American war veterans yearn for Vietnamese girlfriends for decades

By Bao Nhien   December 27, 2019 | 05:24 am PT
Several American soldiers who fell in love while on duty in Vietnam have never forgotten their lovers, and want to know that they are doing okay. 

Here are the stories of three such soldiers with different outcomes. 

A romance rekindled

On Thursday night, Ken Reesing, an American soldier in Ohio, made a phone call to Vietnam. The call has become a daily activity since the summer. Picking up the phone, Thuy Lan, 67 years young, had just closed her family-run food shop in the southern province of Dong Nai.

50 years ago, when Ken, 22, then, first visited Vietnam, the Vietnam War was raging at its fiercest. He met Lan at a club and fell for her at first sight.

Lan met Ken at Tan Son Nhat International Airport on September 12, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Hien Duc.

Lan meets Ken at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport on September 12, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Hien Duc.

After 9 months of dating, Ken was informed he would leave Vietnam. He asked Lan if she wanted to go to the U.S. with him, but she refused.

Buying 50 envelopes and puttingb them in a box, the young soldier told her that when he got the 50th letter from her, he would return to Vietnam.

He thought it would take her a year to write the 50 letters, but it took her less than three months. And then she kept writing. And in 1973, they lost touch.

Ken never stopped hoping to see Lan again. 20 years ago, he hired international detective agencies to find his first love, but did not succeed.

In June 2019, a man living in Ho Chi Minh City saw Ken's post on Facebook and decided to help him find Lan. He did and the miracle happened.

The American veteran was reunited with is lover after 50 years in September this year and stayed in Lan's house in Dong Nai, where he spent time with her family and friends.

When someone asked him if he wanted Lan to go to the U.S. with him, he hesitated. He does not want to push her because "she has every reason to stay here."

"We have not talked about the future," Lan told VnExpress on Friday, adding that they want to spend more time to travel together.

A welcome closure

In July, Joe Robi, 73, living in Massachusetts, decided to ask for help on a Facebook page to find the woman he used to date with when working as a medical staff during the Vietnam War.

The woman, Chu Kim Dung, who was a singer then. She used to go to school in Sai Gon and perform at the Long Binh post in the southern province of Dong Nai. That was where she met Joe in 1967.

Joe caught the bus traveling to Sai Gon to meet his crush whenever he could, but did not confess his love for her.

Joe Robi in Vietnam in 1969 (L) and Joe at the moment. Photo courtesy of Joe Robi.

Joe Robi in Vietnam in 1969 (L) and Joe today. Photo courtesy of Joe Robi.

After several months, Joe reported to his superior that he was falling for a Vietnamese woman, which prompted them to send him to the central province of Quang Nam and the Central Highlands before sending him back to the U.S. Joe and Dung lost contact.

He went through two failed marriages back in the U.S., but the veteran always kept two photos and a letter from the woman he was falling for in Vietnam.

Not too long after Joe shared his story with VnExpress, Dung was found, and the couple talked on the phone. She is now living in the U.S.

"I am content knowing that Dung is alive. My aim of finding her had been achieved," he said.

Still hoping

David Joes, a 69-year-old man living in Tennessee, wanted to come back to Vietnam and find Phuong, the woman he’d met in 1972 when he was posted in southern Can Tho City.

He had been rejected twice after he professed his love, but Joes never forgot the woman he loved. They both knew their love was going nowhere, since the U.S. was trying to withdraw its troops from Vietnam, meaning he would have to leave soon.

David in 1971 (L) and now. Photo courtesy of David Joes.

David Joes in 1971 (L) and now. Photo courtesy of David Joes.

On April 10, 1972, he left without a single word, after 4 months of dating. Two years later, he enlisted again, hoping to have a chance to go to Vietnam and find the woman of his life. He could not.

After his marriage failed in 2002, his nostalgia for Phuong deepened. Since the beginning of this year, the idea of returning to Vietnam has burned in his mind.

Joes is set to arrive in Vietnam on January 24, on the eve of the Lunar New Year. He has decided to stay somewhere near the place he was posted, and where Phuong lived 48 years ago.

"I have no specific plan, apart from finding Phuong."

All he hopes to discover is that Phuong is having a happy life, and has no intention of disturbing it.

"If I can, I want to see her again, as an old friend." 

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