵着她。


Welcome, Strangers

On July 10, 1980, I was aboard the destroyer USS Oldendorf DD-972, in transit in the South China Sea from Singapore to Subic Bay, in the Philippines. The day was gray and dreary, with threatening clouds all around us. The wind was blowing at 20 knots with about ten-foot swells. There was a typhoon 200 miles east of us heading our way. All of us were looking forward to arriving in the Philippines as quickly as possible. Suddenly, the lookout spotted an object adrift about ten miles to the east.

The signalman looked at it through the large telescopic binoculars we called the big eyes and announced that it was a boat with many people on it. We all knew right then that they were refugees adrift in an area dangerous with reefs and shoals.

It was almost noon. I was going off the eight-to-12 watch when the captain announced to the crew from the bridge that we were heading toward the boat to assist her. The ship came alive. Everyone prepared for a possible rescue. I left the bridge, grabbed a sandwich on the mess deck, and made my way to the fantail, where I would help out. Along the way, I noticed that most of the crew members were complaining about assisting the boat people. I’ll never forget how a big, burly engineman looked into my eyes and angrily said, “We oughta leave them out there to die.”

We got as close to the boat as we safely could to avoid the reefs. We then sent out the whaleboat with a small crew to check it out further. The situation was much worse than we’d expected. The whaleboat crew reported back that an old 25-foot wooden junk boat was jam-packed with about 50 men, women, and children. They were very weak and trying to keep the slowly sinking junk afloat. Our ship became even more prepared after that news. Some gathered whatever dry clothes anyone could spare, and I prepared by getting the special decontamination area ready; it would normally be used to wash off nuclear fallout. I unlocked the compartment and readied it with soap and all the necessary medical items. I then watched as the whaleboat towed the junk closer and closer to the ship. It wasn’t an easy task, as the seas were high.

We finally got alongside the junk, and the first thing I noticed was the strange sound of babies crying. It was the first time I had heard babies crying out at sea. Then came the sound of the men and women excitedly talking with pain in their voices.

The women sat holding their children and caring for the sick, while the men remained standing and stoic. But the faces of all the boat people reflected great fatigue. Their bodies, sunbaked and bony, did too. We helped get them settled. The weakest of them received excellent treatment in the sick bay, and the rest of them stayed in the engineers’ berthing compartment. The engineers were glad to sleep in their working spaces for the remaining two nights of our voyage.

During those hours after the rescue, I noticed a big change in the attitude of the crew. Everyone was happy about the successful rescue effort. We discovered that boat people were, of course, just as human as any of us.

The next day, after our guests were properly rested, we ate, sang, and laughed with them and made them as comfortable as we knew how.

We soon discovered their story. They were Vietnamese who had left their homeland a month earlier with Singapore as their destination. After one week, their motor had broken down. They had gone without food and water for the past ten days. There had been 55 of them, but seven had died.

Outside, the weather was growing worse, but inside, everything felt warm and pleasant. Our Vietnamese friends were very happy. Compared with being on that small boat for the past month, they must have felt as though they were on the Queen Mary instead of an old Navy destroyer.

On the last evening before we pulled into port, I walked into the engineering berthing space and was greeted by another sight that I’ll never forget. The same big, burly, bearded engineman who had once wanted to avoid the rescue was now seated at the table looking right at me and smiling widely. In his large arms, he held a bright-eyed baby girl, carefully wrapped in one of his old faded blue work shirts. She looked very secure as he gently fed her a life-giving bottle of milk.

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