Getting a lift out of war-torn Vietnam
In 1968, Lee Sanne and John Buchanan sat their 10-month-old adopted Vietnamese son in a high chair and, to their delight, he slowly stacked five Cheerios. At that moment, Lee Sanne knew he would be all right.”When we brought Tim home, he only weighed 10 pounds. He was just pitiful,” said Lee Sanne, former president of Friends of Children of Vietnam, a nonprofit agency that orchestrated adoptions from the southern part of the communist country in the late ’60s and early ’70s. “He was malnourished and could hardly hold his head up. At 10 months old, he had the development of practically a newborn.”During the Vietnam War, thousands of children were orphaned. Tim was one of the first nonmilitary Vietnamese orphans adopted by Americans through Friends of Children of Vietnam.”I’m pretty lucky,” said the 37-year-old carpenter for a folding kayak company in Cedaredge. “I wouldn’t trade my folks for anything.”Last week, Tim and Lee Sanne returned to Vietnam to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Operation Babylift, a rescue mission that airlifted 3,000 Vietnam War-era orphans out of the country in 1975. World Airways hosted more than 20 adult adoptees, their parents and international media on the trip, appropriately titled “Operation Babylift – Homeward Bound.””It was a piece of his life he needed to be connected to,” said Lee Sanne, who also adopted a daughter, Kim, from Vietnam in 1972. “The whole trip was emotional for everybody, and this was a huge honor to be included as one of the families.” Tim said he experienced a range of emotions during the homecoming trip, which he felt honored to be invited to, since he was adopted before the infamous airlift mission.”It was a huge party, like a a cruise ship in the air. It’s like I have 21 new best friends,” he said. “It’s amazing how human beings can bond like that. It wasn’t just the kids, it was the pilots and the media – everyone just became really close.”Many stories were shared among the 30-something adoptees, including one recollection that Tim said he will never forget.”This one kid was about 12 when they flew him out. His brother was on the plane and soldiers came and took him off because he was 14 and he could carry a gun. A few weeks later he managed to get on a plane and reunite with his brother,” he said. “I wish I was a computer to remember every story. You just absorb, absorb, absorb. It was an eyes-wide-open trip.” One particularly passionate moment for Tim was during his visit to the Can Tho orphanage where he was born, alongside Vietnamese adoptee, Lyly Koenig, of San Diego. While at the orphanage, the pair held a 1-month-old orphaned baby and toured the facility that was once their home.”It was a big boo-hoo crybaby circus,” he said. “The connection was definitely there, but actually getting to see it was all it really took.”Although Tim reconnected with his birthplace during the Homeward Bound voyage, he has never pursued finding his birth parents.”My gut feeling is that both my parents are dead,” he said. “There’s always that 1 percent chance that they are alive and my mom could be looking for me that’s in the back of my head. It’s all a big question mark.”After seeing his homeland, Tim no longer wonders about the culture from where he came, and the importance of a mission that brought his fellow countrymen and women to a safer place.
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