By Jason Alexander
FOR THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ALGONAC, Mich. (AP) — Every day for the last four decades, Earl Hicks has thought almost about the children he fathered while serving in Vietnam.
Memories are all Hicks, 63, of Algonac, ever thought he would have of the little girl and little boy born while he was stationed in Pleiku with the Army’s 504th Military Police Battalion. “I’ve always felt this guilt,” he said. “It haunted me.”
The sergeant said he was ashamed because he suddenly left — flown out of Saigon in 1972 with a skin rash — and never returned to the war, losing contact with the children — son, Thach Pham, 1, daughter, Thu Pham, 3 — and their mother, Truc Vo.
Violence bubbled in the country even after the war ended, and times were especially dangerous for Vietnamese people associated with Americans. Hicks didn’t know if his children and their mother were killed or tortured in the chaos.
That all changed recently when Hicks saw a posting on the 504th’s Web site. “He was sitting at the computer, and he said, ‘That’s me! That’s my kids!’” Hicks’ wife, JoAnn, said.
The message, posted by Clint Haines, president and chief executive officer of Amerasian Child Find Network Inc., read, in part: “I’m looking for a Sgt. Hicks who worked as a mess sgt. in 68-69. … Anyone who knew him or has old company rosters or orders with his name on them, please e-mail your phone number.”
“[The posting] “just about blew the socks right off my feet,” Hicks said. He called and got contact information for his children and their mother.
Even though they don’t speak perfect English, Hicks has been talking with the trio nearly every day via phone and Webcam.
On May 1, Thu Pham and Thach Pham flew into Detroit to meet the man they knew only as Sgt. Hicks. “There’s been a lot of crying, smiling, and hugging,” he said.
“All my mom remembered was his last name and his big belly,” said Thu, nearing tear.
Hicks met Vo in 1969 while she was working in the kitchen of a compound where he was stationed. The two hit it off, and she became pregnant with Thu, now 40, later that year. Hicks and Vo stayed together, and Thach, now 38, was born not long after.
In 1970, Hicks was transferred to Saigon. When Vo returned from visiting family, Hicks was gone. Vo didn’t know if Hicks was still alive.
After he left the war, Hicks said he tried to find his family, giving soldiers traveling to Vietnam their information. He even requested that he be sent back but heard nothing.
Hicks said he feared the worst in 1975 during the fall of Saigon.
“I heard all these horrible stories,” he said. “I thought they died.”
As Hicks worried, his children and Vo were fighting for their lives.
When the war ended, Vo had to hide the children from the Vietnamese government. Thach said many Vietnamese children fathered by Americans were killed or forced to go to re-education camps.
Thach said he and his sister couldn’t play outside and couldn’t go to a normal school.
“They would say, `You aren’t Vietnamese, you’re American. This is not your place to live,’” he said.
The family made a 250-mile, two-week trip from Pleiku to Cam Rahn Bay, hiding beneath a blanket. They didn’t come out of hiding until 1989 when the United States implemented the American Homecoming Act.
The family applied and was sent to a refugee camp in the Philippines for eight months before being sponsored by a small church in New York, which allowed them to come to the U.S.
The family moved around the country before settling in Florida in 2005. Thu took a job as a nail stylist and Thach found work in a factory.
The family searched for their father without any luck at first. Thach even went to Washington to see if his father’s name was on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
“I didn’t see his name on there, and I know he was still alive and in the United States,” he said in tears.
It was Thu Pham who recently decided to start another search for their father. A friend gave her an advertisement for the Amerasian Child Find Network, a nonprofit based in Oregon. She contacted Haines, who located Hicks within 24 hours.
The family was overjoyed when they found out. “We jumped and cried,” Thu said.
“They came and found me,” Hicks said, nearly in tears. “They just wanted to see me. They want me to be a part of their life.” ♦
Information from Times Herald contribued to this report.