I was able to witness a pretty amazing thing the other day…
Jim, a veteran of The War whom I’ve known for a few years now, finally reconnected with his first and long lost love, a Vietnamese girl he knew as Hoa. They met in 1969 and last saw each other in 1970 when Jim was sent back home. Over the past decades, he’s always wondered what happened to her, and that curiosity eventually led him on a search. This search would last 1o years, and in the end, have a happy ending, with possibly another one to come. The couple also had a daughter together in 1970, which Hoa put up for adoption soon after birth over concerns of how an eighteen year old raising a child, let alone a mixed child, would affect her life. But now, they’re both ready to try to find her as well.
Annie Gowen’s words are infinitely more poetic and descriptive than mine, so please read the article and then have a look at a few of the images I made on this pretty special day. The slideshow in the article has most of the images, but I’ll add a few more ones below as well.
Their reunion in a hotel room in Hanh’s hometown in the Mekong Delta, was emotional at first, as I’m sure most can imagine such a meeting would be, though quickly became amicable and cheerful.
Jim and Hanh in the fall of 1969. These are the photos Jim would use, the only ones he had, over the years in his search of Hanh. On several trips to Vietnam to follow up on leads and put ads in newspapers, it was finally the tireless help of a local friend of Jim’s and an article by a Vietnamese journalist that found its way to Hanh that final closed the circle.
Jim would leave Vietnam several months after these images were taken, and said he was sure he told Hanh of his imminent departure, but apparently she didn’t understand, and she thought he had simply disappeared. Time went on, she remembered him, but eventually moved on and forgot about him. At that time, she also told him she was pregnant, but Jim, skeptical of situations like these the military warned them about, where the woman is looking for a free ticket out of Vietnam and to the US, didn’t necessarily believe her. But it was the thought he did have a child out there always stuck with him, and was one of the driving factors that started and kept his search alive.
Jim and Hanh in the car on the way to her house to meet her family. Since their parting ways in 1970, Hanh has been married for 39 years, with several children and a husband, who’s been bed ridden by a stroke for the past eight years.
Past, present and future all collide in one image. Sitting there, for me at least, it was hard to ignore the thoughts of what might been, how things could have been different, in each of their lives, had a war not brought them together or tore them apart.
Hanh happily submits a DNA test to accompany Jim’s. They hope they may be able to find their daughter through a genetic database search. They have an idea she may have been taken to the US following the war, but admittedly, they have no certain idea even which of part of the world she may have grown up or be living in.
So, here’s to celebrating an amazing story and good fortune, and the hopes of more good news to come!