My Orphan, So Close, Yet So Far Away


A few years ago, I wrote the story of a little girl from Vietnam and how she touched my heart for one day leaving her sweet innocence etched in my heart for 40+ years. She was an orphan living at the orphanage in Pleiku and our unit as so many others did; would bring the children to our base camp on holidays and spend the day with them. For this one moment in time we would forget about the war and share our holiday with these beautiful children that had no home or family to speak of. For that one day we were their family and for that one day we would know the love of these beautiful children who we would probably never see again.

The years have moved so quickly by and as I age, my memory has dulled many things of that time so long ago. The one memory that has stayed with me is the memory of my day with this beautiful little girl. For years I have wondered where she was, did she get killed during the TET of 1969, or did she get lucky enough to be adopted by loving parents who have cared for her into adulthood. I have tried for many years to find her; but with nothing to go on but a picture or two, my search has been filled with dead ends. The tiny cross necklace she gave me that day is mounted with my memorabilia from my time in the “Nam” and has been the only link I have to her or the day we spent together.

These orphans were the product of war and we never really felt or understood the suffering of these beautiful children. I saw the horror of war when I was in the hospital in Pleiku; some children were brought in, their tiny bodies torn by gunshots and explosions from an enemy attack… I will not revisit this memory in my story. We were the lucky ones for we could leave the war behind; at least in the physical sense. Most likely, most of these children were orphaned by acts of war or abandoned by parents so poor that they could not care for them. Despite all this, they would light up and smile when they saw you and if you had a heart at all, you could not help but be taken in by their beautiful innocence. I have always said that the love of a child is one of the greatest gifts of God and you could see that love in their eyes. They did not ask to be brought into a turbulent world full of death and despair, but with the aid of some wonderful nuns and many caring soldiers; they experienced happiness and gave their precious love if only for a moment in time.

Okay, to the heart of this story… Tu-Tam was the name of the orphanage and a young lady name Trang is my link to whatever the outcome of this search will be. No, much to my dismay she is not the little girl I wrote of, but she was at the orphanage, but again; she hasn’t much memory of her childhood during the time she was at Tu-Tam. Trang was born in 1969 and was not sure of how long she resided at Tu-Tam but was fortunate to have been adopted, moved to the United States and now has a wonderful life. When Trang first contacted me, I was overwhelmed with emotions that I could not understand. I thought; oh my God, this is the little girl in the picture, but sadly she was not. We communicate regularly and Trang shares with me the parts of her life that she can remember, and I feel humbled as she tells her story of heartbreak and grief. Though she is not the little girl in my story, somehow; I feel connected and I have felt a degree of healing since she came into my life. She has shared pictures of her and her family and while she shows strong patriotism for the United States and gratitude for those of us who fought; she has not forgotten her Vietnamese heritage by being a sponsor and supporter of the Tu-Tam orphanage and its children.

Amidst all the hardships we endured during our tour of duty in the Nam; we forgot about the people of South Vietnam and the hardships that they endured. I had written a story about another person that shared with me his life as a combat pilot in Vietnam. Loi was a helicopter pilot in the South Vietnamese Air Force and had flown many missions into enemy territory in support of our troops and had been shot down many times. We work for the same company and we had met; forging a friendship tied to the experiences we had in Vietnam. His story was a little different from mine, he was forced from his country and had no home: fortunately ending up in the United States. I listened as he told me how communism took over Vietnam turning it into an impoverished third world country. We shared many heart-breaking stories in confidence and I am proud and honored to call Loi my “Brother.” Each person that was in Vietnam; whether a US soldier, a Vietnamese soldier, or an innocent child is forever bound by stitches of a wound that may never heal, our hearts joined as only those who were there will understand. Because of Trang and Loi I gained a new perspective on the lives of the people of South Vietnam.

I have never forgotten all our troops that did not make it home from the Nam; their names carved in a beautiful black granite wall reminding all of us the heavy price we paid for freedom. Over 58,000 names are etched in our memory and those of us who survived are the legacy of a war that we still fight some 40+ years later. We have moved on with our lives, but the memories still linger as we struggle with the aftermath of a war. Some have taken their own lives… some have died from diseases associated with the defoliant “Agent Orange” while the rest live somewhat “normal” lives surviving with medication, therapy, and the ever-present brotherhood of other Vietnam veterans. A few of us have connected with people associated with this past and have managed to gain some insight and a degree of healing. The world wars have come and gone; paving a road to freedom and liberty, with Vietnam veterans as their legacy and we will keep those heroes alive in our hearts. We are dinosaurs and when the last one of us is gone; our legacy will live on and survive in the brave hearts and souls of our current military. As we have learned from the heroes before us, I can only hope and pray that the military of today has learned from us… God Bless Them.

Author’s Note: I dedicate this story to Trang and Loi… Thank You.

@Copyright 2018 by Phil "Country" Crowley

Below are two pictures of Tu-Tam (Sio Mai) orphanage in Pleiku. Left 1968..Right current day.