Yesterday I found a website about a group of orphans who were spirited out of Vietnam just before the U.S. got out of the war. There were people who had been working in the orphanages that feared for the children's lives. A network of people who wanted to adopt, were either all ready in place, or set in motion.
I was thrilled to find this site. I read the entries from many thirty-something adults, who were the children that came through the Presidio, San Francisco, on their way to homes all across the country. For all these years I have wondered what happened to the chldren. Once or twice over the years the headlines would tell of an abusive adopted parent of this group of children. It left me with the impression that maybe the kids would have been better off left in Vietnam. Reading the stories of the young men and women about their adopted parents who loved and cared for them was such a relief to know that dozens and dozens of them found good homes.
It sounds like many didn't have an easy time of it, even with good parents. Our society is very racist at times. I come from an nterracial family and know that first hand. But like my family, these young people's family found ways around the walls that are presented some times. They surrounded the kids with good people, and there are plenty of them, just like my folks did for us, they made good lives.
Many seemed to need to go back to Vietnam and find family if it was possible. Others, having been dropped off on the doorstep of an orphanage in Vietnam, had no way to trace where they came from and struggle with accepting that reality.
I was one of many who took care of the babies and children who arrived at the Presidio San Francisco. I worked in an infant program in Synanon, Marin County, at that time. We worked 7 days on and 7 days off. As luck would have it, I was off when the call came for help. We arrived to find cribs lining the walls, cots for older children in separate rooms, unless the kids were siblings and the older child made it clear she/he would not leave the baby. Then the cot was next to the crib. All the flourescent lights were on. It was night. All the babies were crying, the older kids staring off into space, as if in shock.
The first things we did was find someone in charge and suggest to turn off the lights, leaving one lamp on each floor. How would the children know it was night if there was no dark? Then we moved from child to child, calming, holdng, singing, changing diapers, feeding if hungry, etc. The crying stopped when all needs were met. Back into bed, room mostly dark except one small bulb at the end of the room, shaded. Sleep took over the children. They were exhausted. So many sick. Some looked very cared for and healthy, and one wondered how they got into this mix of children who mostly looked neglected.
I worked two shifts (16 hours). Then I went to Oakland to stay in our facility there. I slept 6 hours, took shower and sauna, to sooth the weary bones, ate a good hot meal, and was back at the Presidio for another 16 hours. We did that for days. Holding, rocking, feeding, changing, cooing, playing, pulling in the older children to help if they began to show interest in moving about, and soon the place sounded like a normal school, laughter, games, and fun.
Children began to disappear, as transportation to the various parts of the country emerged. I fought the saddness as I gave up the care of the babies I'd been tending to, not sure how long I'd been there, all sense of time gone. I said goodbyes to the kids old enough to have a conversation with (no I don't speak Vietnamese, but children don't care if they know you like them). I knew I'd never see them again. I sent all the love I could muster with each child as I said good bye and hoped for a wonderful future for each and every one. I've missed them over the years.
Lana, her last name escapes me, put together the web site and now I know many of the children grew into fine young adults, and did have a wonderful life with their new families. I am relieved to know that. There are also organizations that helped them reconnect with their Vietnam roots if they needed that. Lana adopted three children. Two from Vietnam. One, a small baby died a shortly after coming to Lana. The baby was too sick to survive. It's been years, and yet still, I cry for the little girl. Her sister, Jen, it seems grew strong and is one of the stories I read. Jen's adopted brother is from Korea. This Lana is someone I'd love to meet some day. What an angel she is!!!
I will never forget the soldiers and nurses I worked with that week. To my surprise they respected our expertise with infants and let us set up the floors in a way that was children centered, the lights being only one detail in hundreds.
I am now at the phase of life where one begins to realize time is finite for us mortals. So many unanswered questions pop up as one remembers the past. This one, how did the children fair after leaving the Presidio, is answered. Thank you!