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Mother’s Dream Comes True as Children Arrive from Vietnam

January 22, 1986

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Xuan Thi Nguyen stood quietly in a bone-chilling wind Tuesday waiting for her years-long dream to come true. It did when an Air Force jet landed here carrying two children she left behind when she fled Vietnam five years ago.

″I think I never see my children again,″ Ms. Nguyen said in halting English. ″I’m very, very happy. I can’t explain how happy I am.″

The youngsters, 9-year-old Tran Thanh Quynh Chi and 10-year-old Nguyen Vu Chinh, who is adopted, arrived at Elmendorf Air Force Base about 7 a.m. aboard a jet returning a congressional delegation to the United States from Hanoi.

The 35-year-old woman’s third child, 10-year-old Nguyen Thi Ha, remains in Vietnam with a cousin. ″I hope I can have her come here very soon,″ said Ms. Nguyen who declined to give further information.

The reunited family will live in Fairbanks. Ms. Nguyen has married William Uhlig, an aviation technician.

She has tried to win release of her children since 1983.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, who led the delegation trying to gain information on Americans still listed as missing in the Vietnam war, has tried to help Ms. Nguyen since late last year.

The children were turned over to the delegation Friday.

On Tuesday, Ms. Nguyen was led aboard the jet and appeared composed until she saw her children. She rushed to them, fell to her knees, and threw an arm around each child. Their crying was the only sound aboard the plane.

Murkowski carried Tran Thanh Quynh off the aircraft into the bright lights and arctic cold of 9 degrees. Her brother walked off with his mother.

Led from the aircraft by Murkowski, Ms. Nguyen said, ″I’m really, really appreciative. I don’t know how to say more.″

The children, wearing hooded windbreakers and clutching stuffed animals, sat quietly, apparently baffled by the commotion.

At their mother’s urging, they shyly said, ″Good morning, good morning,″ as they made their way through reporters, military personnel and delegation members. The children speak no other English.

They left Vietnam carrying a small bag containing little more than a toothbrush.

At a stopover in Thailand, members of the delegation bought them books and toys. Embassy staff provided clothes.

Murkowski said the Vietnamese demanded $1,400 for the children’s air fare from their home at Tay Ninh City to Hanoi. He said he paid it from funds carried on the plane for landing fees, fuel and unforeseen situations.

The Vietnamese would not let Murkowski bring along the woman’s sister, a school teacher who has been raising the children. ″I made every emotional plea possible,″ he said.

Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, led the four- member delegation trying to learn if Vietnam was holding any of 2,400 servicemen missing from the Vietnam War.

In a later news conference, Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., said he believed remains of more missing servicemen will be returned early next year.

″I think they’re going to turn some over,″ he said. ″They are growing up in the international sense.″

Murkowski said the Vietnamese are anxious to normalize relations with the United States which would be unlikely before all efforts to locate the missing are exhausted.

Asked if all the missing ever would be accounted for, he said, ″I think it’s important to put into some kind of perspective.″

In World War II, 20 percent of those killed never were accounted for, he said. In Korea, the percentage was 19 percent.

It’s about 5 percent in Vietnam, he said.

As members of the delegation talked about the trip, the children were getting reacquainted with their mother and were meeting their new father.

Ms. Nguyen said she wanted them to have a health examination and be tutored in English so they could attend school.

″They say they are very interested in going to school,″ she said.

Ms. Nguyen worked in Vietnam as a librarian for the U.S. Agency for International Development. In Alaska, she worked for two years as a housekeeper at a Fairbanks hospital. Now she is an inventory clerk for an office supply firm.

Though Ms. Nguyen has exchanged letters with her children, she has not spoken to them since leaving Vietnam in her fourth attempt to escape.

She declined to detail their separation or her escape, saying she feared she might jeopardize relatives still in Vietnam.

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