Unfortunately, many American servicemen did, and the Amerasian children they left behind, taunted as the Children of the Dust by their peers, suffered ostracism by their own kind as well as the woes of poverty. Most were left to fend for themselves when the Americans withdrew in 1975. Thus, I can easily understand their questions, some accusatory.
The truth is that my first wife married a 26-year old virgin. (I’ve said it before. I’m a writer and honesty is a job requirement.) Don’t worry, the lack of practice didn’t keep me from fathering four children, two each by two wives. (I figure that’s my limit for this lifetime.)
My virginity wasn’t for want of interest. I was, I suppose, simply too busy. My adventures, intellectual, virtual, and real began as a prepubescent boy and continued through Sea Scouts, Infantry School, and Vietnam. I married less than a year after returning from Vietnam and, of course, lost my virginity. In hindsight, even that was too soon. One of the children of that first wife is lost to me and the other is dead. (But, that’s another story.) Also, sex wasn’t as casual in those ancient times.
However, that brings me back to my story - the Amerasian children fathered by American servicemen. Suffice it to say that I didn’t father any.
There seems to be something about war that inspires lust. I’m not just talking about the teenaged soldiers. Sure, they were exercising their newly won manhood before it could be shot off. There were also the geographical bachelors - married men who took advantage of the adage, “What happens in Vietnam, stays in Vietnam.” (Sorry Las Vegas, you were second, maybe tenth to employ that slogan.) Had I served in direct combat, I might have been humping it for the nearest village to dissipate my fear in the comfort of some pretty Vietnamese girl. There were plenty available. [Note: “Hump” is army slang for hike.]
Sure there were plenty of prostitutes and Red Cross donut dollies to satisfy these baser instincts. But, there were also plenty of instances of American/Vietnamese couples pairing off and experimenting with the joys of premarital sex as championed in the pages of the Playboy Adviser. (Do I have to mention that openly practicing premarital sex was a novel concept in those days?) Maybe some Vietnamese girls conspired to use pregnancy as an opportunity to escape Southeast Asia, or it may have been love. However, it just may be that the vulnerability one feels in a combat zone lent immediacy to the instinct to propagate.
In any event, I was an observer (though not a voyeur) of this process, and was not surprised when various charitable organizations working in Vietnam following the war began to reveal that there were thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of Amerasian children suffering poverty and unspeakable privations.
Many of these children were abandoned as children in the streets and garbage cans principally around Saigon. Some found temporary refuge in orphanages but were soon driven to the streets when the government was unwilling or unable to support them, and charities in America simply weren’t aware of the need.
When the plight of these children became known, the U.S. Department of Defense disavowed any responsibility for them. Indeed, their case seems reasonable though heartless. But, what were they to do. Congress had already set the tenor of the debate when they withheld all foreign aid from South Vietnam following the treaty that ended the war and virtually insured the fall of the South Vietnamese government.
For their part, the North Vietnamese had no sympathy for these children whom they considered defective, “among the worst elements of society.” They considered them as insignificant as a speck of dust, to be brushed aside.” Thus, the communists were all too happy to cooperate with President Gerald Ford’s request, and allow American transports to land in Saigon following its fall to gather up as many of these children as they could and carry them away to foster homes in the United States.
Tragically, the first transport of Operation Babylift crashed in a rice paddy outside Saigon killing all 144 persons on board. Local citizens rushed to the crash site to loot the plane and its passengers. There was little concern for the dead. However, the operation continued and approximately 2,000 orphans were evacuated. Countless thousands were left behind. There was no way of knowing how many. Birth records were not kept for them.
Vietnam is a traditional society that values premarital virginity and ethnic homogeneity. Those mothers who attempted to keep their half-breed children were ostracized and soon persuaded to abandon them. Thus, the abuse of these children is one crime (probably the only one) that cannot be laid at the feet of the communists in Vietnam.