The sun was blistering and shining right over the Guadalupe County Courthouse as Seguin resident Beth Martin stood in front of the county building beside her car and held a handmade sign for drivers to read.
The sign read “My dad Billy Joe Aplin was killed Aug. 3rd, 1979 in Seadrift, Texas. #imissmydad.”
She also had several other signs hanging on her car that summarized what happened 40 years ago when her father was killed.
Following the fall of Saigon, the capital of Vietnam, in 1975, the Gulf Coast saw an influx of Vietnamese refugees, which led to tension in the fishing communities, including Seadrift. The Vietnamese took up jobs as fishermen on the coast, something the native fishermen saw as a threat.
The hostilities between the two communities led to Aplin, a fisherman, being shot in the back by then-21-year-old Sau Van Nguyen and his brother then-20-year-old Chihn Van Nguyen, two Vietnamese refugees.
With it being 40 years since the incident, Martin felt she needed to do something to honor her father properly, she said.
“The KKK did a memorial march for my dad and I’ve just always resented that. It was very traumatic to have no control over that,” Martin said. “Some of my dad’s family members were involved with the KKK and saw them as helping because they stepped in like they were advocates, but they’re not. I decided I needed to take that back. I’m just here remembering my dad. If anyone is curious when they drive by and see the lady with the signs and ask about it.”
An uproar of hostilities on the Klan’s behalf followed District Judge Clarence Stevenson’s acquittal of the Van Nguyen brothers. Their acquittal came at the end of a trail at the Guadalupe County Courthouse in which a jury believed the brothers to have acted in self defense, according to a Nov. 4, 1979, Seguin Gazette-Enterprise article.
It was discovered several Vietnamese crabbers reportedly received threats from Aplin.
Not only was Martin standing in honor of her father, but she said she was doing it on behalf of the asylum seekers on the border.
“A lot of people feel stuck like they can’t help. I can’t go to El Paso. I can’t go to the Valley. It was this Buddist nun that really struck me to go ahead and do this,” Martin said. “Basically what she said was ‘go somewhere in your hometown because not everyone can just go all the way to Washington.’ So that’s what I’m doing. I’m considering coming back every weekend, but I don’t know if I can.”
While her father was killed by a Vietnamese refugee, it wasn’t Van Nguyen’s refugee status that killed him. Nor was it Van Nguyen’s color or nationality, Martin said.
Martin said the incidents back in 1979 were preventable just like everything that is happening today.
“The same thing is coming through — the hate of refugees and asylum seekers and people that needed the help,” she said. “The Vietnamese needed help. We’re thinking the community didn’t just reach out enough, or the leaders. They weren’t expecting things to blow up I’m sure, but unfortunately what they tended to do was just come by and tell them to get along. They weren’t doing anything to mediate.”
For several years, Martin has held resentment toward her father, but it’s something she’s come to terms with as an adult.
“Our buffer was gone and we were just at the mercy of other people. My mom was taken advantage of,” Martin said. “Looking back, I dealt with it being mad at my dad. I just found everything I could be mad about at him because it’s easier to be mad than to be sad.”
She dove into a “teenage wasteland” as a 14-year-old after her father’s death, Martin said.
“My first year of high school started two months after what happened,” she said. “There were death threats written on the bathroom walls.
“A teacher called me out, saying my family was trash and all sort of things. I just got drunk and stoned and just stayed that way until I could get out of town. That would not have happened if my father had been alive, but it did.”
A new documentary called “Seadrift” by director Tim Tsai has helped Martin express and better handle what happened in 1979 and the years after.
Martin said she plans to continue spreading her father’s story, information about the “Seadrift” film and how others can help those on the border, as well.