"Tell 'em up there in Washington that what they's doing to us down here is dumping in a whole bunch of communists, a whole bunch of Viet Cong," said Brawder Thomas Aplin, trying not to cry.
"Tell 'em that just as long as there's one gook left in a fishing town on this Gulf Coast, there's going to be trouble. There's going to be war."
Aplin, a rough-cut man of 52, wiped away tears, lifted himself from the gunnel of a weatherbeaten boat in his yeard, and walked toward his house.
"What I am saying is the truth," he said, struggling for composure. "It's the truth and you better tell 'em that."
The "truth" in this Gulf Coast town of 1,300 people has worn many faces since last week, when Aplin's 35-year-old son, Billy Joe, was shot to death during a fight with Vietnamese fishermen.
The incident sparked an outbreak of anti-Vietnamese violence and a subsequent exodus of at least 100 of the town's 150 refugees that brought national attention to Seadrift. The incident also brought a federal mediator, Robert Alexander, and a Vietnamese representative from the U.S. Catholic Conference. Alexander, sent here by the Justice Department's Community Relations Division, said his meetings with townspeople would not be completed before Monday.
Two Vietnamese brothers, Chinh Van Nguyen, 20, and Fau Van Nguyen, 21, have been charged in the killing and jailed. Meanwhile, no one, according to Seadrift Mayor Rayburn Haynie, has been labeled a suspect in a round of firebombings of a Vietnamese fishing boat that followed Aplin's death.
It will be some time before authorities sort out responsibility for the violence, Haynie said today. But the 34-year-old mayor said he believes he understands the underlying cause of what is being called a "fisherman's feud."
"The whole thing was a failure to communicate," he said. "The Vietnamese needed more training before they were brought in here.... The problem is that the government just brings 'em in, dumps them out and says: "Here, this is the land of opportunity.""
Haynie said he is worried about the national image his town is getting.
"It looks like the whole damned city is running the Vietnamese out of town, and this is just not the case," he said. However, Haynie said he personally would not ask the Vietnamese who left to return.
Seadrift is one of several Gulf Coast fishing communities to experience conflicts between Vietnamese refugees and American fishermen in recent years. There have been violent outbursts in Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, and in Tampa and Pensacola, Fla. There and other conflicts usually have stemmed from allegations that the Vietnamese violated unwritten rules adhered to by Americans - the setting of crab traps too near those of other fishermen, for example. Seadrift, however, is the first fishing community where a Vietnamese-American dispute has led to death.
It is a distinction that many residents here say they would rather not have, and it particularly disturbs Leon Ruthenberg, a Baltimore restaurateur responsible for bringing many of the Vietnamese to Seadrift to work at his crab-packing plant.
"I didn't open this plant to get anyone killed," Ruthenberg said today. "I only wanted to run a good business that could give people jobs."
Ruthenberg's operation, Bo Brooks of Texas Inc., supplies "very large, high-quality crabs" to his Baltimore restaurant.
The plant has been closed since last Monday, when most of the Vietnamese who work for him fled in fear.
"This whole thing is crazy," he said. "The only thing I'm interested in right now is getting this situation settled. I am not interested in news stories and I'm not interested inpublicity. I only want to get this mess cleaned up and to make peace with the community."
Although most of the town's 160 Vietnamese lived in a tiny trailer park surrounding the plant, Ruthenberg said not all of them worked for him.
"We have 80 people working for us in the plant. And of that number there are only 24 Vietnamese. The rest are local residents. The only reason why there are so many Vietnamese living here is because the 24 people [Vietnamese] who work for me have large families," he said.
Asked if he thought the Vietnamese who fled would return, Ruthenberg said: "Some of them have already started coming back. But I do not know if they will stay. They are terrified."
The fear is felt on both sides.
Many Seadrift residents say they lock their doors and keep their windows closed in fear of retaliation from the Vietnamese.
"We know what kind of people the Vietnamese are," said one resident, who requested anonymity. "They have been living with war for the past 30 years. They are not afraid of death. I really think they are natural-born killers."
That is a feeling that the Rev. Don Gallatin, pastor of the First Baptist Church, is working quietly to dispel.
"If we can solve the communications problem, if we can eliminate this fear, we might have a chance to work things out," Gallatin said.
"What happened in Seadrift could happen any place. We're no different from any other town our size."
The minister, who moved here from Houston two years ago, said he, too, worries about Seadrift's portrayal on television and in press reports.
"If I didn't know Seadrift, based on all of the press reports I've seen, I wouldn't ever want to come here, not even as a pastor," he said.
However, Gallatin conceded that the events of the past week have uncorked emotions that have been pent-up and seething in Seadrift for some time. He and other local leaders say that the community feels its refugee problem have been ignored by local, state and federal officials.
"There is a real feeling of isolation, and I think we're seeing some of that frustration coming out in all of this," Gallatin said.
Brawder Aplin said today he doesn't think he will ever get over his son's death or learn to accept those whom he feels are responsible. "My son died standing up for human rights," he said., "And as long as my feet are in my shoes, I will stand up and fight for the same thing." CAPTION: Picture, La Thanh Nhi and Dang Thanh Vinh survey remains of their firebombed boat.