Sisters separated from mother in Vietnam War reunited after 42 y - KPTV - FOX 12

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Sisters separated from mother in Vietnam War reunited after 42 years

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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

Sisters who were separated from their mother on the shores of Vietnam in 1975 were finally reunited at the Portland International Airport recently, after spending 42 years apart.

It's a story that goes back to April 30, 1975 - the day Saigon fell.

"I don't remember a lot, just my dad trying to gather five kids together," said Tina Sheetz.

It was a chaotic day to say the least.

Thousands of people rushed to board American military boats to escape the country, and many families were accidentally separated in the process.

Sheetz was six years old at the time.

"I remember the hustle and bustle," Sheetz said. "It all went by so fast."

On that day, Sheetz made it into a boat with her father and three sisters, but her mother and brother ended up on a second boat.

"They thought that boat was going back to America but it went and returned to Vietnam," said Mindy Moon, Sheetz' sister.

"I remember my dad saying that when he got to Guam he couldn't find them, so that's when he realized they didn't make it," Sheetz added. "He kept looking for them, he kept asking people."

As the girls and their father settled into their new life in America with a sponsor family, they wrote the Red Cross and never gave up hope of being reunited with their mother and brother once again.

But in the pre-internet era, information was hard to come by and as time went on, the days turned into years, and the years to decades.

"There were long periods that we didn't even know if they were alive," Sheetz said.

It wasn't until 1997 - more than 20 years later - when their father was at a party and something miraculous happened.

"Someone mentioned his name and someone said, 'Hey, there's a lady looking for you and your girls,'" Sheetz recalled.

Several years after that encounter, their brother was able to finally track them down and mailed a letter. It was that connection that ultimately led the family to re-connect via Skype in 2006.

"Oh my gosh, the waterworks," Moon said.

It was especially poignant for their father, who was able to see his wife and son through the camera lens twice before he passed away in 2011. 

After that day on the shores of Vietnam, he never saw them in person again.

"He was looking at them and talking to them and conversing with them and he was so happy," Moon said of the Skype connections. "His son, our brother, looks exactly like him."

On a Saturday evening in early May, all four sisters and their extended families gathered at PDX for a reunion 42 years in the making.

Thanks to family arrangements, their mother flew in to Portland from her village in Vietnam. Thanh Nguyen, now 78, wrapped her arms around her daughters for the first time in decades.

The moment - just outside the airport security gate - left everyone sobbing.

"It's better than the dream," Moon said tearfully. "She got to see her little girls."

Nguyen was not only reunited with her daughters but also their spouses, children and extended family members spanning four generations.

The family hoped their brother could make the trip as well, but it wasn't possible this time. Now, they've started a GoFundMe page in hopes of being reunited with him again soon, too.

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