Their stories: Americans’ children left behind in Vietnam

The Washington Post
Published: April 18, 2015

Sandy: Tran Thi Huong

Her name is Tran Thi Huong. But she calls herself Sandy.

That’s the name her American father gave her before the Army sergeant shipped out of Cam Ranh Air Base in 1969 and left his girlfriend and their infant daughter behind. He had been excited about Sandy’s birth, even having a special picture taken with her. But he left without saying goodbye.

That photo, all that remains of her parents’ love affair, was carried like a kind of holy relic to the United States by relatives, where it finally ended up last year in the hands of Sandy’s energetic American cousin, Anh Tran, an event planner in Philadelphia. Tran last year set out to try to find Sandy’s father.

She knew the soldier’s name but little else about him. With the help of a volunteer group that links veterans and their children, Fatherfounded.org, she located the father after about three months. He was still alive and living in Cleveland.

Although the soldier’s American daughters eventually confirmed that the man in the photo was their dad and have welcomed the idea of a half-sister in Vietnam, the gruff, aging veteran has so far had little to say about it and has not contacted his child.

Such outcomes have been common for Amerasians; only about 3 percent of those who have immigrated to the United States were able reunite with their fathers, according to one government estimate. Many fathers don’t want to be found or just want to forget about their traumatic time in the war zone.

Back in Vietnam, Sandy, 45, typically rises early in the morning to harvest snails from the ocean bottom at low tide. She cooks the snails in a small restaurant in front of her home in Cam Ranh that has become a neighborhood gathering spot. Friends come by to sit in the open air, gossip, pick the meat out of the tiny bluish shells or sample one of her other specialties, sticky rice and pork fat wrapped in banana leaf.

Her mother, with whom she remains close, lives nearby.

Sandy is aware that her cousin has found her father, but little has changed in her life since the discovery.

“I really want to see my father again,” she says quietly. “Maybe they can come to meet me?”

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