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Viet Vet Nonplussed By Claim Amerasian Is Not His Daughter

February 10, 1988

PARADISE, Calif. (AP) _ A claim that a war veteran may not be the father of the Amerasian girl he brought home from Vietnam four months ago brought tears to the eyes of the 16- year-old.

″Is this true? It can’t be,″ Tuyet Mai said when told of the claim. ″I still love my father.″

Confusion over the relationship between Barry Huntoon and the girl arose when the girl’s mother, Tranh Thi Ba, arrived in the United States on Monday and told reporters Tuyet Mai was not Huntoon’s child.

Huntoon, 36, said Tuesday that he can’t disprove the claim, but insisted he is Tuyet Mai’s father.

″I still feel in my heart that she’s my daughter,″ said Huntoon. ″But even if she’s not my daughter physically, she certainly is spiritually and emotionally. ... All I know is that I love Tuyet Mai and Tuyet Mai loves me.″

Last fall, the former Army medic traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, and brought Tuyet Mai home to live with him and his wife, Laura, and their three children in this town 200 miles northeast of San Francisco.

The story received international publicity. It was featured on ABC-TV’s news program ″20-20,″ and rights for a television movie were sold.

Tranh said Monday that when Huntoon sent her his photo she knew he was not Tuyet Mai’s father.

But, Tranh said, she asked Huntoon ″if you are a very kind person, you will sponsor us out because Tuyet Mai is Amerasian anyway. So then he agreed to sponsor us. Tuyet Mai said, ‘Whoever loves me, that’s my father.’ Tuyet Mai knew Barry was not her father when he came to Ho Chi Minh City, but it was only myself and Barry and Tuyet Mai who knew the truth. No one else knew.″

Huntoon said he had no inkling Tuyet Mai might not be his daughter until two weeks ago, when a State Department official called to inform him of Tranh’s claims.

Huntoon acknowledged that he realized on his arrival in Vietnam last year that Tranh was not the girlfriend he’d been forced to leave behind when he was shipped out in 1972. He said he didn’t say anything for fear that Tranh might wind up in jail.

Huntoon said he remained certain Tuyet Mai was his child and that Tranh had probably adopted her. ″There’s no emotion between them at all,″ he said.

He said Tranh has told immigration officials several stories in her desperation to come to America.

Tranh and Tuyet Mai’s 7-year-old sister are living in the area with a Vietnamese family.

During the war, Huntoon was 20 years old when he fell in love with a 17- year-old Vietnamese girl. They lived together for 1 1/2 years.

Huntoon was shipped back to the United States in 1972 when his girlfriend was nine months pregnant. He sought immigration permits for her, but was told she was dead.

In 1985, Huntoon saw a story in Life magazine featuring a photo of a slender, hazel-eyed Amerasian girl selling peanuts on a beach. She looked so much like him, he said, he was convinced she was his daughter.

Vietnamese refugees in a camp in the Philippines helped him contact the girl.

After months of clearing bureaucratic obstacles, he and his attorney won permission to bring her to the United States.

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