In the chaotic final days before the Vietnam she knew collapsed, Bang Van Pham boarded a U.S. military plane with her newborn son for a land she had learned about in school but never seen.

On the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, Pham and other Vietnamese refugees reflect on what they lost but also how they have rebuilt their lives in the United States. The community has gone from not even being counted as a distinct group in the 1970 census to numbering 1.7 million.

A major commercial hub has grown in Orange County, California, where the community is considered a formidable voting bloc.

Efforts are underway to preserve the stories of Vietnamese elders before they are gone and help younger generations carry on their legacy.