On the Eve of the Journey

My original passport issued January 1975 in Vietnam

BLOG POST: Friday, Feb. 8, 2019 – 11:55 p.m. CST

I’ve got a bucket list. Many people do (everyone SHOULD). Of all the items on this list, seeing where I came from was always #1 – right at the top. I booked this trip in August 2018. Prior to taking the jump and pressing “BUY” on the Delta Airlines page, I’d done about 2 months of pretty in depth research to plan what I thought this trip would be for me. As it turns out, this trip is going to far exceed even the most ambitious expectations I’d formed months and even years ago.

My given name once I arrived at the orphanage was Tran Ngoc Pham. My birthday is an estimated date as well. I was approximately 13 months when I arrived.
The story of where and how I was found and rescued in the tragedy of war.

Up until August, I’d held some key assumptions regarding my adoption and the orphanage I came from. My loving parents (Bob and Mary) received a very detailed file from the orphanage, documenting the history of my life up until I “came home” to them in Minnesota on February 15, 1975. Over the years, I’d read through the faded pages of the old xeroxed copies and thought the Good Shepherd Orphanage was located on Pasteur Street in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City, aka HCMC). That address as it turns out was just an address for the adoption agency that managed the adoption process. The were a few references to Vinh Long, which I thought was a person or social worker all these years. Through the power of the Information Age (okay…I confess – Google), I discovered last summer that Vinh Long was actually a city on the Mekong River, 2-3 hours SW of HCMC. More importantly, Vinh Long is the city where the Good Shepherd Convent and Orphanage was located. That in itself was an epiphany. For the better part of 30 years, I thought I’d come from Saigon.

My baptismal certificate showing the name “MOSES” as given to me by the nuns.

As summer came to and end and autumn approached, I continued to do my research to see what I could find regarding the Good Shepherd Orphanage. A key piece of information surfaced one night, purely by chance, though I like thinking God’s hand guided me. It was well after midnight on a weeknight and I should’ve been sleeping. Instead, I learned that the orphanage had been adjacent to a U.S. Army airfield that had been built to support the allied war efforts. Through more digging, I came across an old internet message board from 2005 that was hosted by several Vietnam Vets. Several pages deep into the message board, a post caught my eye. It was a post asking if anyone remembered the convent and the orphanage next door to the base. The man who posted the message had fond memories of the sisters that ran the orphanage and shared stories AND PHOTOS. At the end of his message board post, he left his email address. It was an AOL email (from 2005) and I thought, “surely this email address no longer exists”. Still, I took a chance and sent a quick 2 paragraph email sharing my story and my efforts to find this old orphanage. It was after 1am and after sending the email, I went to bed.

When I woke the next morning at 7am, I looked at my phone and there in my inbox was a reply. Not a bounce back, but an actual reply. The vet’s name was George and he responded in the middle of the night to my email with a 7 paragraph note that left me in awe. He was there from 1973-1975. He and several servicemen befriended the nuns at the orphanage, even sharing pictures of them bringing toys and gifts to the kids at Christmas. The real possibility exists that George and I may have met that Christmas in 1975. Mind. Blown. George’s stories and vivid memories helped me fill in so many gaps that would’ve otherwise been left empty. George truly broke the case wide open. George is still alive and well and lives in Rhode Island with his wife of 40 years. George and I have traded several more emails and most recently mailed me book he’s had in his possession for 4 decades chronicling the history of the Good Shepherd Convent and Orphanage. He instructed me to “keep it – I hope you find what you’re looking for”. What an amazing man.

Photo of the Good Shepherd Convent and Orphanage from the Huey in 1974
Vinh Long, Vietnam 10° 15′ 22.11″ N 105° 57′ 14.53″ E

So, as I sit here in my home office on the eve of the 2nd greatest journey of my lifetime, I am filled with a rush of emotions. What am I going to find? Who will I meet? How will this trip to the homeland change my perspective? I don’t have those answers. Not yet. What I do know is that I remain forever grateful for the life I have. It is not lost on me that any one change in variable or circumstance could have radically changed the trajectory of my life. It’s my own real life space/time continuum. This is a story of love and sacrifice and hope. This is my personal history and I am humbled. The time has come to start this journey.

12 Comments

  1. by Karyla PARRISH on February 9, 2019  12:48 pm Reply

    Mike, I'm excited for you and your journey.
    May God lead you to more of your history.
    Cant wait to follow your experiences.

  2. by Connie MacRostie on February 9, 2019  1:50 pm Reply

    I, too, am excited for your journey. I hope you find many things to cherish and look forward to your posts.

  3. by Ruth R.Y. on February 9, 2019  3:17 pm Reply

    Michael,
    Safe travels to your original homeland. I hope you find more answers than questions in your adventure to see where you came from. May God bless your journey and bring you peace.

  4. by Winnie on February 9, 2019  4:28 pm Reply

    That’s an amazing story already, can’t wait to follow your journeys.

  5. by Therese on February 9, 2019  6:17 pm Reply

    I pray you have a safe journey and find peace.

  6. by Karn Schwartzhoff on February 10, 2019  10:36 am Reply

    Mike,
    Carol told us a little about this a few weeks ago. You and your girls will be prominent in our thoughts and prayers as you undertake this physical and emotional journey. I’m so glad I came across your blog. I look forward to hearing more of the story of you!

  7. by Michelle Witte on February 10, 2019  2:21 pm Reply

    Amazing on every level! And it follows one of the story lines on "This is Us" on NBC - ha! You always were stylish! Michael, best of luck, truly - and thanks for sharing your journey with us! Godspeed!

    • by Michael Hamerlind on February 11, 2019  11:15 pm Reply

      THANKS MICHELLE! Love This Is Us (it's my favorite show in TV) and when the Vietnam storyline was featured, it was touching.

  8. by Paul Rauch on February 10, 2019  8:32 pm Reply

    Michael,

    I wish you nothing but the best on this exciting journey into your past and I hope you are able to find some of the missing pieces. At any rate relax and enjoy!

  9. by Pam Blaskowski on February 10, 2019  11:53 pm Reply

    Wow! What an amazing journey you embarking on. Wishing you save travels and exciting discoveries. Prayers that you find the answers you seek. Thank you for inviting us along on the journey.

  10. by Carolyn Sampson on February 11, 2019  6:54 pm Reply

    What an amazing story, Tran Moses Michael! Blessings on your journey with Ashley this week. Can't wait to read and hear more!

    • by Michael Hamerlind on February 11, 2019  11:16 pm Reply

      Thank you Carolyn! It's already been amazing and we've only been in country for 18 hours so far. See you next week.

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