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The babies airlifted out of Saigon

BBC News, 10th November 2009

Viktoria 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.

Viktoria 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' names.

Her 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.

The headline declares the orphans safe saved from an uncertain future and a potentially terrible fate.

Now, 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.

The 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 adoptee friend."

And now she wants to find the remaining 83.

"I'd love to be able to get in contact with them, share their story, just find how much they know about themselves, about the airlift."

Sense of self

The 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.

Of 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 teenagers.

Vikki 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.

She was formally adopted on 6 January 1976 - the day she celebrates as her birthday - and now works as a tape summariser for Sussex Police.

But 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.

"I 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.

"When 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."

And for a long time, she feared what might happen if she returned to Vietnam to look for answers.

"The 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.

"This 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."

All 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.

"Now I want to find out what really happened. I want to find out what made me, me.

VIETNAMESE BOAT PEOPLE


“ 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 ”
Viktoria Cowley

"I 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."

Vikki now finds herself on an emotional journey as she attempts to piece together a past she shares with the others airlifted to safety.

"As 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."

And 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 way.

"I know that I have friends for life through this very special and very unique fact: that we started our lives in unfortunate circumstances.

"It's 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."

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8352010.stm

Published: 2009/11/10 12:02:49 GMT

BBC MMX

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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 



 

 

 

 

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