babies airlifted out of Saigon
News, 10th November 2009
Cowley was just a toddler when she was airlifted out of Vietnam, one of
99 children plucked from the war-torn country by the Daily Mail. Now she
is trying to reunite the scattered evacuees.
Cowley doesn't know how old she is, but she thinks about 36. Orphaned at
a young age during the Vietnam War, she doesn't even know her parents'
earliest documented experience dates from April 1975, when she appeared
on the front page of the Daily Mail, aged about two. She was one of 99
babies and children airlifted out of Saigon in the newspaper's mercy
mission as the Vietcong advanced at the end of the war.
headline declares the orphans safe saved from an uncertain future and a
potentially terrible fate.
three decades after her arrival in Britain, Viktoria, known as Vikki, of
Eastbourne, has recently embarked on a mission of her own - to reunite
her fellow travellers. She has made contact with 15 so far.
first she found after many weeks searching online for information about
the airlift. "I eventually found my first gem - someone who had a
very similar name to mine and was in the same orphanage as myself in
Saigon. I soon connected with her online and made my first Vietnamese
now she wants to find the remaining 83.
love to be able to get in contact with them, share their story, just
find how much they know about themselves, about the airlift."
airlift took place in April 1975 and was the brainchild of then Mail
editor David English. It followed an evacuation of more than 2,000
orphans to the United States, ordered by President Gerald Ford, many of
whom were thought to be children of US soldiers.
the 99 children brought to the UK, not all were orphans and many still
had family in Vietnam. Their ages ranged from just a few months to
herself was destined to join a family in Seaford, a seaside resort in
East Sussex. Douglas Cowley, who was working in Vietnam at the time, had
chosen to adopt her with his wife, Jennifer.
was formally adopted on 6 January 1976 - the day she celebrates as her
birthday - and now works as a tape summariser for Sussex Police.
Vikki has only recently started to delve into her past. For a long time
she didn't want to find out more, fearing the details could be both
painful and hard to come by.
was happy with my life as it was and I knew that to find any answers to
my questions could quite simply be a fruitless task. I was in a sort of
identity crisis. The fact that I wasn't loved. The fact that I wasn't
wanted. But when I was adopted, I was wanted and I was loved.
I was very little my parents would tell me about my adoption as we were
gathered around the dining room table after our Sunday roast meal. The
only thing I'd ever want to hear was how special I was and how my father
chose me out of all those children."
for a long time, she feared what might happen if she returned to Vietnam
to look for answers.
Communists would never let me leave again. A life trapped in an unknown
country, speaking a language I didn't understand, and out of the
security of something that had become so safe, so secure, was absolutely
terrifying. This single fact bore so deep into my mind it formed a
permanent barrier, became the immovable wall that wouldn't let me be
inquisitive to anything that happened before my life in the UK.
single fact prevented me from learning about a culture that I could
quite easily still have been involved in, or could have embraced and
nurtured within me."
that has now changed. Vikki uses social networking sites to forge links
with other expat Vietnamese - and track down fellow evacuees - and plans
to visit her homeland for the first time next year.
I want to find out what really happened. I want to find out what made
“ I have been confused with the boat people - but they came over well
before the airlift was even thought of. I was an orphan and I'm an
adoptee, not a refugee ”
may never find all the answers to my questions as not all the facts were
written down or recorded, so a great deal of speculation has to be
applied. That's why the other adoptees are invaluable. With their facts
and speculation, I can try make some outline of what I think my story
may have been."
now finds herself on an emotional journey as she attempts to piece
together a past she shares with the others airlifted to safety.
I share and connect with more and more people, my love for my mission
continues to grow. I also feel a growing concern for my contacts -
reaching out to help others who haven't been as fortunate as myself,
offering help and guidance in making new connections."
if her search for more information about her earliest days comes to
naught, compensation comes in the form of those she has met along the
know that I have friends for life through this very special and very
unique fact: that we started our lives in unfortunate circumstances.
almost like [the baby airlift] was a pane of glass that has been dropped
and shattered on touch-down in the UK. I'm trying to get hold of all
those shards of glass to make it one again."
from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/11/10 12:02:49 GMT
© BBC MMX
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