At the reunion, the orphans did not spend a lot of time reminiscing about the old days. But on the bus from Ho Chi Minh City, they stopped by the church in Phan Thiet that sheltered them that first night [as they were fleeing the country].The whole thing is a must read. I know I'm always saying it, but this time you'll really be glad you did.
The women of the church whipped up a meal of squid, cabbage soup, pork and eggs. The group ate a big meal and left the church $1,000, a long-planned thank-you gift.
Another stop, on Friday, was at the site of the Cam Ranh Bay Christian Orphanage. None of the buildings remains. A new school occupies much of the land.
Kindergartners and first-graders gave a concert, singing two songs in English under an image of Ho Chi Minh. The orphans applauded, then filed out of the classroom and wandered the grounds, debating what used to be where.
On this hot day, nearly everyone carried a water bottle. Some used empty ones to scoop up dirt as a souvenir.
The week's biggest event was Family Night, when the orphans invited long-lost – and in some cases, never-seen – relatives for a banquet.
Kelli St. Germain sat talking through a translator with the aunt who put her in the orphanage after St. Germain's parents died in a land mine explosion. They tried to figure out how old St. Germain might really be.
Thomas Ho of Mesquite had a dozen relatives at the banquet. Some came from Vietnam's central highlands, taking local buses for a day and a half.
"I'm overwhelmed," he said.
Among them was a cousin who lost a leg to a mine explosion during the war. Ho recalled working with her in the rice paddies as a boy.
In his hotel room earlier, she had shown him the worn end of her prosthetic leg. Ho said he would make sure that before he flew back to the United States, she'd have a new one.
Holme Oltrogee's guest at Family Night was his birth mother, whom he hadn't seen since he left with the orphans.
Oltrogee, of Frisco, had spent much of the week listening to, loving on and crying with the tiny woman. She shared family history and the dire circumstances under which she put him and his brother in the orphanage.
Oltrogee, 42, is hugely grateful for how his life has gone. That includes his adoption by Gene and Alice Oltrogee of North Dallas, education at St. Mark's School of Texas and Davidson College, marriage, a daughter, and an information technology consulting career.
But he had long felt an urge to reconnect with Vietnam and with the woman who brought him into the world as Hung Nguyen.
He got the push he needed from the other orphans.
"This reunion forced me to come back," Oltrogee said. "I needed to come back. I learned more about myself."
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