Legacies of war
The Washington Post
Annie Gowen, Bureau chief — New Delhi
Linda Davidson, Photography
Forty years after the fall of Saigon, soldiers’ children are still left behind
Vo Huu Nhan was in his vegetable boat in the floating markets of the Mekong Delta when his phone rang. The caller from the United States had stunning news — a DNA database had linked him with a Vietnam vet believed to be his father.
Nhan, 46, had known his father was an American soldier named Bob, but little else.
“I was crying,” Nhan recalled recently. “I had lost my father for 40 years, and now I finally had gotten together with him.”
But the journey toward their reconciliation has not been easy. News of the DNA match set in motion a chain of events involving two families 8,700 miles apart that is still unfolding and has been complicated by the illness of the veteran, Robert Thedford Jr., a retired deputy sheriff in Texas.
When the last American military personnel fled Saigon on April 29 and 30, 1975, they left behind a country scarred by war, a people uncertain about their future and thousands of their own children. These children — some half-black, some half-white — came from liaisons with bar girls, “hooch” maids, laundry workers and the laborers who filled sandbags that protected American bases.
They are approaching middle age with stories as complicated as the two countries that gave them life. Growing up with the face of the enemy, they were spat on, ridiculed, beaten. They were abandoned, given away to relatives or sold as cheap labor. The families that kept them often had to hide them or shear off their telltale blond or curly locks. Some were sent to reeducation or work camps, or ended up homeless and living on the streets.
They were called “bui doi,” which means “the dust of life.”
Forty years later, hundreds remain in Vietnam, too poor or without proof to qualify for the program created by the Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987 that resettles the children of American soldiers in the United States.
Now, an Amerasian group has launched a last-chance effort to reunite fathers and children with a new DNA database on a family heritage Web site. Those left behind have scant information about their GI dads — papers and photographs were burned as the communist regime took hold, and memories faded. So DNA matches are their only hope…
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