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Helping and Loving Orphans : An Lac Parent

By Colleen Bonds

An adoptive mother shares the adoption story of her son from the An Lac orphanage, during Operation Babylift.

In April 1975, I was watching the news. A planeload of Vietnamese children died in a C-140 transport plane crash! I broke down, crying. I had just found out I could not have children – and here was a whole plane full of children dead.

I ran outside and told my husband, Jerry, “We’re going to adopt a Vietnamese child!” He looked at me strangely, and I proceeded to tell him about the story I had just seen.

I did a lot of research and found out about Tressler-Lutheran Adoption Agency. I told them we were interested in adopting a Vietnamese child. I felt that I stuck gold when I was told that all I needed to do was fill out the proper paperwork … mounds and mounds of paperwork.

Then we waited. We finally got a call saying a woman named Betty Tisdale had another plane filled with children who would soon be coming in an organized evacuation to Fort Benning Georgia, a couple of hours from where we lived.

The next week we received another phone cal from Tressler-Lutheran saying our paperwork had been completed correctly, and we could pick up our newborn child the next day!

On the way, we stopped at K-Mart and picked up a blanket, an outfit, and a bottle. Once on base, we discovered the army had turned the school into a makeshift hospital/dorm area. While waiting in the hallway we saw children with scars, wounds, missing limbs, and big sores on their little bodies. Each tiny child had his or her own crib. I picked up some of the babies, thinking how precious each of them was. Finally, our number was called, and we were ushered into a room.

There, an army doctor handed us some paperwork. After signing the papers, we were handed a tiny baby. His armband read Vu Tien Do II. The baby was in a diaper and wrapped in a pale yellow quilt. The doctor said he estimated his age to be bout six weeks. Overjoyed, we named him Robert Loran Ballard, or “Bert” for short.

When we returned home, the entire house was filled with everything you could ever want for a baby – a crib, a dresser, blankets, diapers, food, bottles, toys, baby bathtubs, washcloths, bibs, shoes, and much more! Our friends had brought over everything. I was overwhelmed!

Soon, the local Department of Family and Children Services came to the house and said we needed to do more paperwork. We had to pretend we didn’t have a baby and go through the entire process as if we were going to adopt through their agency. They did the usual family studies .They questioned our parents, our friends, and our places of employment. Documentation of our income was needed. They even went through the entire house with a tine-toothed comb to see if we were fit to be parents. Jerry and I had to be finger-printed and checked out.

There was some speculation that some of the babies in Operation Babylift were not orphans. We had to go to Atlanta to the main immigration office to apply for a green card. After several months, we got it, and I guarded it with my life!

One day when Bert was about five months old, an FBI agent came to the front door. “I need to see Vu Tien Do II.”

I panicked!

“Bert is his name, and he is asleep.”

“Wake him up,” he ordered.

I went to get Bert, and the man proceeded to take off my baby’s clothes and diaper. He told me that he needed to check for any identifiable marks “in case somebody would lay claim to him at a later date.”

“Sir, please leave,” I said as I opened the front door. “Nobody is ever going to take Bert away from us! I’ll move to Canada if I have to!”

After all the paperwork, investigations, and agents, the FBI, the INS, the local Family and Children Services, and Tressler-Lutheran approved us for the final adoption on May 7, 1977. Bert belonged to Jerry and me forever.

I truly believe that God spoke to me through the evening news program when the plane crash. Just when I thought all hope of being a parent had been taken away from me, he gave me his greatest blessing: Bert.

Finish reading story about An Lac Babylift.

This article by Colleen Bonds is excerpted with permission from the inspiring book, Children Soup for the Adopted Soul.