BANGKOK, Thailand -- Nearly 400 Vietnamese, including dozens fathered by American servicemen during the Vietnam War, left Vietnam Thursday on their way to new lives in the United States.
The 65 young people of American-Vietnamese descent, 91 relatives and 226 other Vietnamese joining family members in the United States were the first group to leave Vietnam under new procedures that ended a 22-month freeze in a resettlement program.
The Vietnamese, arriving at Bangkok airport on four aircraft, waved small American flags handed out by U.S. Embassy personnel and were greeted at Bangkok airport by U.S. Ambassador William Brown.
'This is going to be a very exciting new year as you get to know your new country, its people and its language,' Brown said.
He said the new procedures, meant to speed resettlement of Amerasian children and other Vietnamese with relatives in the United States, were working well so far, 'But the job is far from complete. There are more or less 9,000 cases (of Amerasian children) still in Vietnam.'
The new arrivals will stay at a Thai immigration center for up to 12 days until medical checks and paper work are complete. They then will go to the Philippines for six months of language and cultural training before actually setting foot in the United States.
Many of the Amerasians, ranging in age from 14 to 21, have been waiting years to go to the United States as the U.S. and Vietnamese governments argued over procedures and priorities for their resettlement.
'All I know about my father is that his name was Louie Lee,' said Huynh Thi Nguyet, a 21-year-old Amerasian accompanied by her husband and her two children, Lam Guang Tien, 6, and Lam Guang Sinh, 4. 'I would like to see him and tell him that he is now a grandfather.'
Tran Thuy Anh, 14, a light-haired girl wearing her first Western-style dress, came clutching a tattered picture of her father, Lt. Michael L. Drickey.
Her mother, Lam Cam Tai, said Drickey had sent money and had written to her for two years after he returned to Oklahoma in 1973, but 'then he moved and we lost track.
'At one time I would have been very happy to see him again,' she said, 'but by now he must be married. I don't want to cause trouble.'
Like many of the new arrivals, Tai, a former secretary at a U.S. military headquarters, said she decided to leave Vietnam with Anh and another daughter by a Vietnamese husband who was killed in the war 'so they will have a future.'
Tai said the girls, despite top grades, were not allowed to continue their schooling because the government did not want to waste education on people who would be leaving for the United States.
Several children described harsh childhoods with single parents trying to survive in an economically depressed country that sees their faces as reminders of war, which ended in 1975, and foreign aggression.
Pham Hung Huy, 15, said he hoped to find his father despite knowing only his name, Teddy Cooper. He said he looked forward to living in the United States, where his light brown hair and Caucasian features would not look different.
'Sometimes the other children would tease me,' said Huy 'but it was not so bad, you just learn to live like that.'