VN Adoptee – Chicago, USA
Jackson, A. (2000). Story first published in Chicago at Adam’s school, with Adam later given permission for AVI to publish it so he can share his thoughts and experiences with others.
Archive / posted 2000
Only Beginning – Part 1
By Adam Jackson
For most of my twenty-three years I’ve just been me: funny, caring, athletic, optimistic and of course, witty. There were no worries about my cultural identity because I knew who I was: 100% Vietnamese and an American. My roots were buried deep within me, and I never bothered to dig them up for inspection. Then, two things happened and made me want to explore the Vietnamese-side of myself. Coincidentally these two things happened right about the same time in my life. I like to think of them as nudges in the right direction.
One thing that made me think about my self-identification was a class called “African American Autobiographies”. I enjoy reading about real people and real stories. During this course I learned about the genre of autobiography and also a great deal about African American history. Our class read many different African Americans writers who all had intriguing stories: Frederick Douglas, Langston Hughes, Jarena Lee, Septima Clark, Assata Shakur, Jewel Gomez, James Baldwin, Zora Neal Hurston and Elizabeth Keckley. Some names I had heard of, but most were unknown to me.
Their stories were filled with great detail, vividness, wit and emotion that inspired me to become engrossed in their lives and experiences. Reflecting on their stories and learning about things that influenced their lives, I realized how little we sometimes know about history or about people’s lives. Many of these stories were heroic, commemorative, and thought provoking. Struck by their plights and struggles that they had to overcome, I wondered why I had never heard of, or been told these stories before? They seemed so important, yet untold to my generation and me. Why was that?
The first day of class about fifty students filed into the lecture hall 1121 Humanities. Our professor, Katherine Mellen, stood at the front of the room and watched us come in; she greeted each of us with a warm smile. Her light strawberry-colored hair was hidden under a fancy black hat, and she wore a majestic dress full of purples, blues and blacks that made her look like a product of the 60’s, which she probably was. When the bell rang, Professor Mellen walked to the back of the room and shut the thick wooden door. As she walked pass me in the next to the last row I smiled and put my student newspaper, the “Badger Herald” in my backpack. Several other students did the same, and she smiled at us over her shoulder.
“Good People,” she said. “Welcome to African American 265. My name is Katherine Mellen and I will be your instructor for this course.”
Her voice was loud and clear, which was a little unexpected because of her small stature. She stood and leaned with her elbows on the podium in the front of the room as she continued to tell us about what she expected us to accomplish in the course: what the requirements were, how she expected us to participate in class discussions and other things that can be expected in every course. Finally she concluded by asking if we had any questions. When she looked out at us, we all looked passively, tight-lipped back at her. Arms folded, her smile turned less comforting.
After reaching into a manila envelope and pulling out a stack of white note cards, our instructor paced down the isle. “Well if there aren’t any questions I’d like you to fill out the note cards that I am passing out,” she said licking her thumb at the front of each row so she could count exactly enough cards to pass out. “First put your name, your intended major and year on it. Then I would like you to put down your email address, phone number and why you are taking this course.”
A few students filed in late, and she stared at them as they took their seats near the isle of the second row. She gave them note cards, and then walked to the blackboard and wrote the information she wanted, and pointed to it. They nodded and got their pencils out. As we were busy writing, she continued to lean against the wooden podium that sat on the long empty table and watched us fill out our cards. The intensity of her stare made me wonder if I really wanted to be in this class.
Although it wasn’t a graded assignment, she made it feel as if she was going to look at the note cards very closely and judge whom really wanted to be in her class. Her directive tone of voice and powerful stares made it seem that way. It also seemed as if it was her way or the highway that first day of class. Her smiles grew more and more cynical as we sat, uninterested in what she was saying. We scribbled down what she wanted, and on the bottom of my note card I wrote, “I am taking this class because I heard there was a really cool professor teaching it.” She collected the note cards row by row.
“OK, now I’d like you all to take out a sheet of paper and we’ll just take, oh, let’s say ten minutes or so, and I’d like for you to start your own autobiographies. It can be a scene in your life, it can be your life story, it can be whatever you want right now. . .” her voice faded.
“Hey! I thought we were supposed to be reading autobiographies, not writing them,” one student whispered to a friend who was just in front of me. We all grinned as we looked for a piece of paper in our backpacks.
There were a fair number of other groans from the other fifty or so students. We wanted it to be like most of our other classes on the first day: get a syllabus, go over it and then leave forty minutes early. Instead there were slow, deliberate, loud noises of banging wood as we pulled out the wooden desks from in front of our seats. Professor Mellen watched our agony and smiled. It was like she was feeding us a teaspoon of amoxicillin, but we weren’t sick. We puckered and choked it down.
The idea of the exercise didn’t really bother me that much. It was mostly the fact that I wanted to leave that was making me anxious. My anxiety distracted my thoughts, so I sat there in silence brainstorming ideas. Where to start writing? I was looking up at Professor Mellen and I couldn’t tell if her glare was directed at me. My eyes darted down to study my blank blue college lined paper instead. After a few minutes of thinking, I resolved to start from the beginning:
Life is turbulent starting Day 1. It’s a good thing we don’t remember being naked and cold, crying to the Lord Almighty. In my case, she may not have heard me anyway because as I entered the world helicopters, airplanes, machine gun fire and bombs were littered in everyone’s ears, probably even mine, maybe even God’s.
Vietnam was a horrible thing from what I’ve seen and been told. I can only imagine what it must have been like in that time of War. It is a part of me, but somehow I’ve forgotten it, never known much about it. I have never revisited those times, or even looked back at what happened. In books, TV and movies I’ve seen the pain and horrific stories depict what happened. But can those medium really give that pain justice?
It didn’t take very long for me to escape my helpless situation, but as my mother tells me, it took a long time for me to forget. I cried constantly as an infant, but my family, besieged with my screams and tears, surrounded me with love. My mother tells me when an ambulance or a fire truck would roar past our house on Columbus Street in Lodi, Wisconsin, it would set me off, and I’d go into a screaming tantrum.
God Bless my family for their love. I can only imagine what a hellion I must have been trying to adjust to the peace. Peace.
I was adopted so young it didn’t matter what my mother looked like. My tiny slanted eyes did not see the blonde curls or her pale white skin. I only felt the warmth that a mother’s bosom gives to her infant son. I clung to her, always carried wherever we were; teaching piano lessons, at the bakery, at the grocery store, in church, or even at the dinner table. If there were any worries about me being able to attach to my new mother, they were soon put to rest. The bond between mother and child was natural.
When Professor Mellen told us to stop writing, I wanted to continue. The story was only beginning to take shape in my head. It made me feel excited to think about how I would tell my story. Class had to move on, though, and Professor Mellen was going to make sure we completed what she wanted to get done. She hauled out four articles for us to read for the next class period on Friday.
“And pick-up the course reader at the copy center, because there’s an article in there that you should have read by next time,” she added as we packed up to leave. “Oh, and who’s, Adam Jackson?” she asked. Surprised, I raised my hand and looked up at her. “Cute,” she said as she waved my note card in the air. We exchanged smiles as I got up to leave. I knew that the course wouldn’t be easy, but I felt better about it. The topic intrigued me and with a professor who had a sense of humor it couldn’t be all that bad.
Our young instructor was excited to tell us all about African American autobiographies and discuss the lives of these great authors. We learned about what was happening before, during and after their struggles and triumphs as they told their stories. We even traced through a lot of the African American history starting in their native land. She rattled off information about the Middle Passage, details about the emancipation of the slaves, the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights movement, and other facts about the authors’ lives. She made us look at things critically: why did they tell this in their story, why didn’t they tell this? Who was the audience they were writing for and what constraints might this put on their writing? What did their gender/class mean to the larger community? What is community? How do you define Justice? And on and on.
We diligently wrote as fast as we could. “I’m a very tough grader,” she said on the first day. That brought fear to many of us, so we jotted down every last detail. Kat, as we soon became accustomed to calling our young professor, would always stop and make sure that we understood the timeline and the information that she was feeding us. “Are there any questions?” she would ask, and we looked dumbfoundly at her. “Well just stop me if there is any questions and I’ll try to clear things up.” It wasn’t until a few weeks later that anyone was brave enough to stop her.
There were a couple of class periods that Kat surprised us during the semester, two of which stand out in my mind. Before these two classes she gave us no warning that what we would hear and see might emotionally affect us. Each class period I knew that Professor Mellen would teach us something new and interesting, but I was not prepared for what I would learn on these two particular days.
Like every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we filed into class, except this time we saw a TV and VCR at the front of the room. For most classes these two things can only mean one thing: Sleep time. We got comfortable in our usual seats and waited for class to begin. The bell rang, and the door was shut.
“Good People,” Kat liked to greet us in her southern accent. “Today we are going to watch a film. It’s about the Black Panthers who you should have read about for today, and then the second part is about a riot that took place at a prison called, Attica.”
A student turned off the lights and she knelt in front to the TV stand trying to figure out where the play button was. She would look up at the TV screen to see if it was playing, but two arrows and FF flashed on the blank blue screen. I snuck out of my front row seat and helped her find the play button.
As she told us, the first part of the film was about the Black Panthers. Unexpectedly, it soon caught our attention and made us sit up and listen to their story. Former Black Panthers were being interviewed and they described how they formed the national black activists group, and what the goals of the Black Panthers were. The film continued on and documented how one of the their leaders had been murdered by the police and FBI, and how it was then covered up in the media and in the police reports. They showed a video they had made following the slaying, and presented their case of how hundreds of rounds had been fired into the bedroom, but none from the inside going out. Their leader lay dead in his bed with his wife screaming murder.
The injustice was hard to watch. How could that have happened, I wondered. It was the first time that I’d seen anything about the Black Panther Movement. It was really interesting because we had read about it, but this film had a much greater impact. We saw their pain, their struggle. Hearing the story from the people who were there and experienced it made the events seem even more authentic, real and important. They somehow seemed heroic.
Then the video documented a prison riot at Attica. Even though it happened so long ago it drew deep into our emotions. I felt compassion for the prisoners – prisoners, struggle for social equality (which was much like all African Americans), and sympathy for their cause. People who had been part of this experience told about what they remembered: prisoners, policemen, FBI agents, the prison warden, and even the governor of New York told their story. It was hard to watch.
How come I, an average student, never heard about these events until now? rang in my head as the bell signaled it was time to go. Instead of packing up and leaving like usual when the bell rang, I sat transfixed on the story that was still playing on the TV. I felt suffocated and my stomach was digesting the turmoil inside as I sat in disbelief of how this could have happened, and why these stories had gone untold. They seemed like an important part of the American quilt to be left buried. I was amazed to think of how things must have been during those “Golden Years” of struggle for social equality.
When I finally left the dark room, the movie was still playing. Other students must have felt the same way because they were still watching the closing credits as I walked out. Usually the room was emptied seconds after the sound of the bell. Another student and I walked down the hall together. We walked silent at first, but then she spoke trying to clear her thoughts out of her head.
“That caught me totally off guard,” she said.
“I know. I wasn’t ready for that at all,” I replied.
“How could that have happened, like in our parents’ lifetime?” she asked.
“Isn’t it weird? We have never heard about this kind of stuff?” I said.
We talked with each other as we walked together down University Avenue. After a couple of blocks we went our separate ways, but I felt a little better because we were able to discuss some of our feelings about what we had watched in class. It made me realize how much there was to know about the past, and unless someone shows you or tells you the stories, they are often forgotten.
The other incident that stands out in my mind took place on the last day of class. Unlike other classes that I had taken in my five years at the University, we had grown together as a group. Although Kat continued to be very demanding, giving pop quizzes on readings, grading papers vigorously, and making all of us participate in discussion, we had all developed a voice and an identity within the class. She made sure all of our voices were heard prompting people to talk by asking questions, having people share parts of an assignment or other creative ways. Usually we were eager to share our thoughts or impressions about class ideas. Often times Kat was able to add information to what we had discussed or wondered about. With a take home final, this would be our last time together as a class.
“Good People,” she welcomed us. For some reason she was not as energetic as usual. “I’ve been procrastinating doing this,” she said. In her right hand she waved a document as evidence. She paused and took a deep breath as if every word she said she was losing strength, life. “Before I read this, are there any questions about Assata or the take-home?” She paused again and looked at us. We sat silently staring back. Her little eyes squinted behind her wiry glasses as she cracked a smile. After another deep breath she began to read. “This class has taught me a lot about myself, and I thank you for all the hard work that you’ve put into making it so successful. It was a lot of fun to teach, and I’d like to reflect on our journey . . .”
I don’t remember everything she said after that, but her words flowed like music played by a symphony. As she reminisced about our class and her own history as a woman in her family, we were still in our seats actively listening. We could hear the voice of a young woman full of many experiences. In between the lines she mixed in all the things she had taught us that go into a good autobiography: individuality, personal/ity, a timeline of events, remembrance, influences, events and people, perspective/philosophy, and much more. Her story made us dumbfounded by the detail, the vividness, and the emotion she left dripping from each word. When she finished we sat motionless, frozen in our seats. No one moved; no one said a word. We sat and looked at our professor who stood before us: mentally and emotionally exhausted.
“That’s it,” she finally said bashfully breaking the silence. She set her story down and leaned on the podium. “You’re free to go,” she commanded us like she was releasing us from confinement. We remained motionless. Here tiny eyes were still squinting behind her small wiry glasses. Her eyes had grown even smaller as she blushed, and the tears weren’t too far behind. I took a deep breath and stood from my seat. Taking a few steps forward I embraced my professor and friend.
“Thank you,” I whispered in her ear. It was the only thing that I could think of. The faint smell of cigarettes and coffee were woven into her sweater as I rested my chin down on her shoulder. “Thank you,” I whispered again.
I could feel the tears streaming down her cheeks. She took a deep breath and we continued to hug one another. As I took a step back, I could barely see her eyes through the tears and fog that had formed on her glasses. She sniffled a little and we exchanged smiles.
“You keep in touch now, Ya hear?” she tried to laugh as she said this. Always the instructor, some things had not changed from the first day of class.
“Of course,” I assured her. “I will.” We exchanged smiles.
It was the prefect way to end a great class. Perfect. There was no impersonal applause like some english classes I had taken. Instead, as I packed up my things to go, the rest of the class had formed a line to say good-bye with handshakes and hugs. Patiently they waited their turn. Some people were crying, others were hiding their tears. We weren’t expecting to get so involved in a class and we all walked away in disbelief. When I got to the top of the stairs and opened the door, the sun shined brightly and a burst of energy went through my body. I wanted to tell the world about my experience: African American 265.
It was hard to explain to other people the impact that this class had on me. The rest of the day I walked around, wanting to share this experience, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Energy was beaming out of my smiles, my spirits were generous and it felt like happiness was radiating from my entire body. I tried to tell some friends how Kat was a master motivator and she was the best instructor that I’d had in my five years here. I told them how great the books were, and how much I had learned from the class. None of them could really understand, though. They would nod their heads and smile politely, but how could I expect them to feel the fire inside me? It felt like winning a NCAA Basketball National Championship and feeling the exhilaration of complete happiness at the accomplishment, but trying to tell people about it wasn’t as meaningful for them. Even fans can’t relate to the sacrifices and struggles a team must endure through a grueling season, and to come out #1. . . you’d have to be part of it.
I continued to try to tell people about my favorite college class. Over winter break when my friends from home would ask, “How was school this semester?” I would try to tell them about my class, but it was useless. They weren’t interested about hearing, or talking about race, justice, community, class or anything that related to this class. Eventually I’d just skip what I wanted to talk about and settle for small talk, “Oh, fine. I’m ready to graduate if you know what I mean.” Then they would casually reply how they were doing and our conversations would skid across the surface of real meaning.
That happened with most people I caught up with, but with Mike it was different. We were best friends ever since I can remember. His mother used to babysit the two of us and some other neighborhood friends when we were kids, and everytime we got into fights she would always sit us down and talk-out our disagreements. Mike and I had become such good friends as little kids that by the time we were in elementary school we had decided we would be the Best Man in each others’ wedding. I don’t remember what sparked the agreement, or if we even knew what that meant back then, but it has stuck ever since. Our close bond as friends goes unsaid mostly, but we always recognize it when we describe ourselves as best friends to other people.
We were driving down East Washington Ave. on our way to East Gate Cinemas. Our conversation soon focused on what movie we wanted to see. Mike drove, and I looked out the window at the stores we passed: K Mart on the right, Wendy’s and Rocky’s on the left, Denny’s on the rightt. . . we kept on talking.
“So, Mike, what movie do you want to see?” I asked.
“Don’t matter to me, man. Heard of any good ones?” he asked.
Neither of us really cared what movie we saw because it was just fun to be together. It was rare for us to able to spend time together since we both started college 300 miles apart. It was mostly on holidays or long weekends that either he’d come home or I’d go down to visit him. There would be times when we wouldn’t see each other or even talk for months on end. Unlike most friends, it didn’t matter to Mike or I. Time apart and distance never seemed to get in the way of our friendship when we were together. We just clicked and no time was lost after a catching up with each other. It was nice to know I’d always have him as my best friend.
“Have you seen ‘Titanic’?” he asked.
“Yeah, it was great,” I said.
“I saw it with this girl who had already seen it four times, and she still cried through the whole movie,” he said. We laughed. “‘Amistad,’ I hear that is supposed to be pretty good,” he said.
“What’s it about,” I asked.
“I’m not really sure, but I know that Steven Spielberg is the director.”
“Oh, wait. Doesn’t it have to do with the Middle Passage?” I could vaguely remember hearing about the movie from a friend.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“You know. The whole slave trade between Africa, Europe and the US . . .” I tried to explain what I had learned about it from my African American class.
“Let’s do it,” he said.
As we sat for the two and a half-hours our eyes were fixed on the screen. The theater was full but you couldn’t tell because it was so quiet. It was emotional watching the injustice and then the heroism that took place. When the final scene ended the credits began to roll, but no one got up from his or her seats; we sat silent and still. As the names of the characters and actors rolled on, the lights went to dim and the music continued to play. Tears welled up in my eyes. Through the distortion of water in my eyes I read the names of all the people who helped to make the movie. Although it was portrayed in a Hollywood style of film, the story rang true in my mind. It made me feel good to see all the research that had gone into making sure the story was as accurate as possible, instead of a made-up Hollywood version of the story. And the names were mostly African names, foreign to my eyes and tongue.
African music advisor. . . . . . . . Dr. —-
African clothing advisor. . . . . . . Dr. —-
African dance advisor. . . . . . . . . Dr. –
When Mike and I finally got up to leave the music had ended and the red curtain was beginning to cover the giant screen. I was still moved by the plight of these African men and women. Many people were just getting up from their seats like we were. No one was talking as we left the theater. Mike and I didn’t say anything until we were almost to the parking lot. All I could think about was how important it would be for a person, any person to see this movie. The Holy Spirit ran through my body, sending shivers to all extremities. To learn about this type of history that we never read about in our textbooks, or heard about in our lectures still surprised me. If I could do it over again, I thought, I’d be an African American major. Their history was embedded in my emotions, partly because of my autobiography class, but also because “Amistad” was another example of how much I didn’t know about history.
“Wow,” Mike said as we got outside.
“I hear ya, Man,” I said. “That was probably one of the most powerful movies that I’ve ever seen.”
“I know. It kind of makes me feel bad being white,” he innocently stated.
I thought, How could you feel bad about being white? This isn’t about you, or anything your parents did, or their parents. This is a story that is about history and the injustices people suffered. This wasn’t even the worse of it, slavery was still on the horizon. This isn’t about you and me now, it’s about feeling compassion for the African-American journey, about the injustices in our society. It was a story untold. It was about knowing the history of your people. I stopped. What is the history of my people? I wondered. Where is the story about the Vietnamese?
That was the other event that nudged me towards my roots. How could I be proud of being Vietnamese if I didn’t even know anything about the history of my people, my culture, and my own journey? As I told Mike how important I thought it was for African Americans to see this brilliant movie, because surly they had been deprived of hearing about it in our classrooms, I also mentioned how important it was to know your own roots. Inside I felt like a hypocrite.
As my last semester of college approached in January of 1998, I knew that I had to take English 695. As I understood it, this would be a writing intensive course that would let me write about almost anything. In the weeks before the start of class I thought about what I wanted to write about. Editing past stories, plays or poems didn’t spark my interest. What I had written didn’t seem important to me anymore. What I wanted to write about was something in the present, something that I could really get into.
First I thought that writing an edited version of my basketball journal for that season might be fun to do. Five years of being a basketball manager had opened my eyes to a lot of things about what it’s like inside a major basketball program. This year had a lot of possibilities, too: Only losing one senior from a team that made it to the NCAA Tournament last year; having a number of nice trips including one to Hawaii; coming home and opening a new 75 million dollar arena; and then playing in the first ever Big Ten Tournament seemed like a story with a lot of potential. But as the season progressed, and the semester was about to start, I knew that’s not what I wanted to write about.
I wanted to write my autobiography. That was the passion that I wanted to pursue. As I thought about the events of the months before: the African American Autobiography class, and then about “Amistad,” I knew that my story was what I wanted to research and write. Writing this would be a challenge, I thought, but it’s time that I take a look back at my roots. This will be a new experience for me that could bring great personal satisfaction, both through writing and researching my own journey, I concluded.
Where to begin? …(more of this story to be added soon)
Only Beginning – Part 2
Where to begin? Like Professor Mellen said, “It can be a scene in your life, it can be your life story, it can be whatever you want right now.” That’s where I thought I was. I tried many times to write about childhood stories that had an impact on me, but they didn’t pique my interest. These childhood stories frustrated me because they weren’t really what I wanted to write about. The story couldn’t begin in the middle of childhood, I thought. Where I really wanted to begin was Day 1, or at least as close to it as I could. I knew that this was going to take a great deal of research and thought, so I tried to construct a picture in my head of what I already knew.
Lying down on my futon, I remember feeling dizzy. There were thousands of thoughts running inside my head: some were stories, some were tiny fragments of stories and others just vague memories that might be resurrected in my story. So many emotions and thoughts continued to flood my body as I looked up at the white plaster ceiling. There were fears of not telling my story well, anxieties of what I would tell. I thought of the experiences, both good and bad; the values that had formed inside of me; the story that was to be told was an ever-changing image that was unclear in my mind. Then a simple question got log jammed in my head. Over and over I tried to solve the puzzle in my mind, but I couldn’t: Where did I come from? Where did I come from?
What I knew about where I came from was what my adoptive parents told me. Early on, they educated me about how I fit into our family: Wendy, the oldest child, Thad, the oldest son, Mandy and then me. The conversations at the kitchen table or in my bedroom were few but very meaningful, a couple I remember vividly. They stand out as some of the some of the most important conversations of my childhood.
“Adam, you and Thad are our adoptive sons,” my mother would explain. Her curly blonde hair and pale skin made it hard not to recognize our different bloodlines. “We first had Wendy, adopted Thad, then I gave birth to Mandy, and finally we adopted you to complete our family.” She spoke in a very kind, motherly tone. “Thad was only six weeks old when we adopted him. His biological mother is from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. We adopted you when you were six months old,” I remember that I didn’t know the difference between months and weeks so that didn’t matter much. “You came from Vietnam and were brought to us on what was called, Operation Babylift.”
My sisters would sit next to us and listen attentively to what our mother said. I must have been about two or three at the time, and understood what she was telling us, but I’m not sure if it fully sunk in. My brother and sister would usually ask some questions after she was done explaining our family, but I don’t think that I ever got interested. Sometimes I wondered to myself, Is Thad’s mom going to come and take him away? Are my parents dead then? These questions were too hard for me to understand, so I just let them pass. I had other things to think about. All that was important was we were family. I had the strong sense of family, and it was apparent how important family was.
Another talk that vividly stuck in my mind reinforced what family meant and how important family was. Again, my mother tried to teach us. She cut into a heated argument between Wendy and Thad. I’m not sure what they were arguing about, but they were still very mad as our mom called us all to sit at the kitchen table. Mandy and I were in our rooms minding our own business, and I remember it annoyed me that we all had to be there for this talk because I wasn’t involved in the fight.
“You kids can fight all you want in this house. I don’t care how bad it gets in here, but once you step outside of this house you support each other. No matter what, if someone puts one of you down or hurts one of you, you better stand up for each other.” Her voice was still kind, yet it wavered with concern. She was instructive and made it very clear as to how we were to act with each other. Anything less would not be acceptable. “Wendy, if your friends call Thad names, or say bad things about any of your brothers or sister, you tell them you don’t want to hear those things, and then get away from them. They aren’t your friends. And Thad, if someone says something mean to you, walk away. Don’t fight with them, because you’ll just get in trouble, too.” That really made sense to me, and it made me feel good to know that my brother and sisters would always be there for me. Our mom gave us good, peaceful advice, and early on in my childhood I remember seeing Thad walk away, again and again from kids whom wanted confrontation. They would jeer, snicker and taunt him about his light-chocolate colored skin and his thick curly black hair. I soon had to learn to walk away, too.
I laid on my bed and remembered these stories in my head. They brought back clear pictures from my childhood. The vision stirred up a lot of thoughts and feelings about being a child. I could remember being taunted by other kids because of the shape of my eyes. They would say, “I wonder what it’s like to have Chinese eyes,” and pull the corners of their eyes so slits barely big enough to see out of. I was so naive that when I got home I would try it to see what it was like to pull the corners of my eyes. It was hard to see through the tiny slits.
There was a picture in my head of a boy, crying, not able to understand why it hurt to be alone in a crowd; to be noticed as different. Children would say, “Oobado jacko laba nebee,” and I wouldn’t understand what they were saying. It hurt though. I remember it hurt. Even as the years past and I was recognized by more people as one of them, as an American, there was still people who would still want to show that we were different. I didn’t want to be white – NO- but I didn’t want to be degraded either.
Then there were happy times that I thought of. The good stories of my childhood seemed to overshadow the bad ones. The good stories began to form in my head and some even turned grander than I first remembered them. One that popped into my head was the one I used to tell my little friends. They always seemed to like my “adventure to America.” Their eyes would open wide in amazement as I told the story about the Babylift. My parents had told me it a number of times, and I had heard them tell it to other people many times, too. The story had become a part of me, and it was a fun story to tell.
“I was brought to the U.S. on what was called Operation Babylift. It was an operation that brought over thousands of babies right before the fall of Saigon.” I am sure that I didn’t know what that really even meant at the time, but it was part of the story. “My parents were in Chicago awaiting my arrival when there was news that the first airplane in the Babylift had been shot down. They knew I was supposed to be on that plane. All of the other hopeful parents were frantically trying to find out if any of the children survived. There was so little information coming out of Vietnam and there was a lot of uncertainty for a long time. Finally my parents got word that I was OK, that I had mistakenly been left off the plane. Then I was scheduled to be on the next plane. Hours later, my anxiously awaiting parents-to-be received word that that plane had also crashed, and they went into a panic again. By some miracle I was left off of that plane, too! I was put on a third plane and safely arrived in Chicago on April 15, 1975.”
People were always amazed by this story, and I guess I was even awe-struck myself. This story somehow made me special. I can remember many difficult times during my adolescent years that I would feel really discouraged, and want to escape all of my despair. After yelling matches with my parents, or inner struggles with where my life was going, I would contemplate how to escape all of the pain. Then I would tell myself, I am here for a reason. Things have worked out this way because someone is watching over me. I can’t give up!
While growing up, this story was essentially the only background I had on my journey to America and my cultural roots that I knew of. At the age of 23, I decided that I needed to start really researching Operation Babylift, using every resource I could find. My family seemed like the best place to start. I wrote an e-mail to all of my family, minus my brother because he didn’t have email, and told them I wanted to begin to write my autobiography, and wanted to start it with the Babylift (Wendy said that she would copy and correspond with Thad so he knew what was going on, too).
They were happy that I was getting in touch with the Vietnamese side of me. We hadn’t really talked that much about it as a family since the childhood discussions. We were a family, One, and our differences were never recognized. Their support always made me feel good and this time was no different. It actually motivated me to want to learn more about the Babylift. I knew that my parents had some documents in a box that would give me information about the Babylift, and that they had some other records about where I had come from. My mom was coming back to Madison from Ohio shortly after the semester began. That seemed like a great opportunity to hear some of her memories about the Babylift, and for her to show me where to find the box.
Before my mom got home she, my dad, and sister Wendy all emailed me to tell me some brief thoughts they remembered about the days preceding my arrival. As I read their emails they made me laugh, motivated me to learn more, and unexpectedly, they made me feel a bit emotional, too: sad, happy, secure, uneasy and inspired.
My mother wrote, “I’m thrilled that you’re getting into this stuff–it will in fact be exciting and interesting for all of us. By the way, you arrived at O’Hare through Seattle/Tacoma from Guam on Sunday, April 6, 1975, not April 15. I think that you know all of the articles from that time period are in the box with your name on it. I don’t know if it was sifted and winnowed without my knowledge or something can be done permanently to preserve it–newspapers, magazines, etc. With the aid of the Internet, maybe a reunion of those who came during that week could be arranged–the year 2000 would obviously be a 25-Year Anniversary. You should probably get a tape recording of the actual events from Dad’s and my perspective also—before it’s too late!! Wendy and Thad were incredibly excited when we got home from O’Hare; Mandy, of course, had to finish eating and THEN she was also excited–first things first! I can still see her sitting in the high chair finishing her Jell-o that evening (Grandma and Grandpa Penniston stayed with them that day).”
The information about my arrival was interesting because for some reason I had thought that the 15th was the day I arrived. The idea about some sort of reunion made me excited to try to get in touch with others like me. Where were we all? The reference to my brother and sisters painted a vivid picture in my mind, and I smiled.
Later that day my sister wrote, “This stuff (re: Vietnam) is incredible! I never allowed myself to think of the possibilities before and now all of these feelings are gushing out. (I’m sure that shocks all of you.) I remember well the day when Adam came. Thad and I were building a fort with green couch cushions insisting to Grandma that “Mom and Dad let us do this all the time.” I must not have been in my body cast because of my hips at that time. I remember that Mandy was in a particularly bad mood that day (the glare was deadly and the cheeks were rosy). It seemed like a long day and we didn’t quite know what was going on (regarding all of the transport problems) but were definitely aware that Grandma was getting serious telephone calls (from you, Mom, at O’Hare) throughout the day. We were also QUITE SURE we were getting a new baby brother before we went to bed that day. Thad and I used to crawl up on the chair in front of the kitchen bureau to look at the one and only picture of Adam we had – we’d brag to everyone that this was our new brother. I spent a lot of time perched up there wondering how this kid was going to make it to our house from so far away. The picture seemed very old to me and in retrospect, I believe I thought Adam looked wise.
And then there was the day I told our baby-sitter ( I think it was Kathy Penniston for some reason) that we ALL had to drink soy milk just like Adam. To prove it, I took a long swig and promptly gagged. Pretending to speak Vietnamese was much easier.”
Wendy always had the ability to paint vivid pictures about events. As I read her email I thought about the emotions that she was revisiting and it made me touched just thinking about it. I took a deep breath and thanked the Good Lord that I had such a wonderful family. Her stories about fooling my grandma and Mandy’s mood seemed especially vivid, and they made me laugh.
Finally my father wrote a typical Dad note that evening. “AJ. . . I think your research project is the coolest thing you’ve ever done. . . You are gonna learn so much about yourself and everybody else!! . . . My most vivid memories of Sunday, April 6, 1975 are: (1) What a neat kid you were. (2) How moved I was when they did the ceremony to unload you kids from the aircraft. . . I thought to myself. . . Wow, I’m on the “cutting edge” of history. . . (3) How rude and discourteous the press was to prospective parents, especially those who did not know for sure or whether their child was well and alive or sick or dead or what. . . (4) How totally defeated and deflated I felt when somebody in the airport wanted to buy you. . . I could not believe that. . . you are PRICELESS. . . (5) The importance of Jell-o to Mandy. . . There may be a lot of spelling errors in this because I cannot see what I am typing at this point. . . I am typing by braille. . . Keep up the good work and stay in touch. . . Love, DAD
It was a classic message from my dad: full of numbers, brief and to the point memories, and with humor sprinkled throughout. After reading all three of their stories it made me feel good, and excited to start the real research into the past.
When my mother got home that early February afternoon I remember going to see her at the condo and giving her a big hug. My sister, Mandy was also home from Atlanta, and she was anxious to get started helping me find the box labeled, ‘Vietnam Memorabilia,” in black permanent marker. As we went down to the storage room I thought about what might be in the box, and how fun it would be to read through the articles and documents. I could vaguely remember rummaging through this box as a little boy, but just to look at the pictures and see the baby clothes that I came over in. This is were the journey was really beginning for me. The old cardboard box was always there to teach me, and now I was finally going to look through it. I later wrote down some of my first impressions of looking through the box, and how I felt about the experience:
The old cardboard storage box was kept in my closet when I was a kid. The top of it was slanting down in the middle because things had been piled on it for so long. Often times I used it as a step when I needed to get my baseball cards off of the top shelf. I never looked through it, though. It was just full of old newspapers and magazines; nothing I was interested in as a kid. Playing with G. I. Joe, Star Wars figures, or my remote control car were a lot more fun than reading discolored newspapers and Time magazines from 1975.
I dug out the contents from that box. They had been moved into a new and more stable brown box in my parents’ storage closet in their new condo. As I carried it up the stairs and put it on the kitchen table I felt exhausted. My sister, Mandy and my mom were both ready to help me sort through the contents. As we opened the top of the box we could see the magazines and other documents neatly piled in, all the way to the top of the box. The smell from the box had the pungent distinct odor of old, mildewed newspaper.
The contents were: three manila envelopes labeled, “Adoption Records” and “Adam’s First Year,” and “Birthday cards;” dozens of old discolored newspapers (some written in Vietnamese), dozens of Time and Life magazines with Vietnam-topics on the cover, a tiny gray shirt that looked like a miniature prison uniform, a tiny pair of white and black shoes, a hand-woven blanket full of yellows and blues, a small bright red zip-up sweatshirt with a plastic bunny pasted on the chest, hospital tags with dates and my name on them, and then some of my school work from pre-school through sixth grade. I was hoping to find some articles in the papers and magazines that I could do some research from. I wanted to know both about the war and about my specific past. All of this made me feel a little overwhelmed.
Mandy started by organizing the magazines in order of their dates. She flipped through them looking for any articles that caught her eye. I looked through some of my folders of schoolwork. I found some that I could remember doing as projects in fifth grade. One was a brochure I created advertising my fantasy vacation spot: Take a Vacation! Only 2,000,000 dollars without indoor plumbing. Free tennis, swimming, basketball, and horseback riding if you stay for over a year. Seeing these brochures made me laugh and think about how great it was when I was a kid. As I passed them to Mandy and my mom, they laughed too. There was another one that brought back old memories: Awsome Liquid Sand! Wash all your clothes in this sand. Note: Mothers may not like this product. I could remember always getting into trouble when I came home with sand in my clothes because my mom would say, “Adam, this is really bad for the washer and dryer.” Thinking back to those days of mischief and trouble, I smile everytime.
Mandy then passed me some of the magazines so I could look through them. Seeing the pictures of war-torn Vietnam made me wonder what really happened back then. Pain and sorrow could still be read on the faces of the soldiers and civilians. Here in the U.S., there were protests and rallies, but the war involved so much more. There were photos like the one of Phan Thi Kim Phuc as she ran away, naked, from her village after being bombed with napalm. That photo must have caught the attention of the American people. But to be there and be part of it must have been a more horrific plight.
Like most kids from my generation, Vietnam is just a place, a war, a horrible mistake that our government made, and it is only a time in history. After the war, people stopped talking about what happened in Vietnam. The horrors seemed for many, too much to face, and the government just wanted to press on to more present-day issues. And a nation was silenced. You could go to a library or bookstore and find a book about the war, but most people didn’t want to talk about it anymore. It had become a part of their lives and now that it was over they wanted to forget about it. Vietnam was no longer part of Southeast Asia, it was a war, a painful period in history.
So for us, the children who grew up post-Vietnam era, the war is a part of US History that was not discussed in our classrooms. Instead, we studied World War I or II, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. They seemed more worthy of discussion than the tragedy of the more recent war. Vietnam was mentioned, but never discussed. The closest thing most people got to an education on the war were movies such as Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Hollywood’s version of what happened in Vietnam. These films still left me wondering what the Vietnam War was all about. This is what I was hoping to find out in my adventure through the old broken box.
I had to get back up to campus for class, there wasn’t a lot of time to look through the box, so I re-packed it and took it back to my apartment. My mom let me take everything except my baby book. For some reason she felt sentimental towards that because all of the kids had one, and she didn’t want something to happen to any of them, including mine. That was fine with me. There was plenty to look through in the box, and I could always come home and look at it the baby book if I wanted.
When I got back to the apartment on campus, my roommate was gone and I laid on my futon wondering what this box was going to teach me about my past, and about the War. What I knew about the War growing up, I’ve already said, was limited to sparse tidbits. I knew no more than the other kids in the class I am sure. The one thing that is certain is I was born in the middle of a war-torn country, and I was rescued from my unthinkable future in communist country with no family. I am also sure my birth parents must have been Vietnamese, too. I know this from my birth records and from what my adoptive parents told me. My Vietnamese skin, hair and eyes do not disguise this fact, either. I had always noticed these characteristics of myself because I didn’t look in the mirror that often, but some people wouldn’t let me forget growing up. I looked through one of the manila envelopes and found documents that confirmed what I had been told. My certificate of birth, a regular 8 X 11 piece of paper, has this information typed on it:
Republic of VietNam
Vung Tau Ward
Vung Tau Town
Extracted from the Register of Births
Registered on August 17, 1974
Full name of child: LE TRUNG TIN
Date of Birth: The 21 st day of August 1974, at 18:30 hrs.
Place of Birth: Vung Tau Ward
Father’s name: ——
Mother’s name: LE THI BE HAI
Wife Condition: ——-
The informant: Ha Thi Le
A TRUE EXTRACT:
Vang Tau, August 17, 1974
The Registrar of Vital Statistics
Signed: HO VAN HUOI (with seal)
I had seen this document a number of times in high school. When I needed a document to verify my age, when most students brought in a normal birth certificate, I brought this in. Paper-clipped to it was a certificate of adoption. It didn’t seem like anything unusual to have these foreign documents; I was just a little different than everyone else. We all had birthdays, though.
A common question that people asked me when I was growing up was “Do you ever want to find your birth mother?” Every time I said no. My mother’s name was neat to know, but that was enough. There was really no reason for me to know more, I already had my mom and dad. And that was the way I felt for many many years. When I got older these feelings seem to grow even stronger because I saw no reason to seek out the bloodline to the past. My family was in Wisconsin, not Vietnam. The chances of my birth parents being alive seemed very small, too.
My parents never pressed the issue of rediscovery and we never really discussed that part of my past. They knew that when the time came for me to look at that part of my life, I would know and it would be my decision. My parents took me to Vietnamese restaurants, bought books about Viet Nam, and attempted to keep me in touch and expose me to my roots. I just wasn’t interested then. Being a kid was all that I wanted to know about.
When I first noticed that my birth certificate didn’t have a father’s name on it, I remember thinking that it was odd, but it didn’t seem that unusual at the time. My parents would always tell me I was 100 % Vietnamese, and that’s what I looked like as far as I could tell. My mother’s name was Vietnamese so that’s what I must have been. In college, I don’t remember exactly when, who was she started to creep into my mind. When people talked about adoption, all I thought about was how hard it would be for me to give up a child if I had one. Then I thought: My mother was a hero for giving me up during this terrible time in her country. She wanted to save me. God Bless Her. My bloodline slowly started to enter into my thoughts. Those thoughts were subtle, nothing I noticed at the time, but they were there.
All of my friends and roommate were gone studying the night I decided to look through the brown box again. So I sat on a stool, that works as a step into my bunk, a dinner table so I can watch TV or a small chair when we have guests, and looked down into the box. It took a little while for me to re-open it. First I brushed my teeth, cleaned the kitchen and watched a little TV. As I went to bed I couldn’t avoid it any longer. The box was still next to the stool, so I opened it up and gathered as much as I could into my arms and climbed up into bed. I set the articles, folders and other items in front of where I was laying. They were like new packages ready to be opened for inspection.
On top of the pile was a manila folder labeled, “Adoption Records”. I knew that this folder might tell me a lot of the information that I wanted to know about the past. I climbed out of bed to light my bedside candle, turned off the bedroom light, and then grabbed my “itty bitty book light” before climbing back into bed. I cleared my blankets so that there was a place to lay the contents out. As they slid out of the envelope, little bits of paper slipped out of the organized stack of papers. While I sorted through them I didn’t have many feelings. It was like these weren’t really documents about me, rather they were just documents on which people recorded a part of history.
I found documents that told me more information about my mother and also documents that described some parts of my first six months. If experts are right when they say that the first six months of a child’s life are crucial to its development, then I always wondered what my first six months were like. My parents told me I was very ill when I came to the United States: severely malnourished and covered with scabies. But what I wanted to know was about my first six months and how I survived that time. For years I thought that I was in an orphanage, but now I discovered that it was a little different. The documents started to show me a little bit about what it was like in the beginning, even before the Babylift. It was the first time I started to understand where I was from. I read the documents over and over trying to soak in every last detail. The words sank in deep and happiness flowed through me.
Holts Children’s Services Vietnam
Name: Le Trung Tin Present location: Foster Home Birth date: 8/21/74
Date placed in location: 23 Sept. 74 Race & Sex: V/VN/M
Description of foster home or group care facility: Foster mother is a nice person who loves children. Her house is clean and orderly. Foster child is loved by everybody in his foster family.
Child’s Growth and Development: Child has good sleeping habits. He regards face and smiles responsively. When placed on stomach, he lifts head and chest up. He enjoys to hear a bell ringing. He likes bright colored objects. Child seems to be sweet and healthy. He is cherished by his foster father. The foster father likes to carry his foster child around in his free times or replaces his wife to feed the child. The foster father enjoys talking to his foster child very much and foster child usually coos: “uh uh, ee” pleasant sounds in response to the person talking to him.
Summary and recommendations by Social Worker: Foster child seems very suitable to his foster home. He is very active now and has made a lot of progress since placed in the foster home. Foster mother is very pleased with her foster child.
Prepared by: Nha, Social Worker Translated: Tan
Date: 19 Oct. 74 Date: 14 Nov. 74
This was the first time that I remembered looking at these documents and understanding them. I vaguely recall seeing them as a child, but never reading through them as I was doing now. This time these documents sunk-in and I understood what they were and what they meant. Reading this piece of paper shed light on my soul like a burst of sunlight after the dark storms past. This short description was the only thing, besides my blood, that linked me back to my homeland. No one in my present life could tell me about this time, this place, and these people. The information was like a vaccination shot: short, emotional, but in the long run, it would help, it would heal. This priceless document was supposed to inform the agency how I was doing as a toddler, but now these same documents informed me that I was loved, cared for, and, I am sure, missed upon my departure. I wish I could say thank you to these people, but the chances of finding these people in my homeland, alive, are now too slim to imagine.
The documents confused me about where I had been in Vietnam. My adoptive parents had told me I was in an orphanage, but this document made it seem like it was more of a foster home. During the hectic time in Vietnam, and the rush to get people to safety, the documents could be slightly wrong, but what information should I believe. If there was so much turmoil and chaos, couldn’t some of the records be wrong? Who could tell me the truth? I pondered.
Regardless, it is moments like looking at these documents that inspire me to reach out and thank those who were involved, not only in my rescue, but in the rescue of the other 3,000 orphans in Operation Babylift. In looking through the records I found names without faces, many that may be dead by now, but I wanted to say thank you to them anyway. The urgency I felt to find these important people grew greater each day. While watching the news they ran a story on Senator Proxmire from Wisconsin who had to stop making public appearances recently due to Alzheimer’s. My mother had once told me he was an important liaison during the Babylift. Opportunities to get in touch with these people seemed to be slipping away.
After writing this piece it made me realize how time was moving quickly, and that the sooner that I researched this part of my life, the better. The next night I went to the library to start to looking for information on the Internet. I wasn’t sure how much, if any, information I would be able to find because up to that point, it was my experience that not many people had information on the Babylift. The Internet was an avenue that I wanted to explore though, because they seemed to have information on just about everything from painting your nails to how to make your own Ford Escort at home. On many occasions I suggested to my mom that she look on the Internet while researching some of the obscure topics she wanted to know about. She teaches and researches mostly biblically related information. Looking back at my research I remember thinking how obscure I thought that Operation Babylift was. Only a handful of people I talked to had ever heard of it, and rarely was there anything written about it.
At Helen C. White library I stared at a blank silver gray screen. The computer lab was full of other students writing papers, email, or surfing the net. Clicking on Netscape made me feel a little uncertain. The World Wide Web was a whole new source of median to my discovery about the Babylift. The thought of the enormous amount of information seemed to scare me a little bit, too. As I typed in, “Operation Babylift” into the search box, a number of listings came up on the screen. It surprised me because, up to this point, the Babylift wasn’t anything that I had heard being discussed by people other than my family. I thought, Anything can really be found on the Internet! I can’t really describe how I felt as the names of web pages popped up on the screen. Like a child, I felt naked and alone. There must have been 200 students in the lab, but the world around me vanished. Inside I felt uncertain in what the information would tell, what it would make me feel like, and how accurate the information would be.
At first I just started clicking on the different pages, not knowing exactly where to start. The first page was titled, Florence Nightingale: Women who Died. Cautiously the mouse moved the arrow onto the words and click. The page was downloaded quickly and the graphics popped onto the screen. The background was pretty with a gray/light blue background and it was very easy to read. I read the names:
2nd Lt. Carol Ann Elizabeth Drazba
2nd Lt. Elizabeth Ann Jones
Died in a helicopter crash near Saigon, February 18, 1966.
Capt. Eleanor Grace Alexander
1st Lt. Hedwig Diane Orlowski
Died in a plane crash returning to their duty stations at Qui Nhon from hospital duty in
Pleiku, November 30, 1967
I don’t know what I thought as I read the names for the first time. So many emotions gushed out of my stomach and up into my throat: sadness, mostly for the people that I never knew, but who were indirectly responsible for helping fight for our America. I have always felt a sort of patriotic love for those who serve and have served. Whenever I here the National Anthem I thank the good Lord for these people, and the Holy Spirit runs through me causing goose bumps to jump all over my body. Right then, the Spirit was running through me, connecting me with these soldiers. “Thank you,” I whispered to the names. “Thank you.”
As I scrolled down I scanned as much information as I could. The names looked majestic: black on the gray background. Then I saw her name, and my eyes stopped.
US Air Force
Capt. Mary Therese Klinker
Died in the Operation Babylift plane crash, April 4, 1975.
Her name seemed to ring an alarm in my head. Finally I was connected. Connected to someone that was part of me from Vietnam and Operation Babylift. Connected to the name of an angel, a hero, a Captain. I read her name over and over. My body froze and my breathing was shallow. Thank God For Captain Mary Therese Klinker. When I finally regained my composure, I unconsciously scrolled down the page. The Captain’s name was drifting upwards to the heavens, and the names kept on coming. Civilians, Red Cross Members, Army Special Services, journalists, missionaries, Central Intelligence Agents and others who had died. When I got to the end of the page my heart stopped again.
The following women were killed in the crash, outside of Saigon, of the C5-A Galaxy transporting Vietnamese children out of the country on April 4, 1975. All of the women worked for various US government agencies in Saigon at the time of their deaths with the exception of Theresa Drye (a child) and Laurie Stark (a teacher). Sharon Wesley previously worked for both the American Red Cross and Army Special Service. She chose to stay on in Vietnam after the pullout of US military forces in 1973,
Barbara Admas Clara Bayot Nova Bell Arleta Bertwell Mary Ann Crouch Dorothy Curtiss Twila Donelson Helen Blackburn Ann Bottorff Celeste Brown Vivienne Clark Juanita Creel Helen Drye Theresa Drye Mary Lyn Eichen Elizabeth Fugino Ruthanne Gasper Beverly Herbert Penelope Hindman
Vera Hollibaugh Dorothy Howard Barbara Maier Rebecca Martin Sara Martini Martha Middlebrook Katherine Moore Marta Moschkin Marion Polgrean June Poulton Joan Pray Sayonna Randall Anne Reynold Marjorie Snow Laurie Stark Barbara Stout Doris Jean Watkins Sharon Wesley
Their names sunk into the most inner part of myself as I read them one by one. It was the first time I read these names, or knew who these people were. I thanked them, again and again. They were a blessing for all of us who had survived. Never mentioned in the stories I saw or was told, but unbeknownst to me, imbedded eternally in my heart. Why had it taken so long to find them, thank them? Before, I had said thanks to the names on the granite wall in Washington, but not to these individuals. They were my heroes. I never saw them in any movies that depicted Vietnam, but I always knew they were there. Finally, we were all together again.
I clicked back to the original search page, anxious to get more information, but the next few hours would be slow. There were pages and pages about people who died, similar to the Florence Nightingale: Women who Died page, and they came up in different forms. Some pages were written by veterans, others by historians, and all authors tried to educate people and possibly heal some wounds from their experience with the war. It was their way to share remembrance to these people who sacrificed their lives for their country.
My hunger for more information about people who helped with Operation Babylift, those who had served, and information about what had happened during the war choked my insides. I pressed on, but found little until I came across a web page by, Cassiopeia Hultin. On her page she described her passion for knowledge about Vietnam. Even though she wasn’t Vietnamese she wanted to find out as much as she could about Vietnamese heritage. She wrote, “It is hard for me to explain my strange (not the best word) interest in Viet Nam. I have never been there (unfortunately), and I haven’t the least bit of Vietnamese in me.”
Then she had a link to an essay she had written in high school. In her essay I found a great deal of information. As I read page after page I wondered how she had learned so much about Viet Nam. She wrote about the hypocrisy that Americans showed towards refugees in the spring of 1975, but more important she wrote about Operation Babylfit.
Cassiopeia told about what America felt like after the war, and how many refugees fled Viet Nam. She described how America was hit with the brunt of this immigration. Later she explained how Americans often times didn’t welcome many adult refugees from Vietnam. In contrast, she explained, how the orphans were welcomed with open arms. I read how President Ford, Edward Daly, president of World Airways, and other people were significant in organizing the Babylift to get as many helpless orphans out of Vietnam, and to America and other safe countries. Often times the red tape to get these orphans was cleared in record time because of the urgency to get them to safety.
Through Cassiopeia I learned about me, and I thought it was unfair that she knew more about Viet Nam, the war and the Babylift than I did. She knew more than I, who was a part of it, who was forever connected with the veterans and the controversy, did. I felt cheated.
When I got home that night millions of thoughts ran through my head. I had read so much information, and the one that stuck out was the one from Cassiopeia Hultin. It brought up a lot of questions. Questions like, what took so long for me to look at this stuff? What was it like when the first plane of the Babylift crashed? Where are the veterans now who helped make the Babylift possible? And a true sense of thankfulness for all those who served our country. The questions drove me to insomnia that night. I also thought about writing to Cassiopeia to see if there was any other information that she could give me about the Babylift, and if she knew anybody who was involved in it. My thoughts ran rampant when I thought about all of the possible things I wanted to say to and ask her. Before I fell asleep from exhaustion I decided that I would try to contact her, as well as some of those who served, and thank them personally. These ideas moved me in a new direction of discovery that didn’t even cross my mind when I first started writing. I wondered whether the veterans would want to hear from an orphan, a memory from the war; regardless, I wanted to contact them and tell them that their sacrifices did make a difference and that their service will never be forgotten.