Nonprofit brings gathering of adopted Vietnamese children and families to town
By Andrea Papagianis
Founder of the nonprofit Torch 1975, Jessica Nguyen, was born in 1975, the same year Operation Babylift brought thousands of Vietnamese children to American, Canadian, Australian and French adoptive homes, but her ties to the same homeland and her father’s seven year battle as a prisoner of war, inspired her to bring these adoptees together.
From June 12 through the 15, hundreds of now-adult Vietnamese adoptees will travel to Dana Point, to connect with their heritage, their adopted peers and celebrate what would be the centennial birthday celebration of the man, President Gerald Ford, who ordered the initiative that brought them to America.
“President Ford was also a World War II veteran, he was a gunnery officer on an aircraft carrier, and he is also a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars,” said Col. Joseph Snyder, former commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9934.
“He is one of our brothers. He is our comrade and a hero in our eyes.”
Nguyen was born in September 1975, just five months after the U.S. plan to rescue thousands of orphans from the war torn country, Operation Babylift, was executed. Two years after Americans signed a cease-fire accord with Vietnam, North Vietnamese troops spread through the south, sending many away from their homes.
Before the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975—marking the end of the Vietnam War, and the turning point sending the nation into Communist rule—the first plane of orphaned Vietnamese children safely landed on American soil, on April 4, 1975 with another 29 to follow.
A symbol of the operation, a moment immortalized in a photograph, shows President Ford carrying a young child off a plane in San Francisco. The young girl was later identified as Nikki Logan. After Nguyen founded the nonprofit in 2011, she and Logan connected through social media. Logan who went on to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps, will be attending the reunion and participating in a reenactment of the moment President Ford lifted her off the plane.
Logan is one of 10 rescued children who went on to serve in the U.S. armed forces, a call to duty that goes hand-in-hand with the mission of Torch 1975.
For seven years, Nguyen’s father was held in a political jail, or a re-education camp, by the North Vietnamese. During her father’s incarceration, Nguyen’s family—including her mother and four young children under the age of six, were forced to relocate from their home in Da Nang, along Vietman’s central coast. The young family traveled throughout the jungles and upon her father’s release moved to Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City.
In August 1993, through a U.S. sponsored program, the Nguyens came to the United States. Now, 20 years later, Nguyen is doing her part to educate the community about the history of the Vietnam War. Teamed up with Col. Snyder, Nguyen aims to connect civilians and veterans, while supporting members of the military and their families—a desire to help and educate shared by members of the local VFW post.
The four day reunion begins on Friday, July 12 with events including a re-enactment, gala, forums and a charity golf tournament, with proceeds from the weekend being donated to military families. For more information about volunteering, making a contribution or attending the events, visit www.torch1975.org.