`Mistaken orphan' to meet lost father after 34 years

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Date: 2009-05-30

By Bruce Ward,
OTTAWA - Thirty-four years after he was mistakenly whisked away from a Saigon orphanage, Thanh Campbell - Orphan 32 - is returning to his homeland.

Campbell, one of 57 children spirited from a Saigon orphanage to Canada in April 1975, is returning Saturday to be reunited with his biological father and the brothers who never stopped searching for him after losing him in the chaotic fall of Saigon.

``The anticipation is from something you never think could possibly happen and is actually happening. I just think of my father and how long it has been for him, searching,'' said Thanh, who is travelling with his wife, Karina, their four children, and his adoptive father William Campbell.

The flight arrives Sunday evening, and Thanh expects to meet his father and brothers Monday morning.

``I think, first of all, what's the reaction going to be from family members over there? What's their first impression going to be like? I don't speak the language. How can you express yourself through an interpreter and get them (his biological family) to know you?''

Thanh knows the broad strokes of his early life, told to him by his birth father after discovering him two years ago thanks to an astonishing chain of events.

As Nguyen Ngoc Minh Thanh, he was airlifted to Canada in April 1975, with a copy of his birth certificate tied to his wrist. It showed Thanh's second birthday was still months away.

The child listed as Orphan 32 had been taken to a Saigon orphanage with two of his older brothers because their parents thought it was a safe haven during the fall of the city.

But when they went to reclaim their children, Thanh was gone - mistakenly placed among a group of orphans sent abroad for adoption, likely to the United States.

Thanh was adopted by Rev. William Campbell, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife, Maureen, and grew up in Cambridge, Ont.

But in 2003 he connected with Trent Kilner, who had been on that fateful flight out of Saigon.

The two tracked down 44 of the 57 people on that plane, and after the photos and story of the orphans' 2006 reunion was covered by a Vietnamese magazine, Thanh got an e-mail from someone saying he could be Thanh's brother.

``Everyone see you very very like my brother . . . My father still keep Thanh's birth certificate. If you have some information like that, please contact with us.''

The original and the copy of the birth certificate matched. DNA testing carried out by a Toronto company proved the genetic link. Thanh had found his biological father and family.

Thanh uses the word ``providence'' to describe his astounding journey.

``It's more than just a father reuniting with a son. It goes beyond that. We want to see the country, we want to meet the people. We also want to be able to share who we are.''


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