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Vietnam Vet Nonplussed By Claim His ‘Daughter’ Is Not Related

February 10, 1988

PARADISE, Calif. (AP) _ A veteran who brought home from Vietnam a girl he believed was his long- missing daughter now faces claims that she isn’t related after all.

″I still feel in my heart that she’s my daughter,″ Barry Huntoon said Tuesday from his home here. ″But even if she isn’t my daughter physically, she certainly is spiritually and emotionally. ...

″All I know is that I love Tuyet Mai and Tuyet Mai loves me,″ he said of the 16-year-old girl, who has been part of his family since Oct. 20.

Confusion about the relationship surfaced after a woman identified as Mai’s mother, Tranh Thi Ba, arrived in the United States on Monday and told reporters that the girl was not Huntoon’s child. She also said Huntoon had known virtually from the start of his efforts that she was not his old girlfriend.

Huntoon acknowledged that he realized on his arrival in Ho Chi Minh City four months ago that Ba was probably not the girlfriend he’d been forced to leave behind when he was shipped out of Vietnam in 1972. But he denied having known he wasn’t Tuyet Mai’s father, and said Ba has told immigration officials several stories in her desperation to come to America.

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

Huntoon and Tuyet Mai’s return to the United States last fall received international publicity. It was featured on the ABC-TV show ″20-20,″ and rights for a television movie were sold.

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

In May 1972, when his girlfriend was nine months pregnant, Huntoon was shipped back to the United States. For long months, he vainly sought immigration permits for his girlfriend, but was told she was dead. No records existed on her child.

Then, in 1985, Huntoon saw a story in Life magazine featuring the plight of Amerasians, the children of American GIs and Vietnamese women cast adrift at war’s end. One photo showed a slender, hazel-eyed young woman selling peanuts on a beach. She looked so much like Huntoon, he was convinced she was his daughter.

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

Huntoon said he didn’t say anything when the woman at the Ho Chi Minh City airport turned out not to be his ex-girlfriend for fear of the consequences.

″If I would have said something, this lady might have gone to jail,″ he said.

Huntoon said he never had a chance to talk to the woman, who does not speak English, until this week, when she told him she had been ″terrified with all the questions and everything.″ He said he still doesn’t know the woman’s connection, but doubts she is Tuyet Mai’s mother because ″there’s no emotion between them at all.″

Huntoon said he is worried that the complications may slow the planned immigration of thousands of Amerasian children to this country.

″There is absolutely nothing fraudulent about anything in this situation,″ he said. ″All I know is I had to get my daughter out of there, and if it meant bringing this woman out (by not saying he didn’t know her), fine, I would do it as a humanitarian gesture.″

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