This is an edited version of an email correspondence between myself and volunteer who served in Vietnam during Operation Babylift:
A few months ago I uncover some documents that have always been available to me but I’ve only really started looking into them. On one document I see that I have two names, the name I’ve always known myself to be in Vietnam, Lam Yen Hang, and another name, Trang Thi Minh, Tran. When I first found this document, I thought that this could have been my real name before I going to the orphanage.
I have connected with an adoptee in the US who has a very similar name to my own: Lam Yen Hang and hers was Lam Yen Hoan.
I saw another fellow Facebook friend on a documentary quite a few years ago whereby she goes back to Vietnam to try and trace her roots and she found out that the name she thought was her real name, was indeed a name that was given to her in the orphanage.
However, during yet another trawl across the internet, I find this report on the Leamington Spa edition of the Courier following the demise of the Rev. Patrick Ashe:
In this report, I see the adoptee also had a very similar name to mine, being Tran Thi Minh Tam, which leads me to believe that as her name was changed to this, mine must’ve been as well. So my question is, what is the name of the orphanage and would you have known a case of orphans being transferred from one orphanage to another? I had actually been chosen by my adoptive father before leaving Vietnam so maybe this could be an added factor?
My best guess is that your “real’ name is Trang Thi Minh Trang. I believe that some of the confusion about all of this might be explained to you in my book which is why I think it is important. It goes into a fair amount of detail about the pressure everyone was under at the ‘end’ to simply come up with names. Before I knew which orphanage you were in I knew that Lam Thi Nhi named all of their kids something with a Lam. Birth certificates meant virtually nothing and there is a section in the back of the book where I basically spell out for US immigration what every single person working with adoption was forced to do, this is the form of an affidavit. Babies didn’t come with names and therefore we were in a position of having to provide a name and record. I would think in looking at this that someone gave you the name Minh Trang and the orphanage would have just gone ahead and named you as they wanted to perhaps after someone or something they held dear. This doesn’t mean much in terms of searching though as we wouldn’t know who named you Minh Trang which is actually a lovely name. We would often start the paperwork for one child, which could be the case here. Papers were started on a child named Minh Trang who passed away but the papers were valuable and so they were simply going to use the document for you. That was done often. There were two very different things at work here. Babies and chidlren and keeping them alive with staggering death rates, far more children dying than surviving and then there were papers. The papers were a necessary obstacle as most children were abandoned just as they are today. The orphanages remain full and culture plays in as well with that. There are all sorts of omens with the Vietnamese that might make it lucky or unlucky to have a child and might cause a parent to abandon it. You can skip the part of my book about me and just go to the back when the war is pouring down on us and read the part about paperwork and how horrible it was as we tried to save the lives of those chidlren with us but were forced to produce documents when none existed.
I first saw my son’s picture in April of 1973 but his birth certificate said he was born in September of 1973. Birth certificates were expensive and meant little as they had so little to do with the kids. I think the worst part of this is realizing how horrific the abandonment rate was/ is.
I hope that this somehow helps. I am not certain if I mentioned but my grandfather was from Serbia and I went into a fit once finding out where he was from as I recall the name of the village. I traced back all of his papers and was really totally obsessed with it and even knowing him, but not my father it was so very important to me to nail down the exact spot, which was actually in Turkey but that’s another story so I definitely do understand what you are searching for. If I were any one of you kids I would search and I might also be rather frustrated or downright angry if I thought that people were careless with my identity. It was just that the papers meant so little. When I first went to Viet Nam to work I watched death after death and I remember they came in and told us that paperwork for ten children had just been cleared by Germany and that it had taken a year to get the papers done and therefore ten kids were going to get to go home. The problem was finding ten kids even close to a year old. The original babies had died for the most part and I watched astounded as ten kids were simply picked some about six months old and sent home to the families because the paperwork had made it, the kids had not. It was as though the two never qutie meshed with each others.
For some reason Lam Thi Nhi wanted to name their kids with that name. Perhaps it had something to do with a Buddhist ritual but I would imagine that you came to them as Minh Trang but who was Minh Trang? Or was this just paperwork that survived would be my question. It was a really horrific time and I will remember forever the babies that died in my first days of working there as I had never experienced anything like it. I was totally astounded that human life was so cheap. Names meant very little to us but I think that you have found something very important as it is a bit more of a clue. Chidlren were often given from one orphanage to another. Children came to me frequently from Lam Thi Nhi and maybe had started out somewhere else though usually a child abandoned in a place near a Buddhist Temple would not have ended up in a Catholic orphanage.
In that your father picked you out before you travelled what did he remember you as being known as or were there not yet the papers? I know that you sent them to me but don’t remember. I think also that I noticed what you sent before that I had seen this name though it had not registered. Surely this is a case of paperwork survival and it might well have been yours. But it doesn’t add up to me that Lam Thi Nhi would have gotten the vaccination certificate for you in one name when they planned to use another and never ever did we get a vaccination booklet for a child unless it was going for adoption so if they were doing the paper for you with Lam as the family name the easist thing in the world would have been to get the vaccination certificate in that name. Unless they were trying to assemble paperwork as fast as possible. Now you have me curious and I have to go back and look at the other documents that you sent. I most likely won’t make it a tonight. Long night with the kids but I do find it very interesting.
However you will see in the affidavit that I wrote which could have landed me and many others in jail in another time or place it says whatever papers we sent with you most likely have little or nothing to do with you. It is a miracle that you have what you do have but at the same time it compounds the mystery.
Don’t you dare apologize for asking the question 🙂
It is very interesting and different for you in that you do have much more paperwork then the average baby from airlift days.