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Vietnam's war orphans set to return 30 years later (operation baby lift)
Associated Press ^ | Sat, May. 14, 2005 | ERRIN HAINES

Posted on 05/15/2005 4:57:29 AM PDT by Arkie2

ALPHARETTA, Ga. - Tanya Bakal has spent much of her life running from Nguyen Thu Kim Phung.

Three decades ago, she left that name in Vietnam, along with her biological mother and her culture. Next month, she hopes to find them all.

Bakal's search will take her more than 9,200 miles away to Saigon, now renamed Ho Chi Minh City. As a toddler then named Nguyen, she was airlifted from the war-torn city in a rescue effort that eventually brought more than 3,000 Vietnamese children to the United States, where American families adopted them.

Bakal and 19 of the 56 other orphans who were on the first of those rescue missions, collectively known as "Operation Babylift," will make the long trip back in June. They don't speak the language, many of their names have changed and some - including Bakal - don't even know their real birthday.

"I took this for granted when I was growing up, but now I really feel like I'm a part of history," she said. "It would be so neat to be out there and actually meet my mother."

Their journey, which was nearly thwarted, began April 2, 1975.

Ed Daly, former president of Atlanta-based World Airways, had originally planned to fly 1,500 children from Saigon to Oakland, Calif. The children, mostly babies, were either orphaned or had been given up by their parents.

That night, Daly managed to leave with 57 children in a harrowing takeoff from a pitch-black runway after the lights were shut off. In the air, the plane's lights were kept off to keep the Vietnamese military from shooting it down.

News of the flight traveled quickly, and the next day, President Gerald Ford was deluged with telephone calls to do something to save the children of Vietnam. The World Airways flight was the catalyst for Operation Babylift. The U.S. government brought thousands more children out of Vietnam as Saigon was falling that April.

Until recently, Vietnam was just a birthplace for Bakal, her journey out of Saigon simply a footnote in her life, not a defining moment.

Bakal almost didn't make the trip. She was set to board the ill-fated C5-A cargo plane that crashed a few days later, killing almost half of the 330 adults and children on board. Instead, she was among those hastily boarded on the World Airways trip.

Still, Bakal said she never thought of herself as different or orphaned.

"All my life, I never wanted to find them," she said, referring to her Chinese mother, who lived in Vietnam, and father, whom she believes was an American soldier.

"But my kids know where they came from, my husband knows where he came from. I would love to identify with someone," said Bakal, who will make the trip to Vietnam with her husband, Joey, who was born in the United States and is of Russian descent.

The 31-ish mother of three young children said she grew up in the then mostly white Atlanta suburb of Marietta trying to blend in, wanting a face to match her Southern twang. Bakal was adopted by a white couple, Reed and Laura Dilbeck, a flight engineer and a hypnotherapist. Her only sibling - an older, adopted brother - is white.

As a teenage cashier working at a grocery store, she was called a "gook" by a war veteran. She spent years wishing her eyes were wider, rounder, more Caucasian.

"I rejected being around other Asians," she admitted, adding that she purposely shunned them to minimize being singled out.

It was a feeling shared by many of the Vietnamese adoptees growing up, said Shirley Peck-Barnes, author of "The War Cradle," which documents the legacy of Operation Babylift.

"A lot of the kids still feel a great loss of their culture. Many have Americanized and don't want to go back," she said, noting that others are very grateful and are using their talents in the U.S. and Vietnam.

Vietnam War adoptee Wendy Greene, who will be on the same flight with Bakal next month, has been back to Vietnam on business, but looks forward to meeting other former war orphans and those who made her American life possible.

"I'm not looking up any biological roots. That's not something I want to do. ... I never really needed to go down that road," said Greene, 30, who will be traveling with her adopted mother, Cheryl, who lives in Charlotte, N.C.

"I want to thank all the heroes that got us over here. That's what's most important to me," Wendy Greene said. "We really are all miracle babies."

Stories like these are why Peck-Barnes called Operation Babylift the greatest humanitarian gesture of the last century.

"This is the one thing about the Vietnam War that made Americans feel relief," she said. "They were saving children."

Long before talk of a return to Vietnam, Bakal two years ago began searching for information about the birth mother she never knew.

She has collected mementos from her past: her original passport from Vietnam, the picture of her as a smiling baby that melted her parents' hearts from across the ocean, newspaper clippings recounting her story.

For weeks, she has run an ad in a Vietnamese newspaper with her baby picture, hoping her birth mother would recognize it and come forward. Bakal is hopeful that her return will also mean a reunion, or at least answers to questions she is now ready to ask.

"Everyone has a beginning," she said. "I want to find mine."


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: operationbabylift; vietnam

1 posted on 05/15/2005 4:57:30 AM PDT by Arkie2
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To: Arkie2

Bump for later.


2 posted on 05/15/2005 5:26:06 AM PDT by Ben Hecks
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To: Arkie2

"As a teenage cashier working at a grocery store, she was called a "gook" by a war veteran. "

No mention in this story of the discrimination that mixed-race kids got in Vietnam. She would have had a horrible life in her native country.

The sad fact is that her mom may have been put in a re-education camp and didn't make it out.


3 posted on 05/15/2005 5:41:28 AM PDT by BeAllYouCanBe (No French Person Was Injured In The Writing Of This Post)
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To: BeAllYouCanBe

Even with the negative tone of parts of the article it's clear these orphans are happy to be Americans and glad they made it out. If I recall, operation babylift tried to get mostly mixed race children out because they knew their fate if they remained in Vietnam.


4 posted on 05/15/2005 6:01:39 AM PDT by Arkie2 (No, I never voted for Bill Clinton.)
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To: Arkie2

As a teenage cashier working at a grocery store, she was called a "gook" by a war veteran.

** She is obviously a better, civilized person than myself. I'm thinking of a few less than tactful comebacks *lol*


5 posted on 05/15/2005 6:04:25 AM PDT by cyborg (Serving fresh, hot Anti-opus since 18 April 2005)
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To: Arkie2

PBS had a documentary called Daughter from DaNang. It was really good except the daughter ended up rejecting the mother at the end :(


6 posted on 05/15/2005 6:06:30 AM PDT by cyborg (Serving fresh, hot Anti-opus since 18 April 2005)
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To: Ben Hecks; BeAllYouCanBe

http://www.adopting.org/heidi.html

a follow up from the PBS documentary I mentioned


7 posted on 05/15/2005 6:17:25 AM PDT by cyborg (Serving fresh, hot Anti-opus since 18 April 2005)
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To: BeAllYouCanBe
The sad fact is that her mom may have been put in a re-education camp and didn't make it out.

Assuming she was alive to be put in the camp(s). These kids were "War Orphans after all. Some were given up for adoption, but many others were true orphans, or at least motherless, with their father some GI that may not even know of their existance.

8 posted on 05/15/2005 6:31:51 AM PDT by El Gato
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To: BeAllYouCanBe
The sad fact is that her mom may have been put in a re-education camp and didn't make it out.

Assuming she was alive to be put in the camp(s). These kids were "War Orphans after all. Some were given up for adoption, but many others were true orphans, or at least motherless, with their father some GI that may not even know of their existance.

9 posted on 05/15/2005 6:31:51 AM PDT by El Gato
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To: Arkie2

.

After the Fall of Saigon came the...


JOURNEY from the FALL *

http://www.Freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1308949/posts (Pictures)


* Soon to be a Major Motion Picture

.


10 posted on 05/15/2005 6:34:03 AM PDT by ALOHA RONNIE ("ALOHA RONNIE" Guyer/Veteran-"WE WERE SOLDIERS" Battle of IA DRANG-1965 http://www.lzxray.com)
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To: ALOHA RONNIE

mark to read later...and yes I confess to liking the Chuck Norris movie about this thread topic.


11 posted on 05/15/2005 6:35:29 AM PDT by cyborg (Serving fresh, hot Anti-opus since 18 April 2005)
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To: BeAllYouCanBe
This is a fascinating topic, personally. A pet subject, if you will. It's true that mixed raced kids were considered less than human in Vietnam - until the US gave immigration preferences to anyone who could prove that a US serviceman fathered them. Then, they became "children of gold" with folks pretending to be relatives, exploiting some of these kids to get to the US.

Having said that, I've always placed a large part of the "blame" for these children on the U.S. servicemen who should've "rested and recreated" in ways other that would not leave fatherless children in Vietnam, South Korea, Okinawa, etc.

No, I'm not being puritanical, nor am I a blame-the-men feminazi. However, what does that say about a soldier who fathers a kiddo, knowingly or unknowing, where that kiddo will be impoverished and rejected? And, guess what, I also lay responsibility on the local cultures (e.g., Philippines, Thailand), where the local men may not have fulfilled their responsibilities to their girls such that they would consider working in the entertainment industry...

Sorry to go on and on....I'm just opinionated about the topic.

I happened to know where I "came from" with dear parents who are still happily married; however, it's personally disturbing to think I'd be rejected in numerous countries as sub-human alien, since I'm not fully whatever. And in response to the person they singled out in this article who ain't so happy about her circumstances, I'd like to say I'm THANKFUL to live in a country, maybe the only country in the world, where folks really don't care what mix or not-mixed you are -- America. Thanks, fellow Americans, for always accepting me as a fellow American, period.

12 posted on 05/15/2005 6:38:35 AM PDT by elk
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To: elk

I feel the same way.


13 posted on 05/15/2005 6:40:02 AM PDT by cyborg (Serving fresh, hot Anti-opus since 18 April 2005)
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To: El Gato

A child is an orphan even if only one parent is dead.


14 posted on 05/15/2005 7:04:02 AM PDT by August West (To each according to his ability, from each according to his need...)
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To: Arkie2

I think I met Ms. Greene on a flight from Atlanta to Dothan, Alabama. This young lady was a consultant with a major defense contractor in DC and was going to Ft. Rucker that day. If this is the same lady, she is one very, very sharp gal. After she learned I was a Viet vet, we had a nice conversation. We were before then, but it became livelier after that. When we parted, I thought to myself, "that young lady is going to go far in this world".


15 posted on 05/15/2005 8:02:47 AM PDT by miele man
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To: All; cyborg; Lexington Green; generalissimoduane; RonDog; AnnaZ; Carl/NewsMax; Ann Coulter; ...


.


NEVER FORGET


On April 30, 2005, the 30th Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, I was blessed to see a Preview of the stunning new Vietnamese-American film titled...


"JOURNEY from the FALL"

Enter Title: http://www.us.imdb.com


I saw it in my old home town, Garden Grove CA, the now part of Little Saigon that I left for the 1st Major Battles of the Vietnam War, and then was blessed to return to, 40 years ago ...exactly.


"JOURNEY" ..like MEL's "PASSION of the CHRIST" .. depicts extreme suffering, only "JOURNEY" didn't occur over 2,000 years ago.

It accurately depicts the extreme pain North Vietnamese Communist captors inflicted upon the once Free South Vietnamese People while they were in captivity, during their push to escape persecution and then depicts the danger they faced on the High Seas in route to their Freedom ..or Death.

All because we abandoned them in the end by cutting off our U.S. Congress' funding of South Vietnam's replacement Ammo to fight against invasion with. This just as the Communist Soviet Union gave $6 Billion in heavy tanks and artillery to the North for its 'Final Solution' in the South.


Upon its Release be sure to see "JOURNEY" ..and weep.

We in the Little Saigon Preview audience sure did.




Signed:.."ALOHA RONNIE" Guyer
Veteran-"WE WERE SOLDIERS" Battle of IA DRANG-1965

http://www.WeWereSoldiers.com
http://www.ThePassionoftheChrist.com
http://www.lzxray.com/guyer_set1.htm


NEVER FORGET

.


16 posted on 05/15/2005 8:26:19 AM PDT by ALOHA RONNIE ("ALOHA RONNIE" Guyer/Veteran-"WE WERE SOLDIERS" Battle of IA DRANG-1965 http://www.lzxray.com)
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To: ALOHA RONNIE

Thank you for the preview of this movie...I KNOW I'll weep. I also look forward to reading through all of your links...I LOVE YOUR'S! :)


17 posted on 05/15/2005 8:51:31 AM PDT by Ros42
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To: Arkie2

Here's afollow up article. It's about the return of some of the orphans to Vietnam.

World Airways is commemorating its historic “Operation Babylift” airlift of 57 Vietnamese orphans from Saigon 30 years ago with a special flight that will return 20 former orphans for a visit to their homeland. The commemorative flight, “Operation Babylift – Homeward Bound,” will depart from Atlanta on June 12, 2005, stopping at the company’s former headquarters city, Oakland, Calif., before heading on for a two-day visit in Ho Chi Minh City. The guests will tour the city and will be honored at a special banquet in the Unification Palace.

“The historic World Airways flight from Tan Son Nhut Air Base on April 2, 1975, epitomized the courage and determination of the company’s employees and its leadership,” said Randy Martinez, World’s president and chief executive officer. “Despite the obstacles, World pilots Ken Healy and Bill Keating followed the orders of Ed Daly, the company’s dynamic president at that time, and lifted off the unlit runway late at night in a DC-8 cargo aircraft, carrying those 57 children over the Pacific Ocean to new lives in America.”

That flight to California led to an even larger Operation Babylift effort by the U.S. government throughout the month of April 1975, rescuing approximately 4,000 children. World Airways contacted 20 of those children, now adults, who were adopted by U.S. families 30 years ago, and invited them for this special trip aboard one of World’s modern MD-11 wide-body passenger aircraft, specially painted with the company’s former red and white design and logo from 1975. Some of the invited adoptees were on that historic World flight April 2, or were on one of two additional voluntary flights World operated that month.

“Thirty years ago, World Airways opened a door that led me to a new life in the United States,” said Jeff Thanh Gahr, one of the young passengers on that daring flight April 2. Gahr is now an engineer for The Boeing Company, and will be one of the participants in Operation Babylift – Homeward Bound.

Martinez and several invited guests will travel with the group on the flight. Healy, Keating, other members of the original crew and several ground support employees who participated in Operation Babylift also have been invited on the special flight. They will be joined by Ross Meador, who placed the 57 children on the 1975 flight from an orphanage he managed for Friends of the Children of Vietnam (FCVN), and Shirley Peck-Barnes, author of “The War Cradle” who has kept in touch with many of the adopted children and their families over the past 30 years.

“Many of the 20 former orphans have never had the opportunity to return to Vietnam and see their homeland,” Martinez said. “We expect this to be a very emotional and fulfilling voyage for the adoptees, their family members and our own employees. That dramatic effort epitomized the humanitarian culture World Airways has continued to foster over the years.”


18 posted on 05/15/2005 9:09:58 AM PDT by Arkie2 (No, I never voted for Bill Clinton.)
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To: Ben Hecks
Hi...I am the person from this article, Tanya Bakal. I know that it is a FAR shot in the dark I will find my birth mother. I won't be devastated if I don't find her. My whole goal of going on this trip is to reconnect with my birthplace and meet my fellow Americans who risked their life to save these innocent babies. This article focused some of the attention on my negative childhood. What childhood does not? When I was asked if I felt "different" growing up? I responded "I never felt different until I looked in the mirror." Understand the teasing was not until middle school and it was kids being kids...that is it. (as a youth, it does impact the way you feel about yourself) Has it happened in my adult life, absolutely not. The man in the grocery store, he was bitter and found someone who he could blame. As a kid at 16 years old, it was very traumatic. I have VERY fond memories growing up and I lived a very normal childhood. I am thankful to my adopted parents and their family and friends who supported their decision to adopt me
19 posted on 05/16/2005 4:58:08 AM PDT by Me123
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To: Me123
Best wishes to you, Tanya, in your search. I used to work with another 'airlift baby' and while she loved her parents greatly, she said she had feelings much like yours and wanted someday to find out about her birth mother. I think that's only natural. Hers is a dramatic tale because she was placed aboard at the 'last minute' on one of two rescue helicopters. The other one crashed and burned.

She, too, experienced some racism while growing up, but it probably had more to do with the fact that she is Black-Vietnamese and her adoptive parents are White. I haven't kept in touch with her but I imagine she has had continued success as a television news producer.

One of my nieces was adopted from Korea as an infant and my sister took her back to her birthplace as a high school graduation present. They went to the orphanage and she was able to see a couple of photos of her mom, read about her father and talk to the 'temporary mom' who cared for her in the orphanage. Even though she wasn't able to meet her birth mother, it was a wonderful, sort of 'healing' experience for her AND my sister.

So, even though it is as you said, a FAR shot in the dark you will find your birth mother, it will surely be a rewarding experience nevertheless.

20 posted on 05/16/2005 5:25:11 AM PDT by arasina (So there.)
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To: arasina
Thank you for your kind words and sharing your story. I am a little upset because this article did not focus on what this trip means to me (not everything I stated was written ~ there is so many more positive things about my life). It makes it sound like this poor women is in desperation looking for her birth mother and she had such a depressing childhood. The truth is, I was given pictures of me a nun at the orphanage two years ago. I thought to myself at that point, if I can find the nun maybe she has answers to my past. I did find her and that is what triggered my curiosity to go further. Words can't describe how excited I am to share this trip with my husband...to show him where I was born.
21 posted on 05/16/2005 5:51:14 AM PDT by Me123 (Many thanks!)
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To: Me123; Arkie2

I suspect that your post #19 was meant for Arkie2. Regardless, I congratulate you for overcoming what must have been major challenges to mature into an articulate and obviously successful person. I wish you success on your trip and hope that it serves to fill a void in your life. I became acquainted with the USAF Loadmaster that was on the ill-fated C-5A that crashed with the orphans aboard. The fact that there were survivors was a testament to the skill of the crew. Best wishes for a memorable and fulfilling trip.


22 posted on 05/16/2005 7:02:41 AM PDT by Ben Hecks
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