Sisters Born during Vietnam War Find Each Other while Searching for American Fathers

Jan 31, 2019

Ann Marie Luc when she was baby. She was left on a doorstep in Vietnam when she was 1 year-old.

Ann Marie Luc was just a year old when her mother gave her away in Vietnam.   She was born to a Vietnamese woman and an American father serving in the Army during the Vietnam War.  She had been passed between several families and had four different names by the time she was 17 years-old.   That’s when she moved to the United States with a birth certificate she says was not her own.

“A lot them buy and sell us,” she says of the adoptive families.  “A lot them just use us to come here."

It would be decades before Ann knew she had a sister, born during the war as well.

Lisa Beresczky as a baby with the woman who adopted her in Vietnam, Nguyen thi Nguyen

Lisa Beresczky moved to America at the age of 13.  She too was conceived in conflict to a Vietnamese mother and American soldier, and knew neither.  But her adoptive mother was loving and wanted her to have a different life from the one she’d endured in Vietnam.

“I never forget, she bend down and whispered in my ear saying, this is your country.  Make it happen.”

Ann and Lisa were among tens of thousands of children born to Vietnamese women and American G.I. fathers in the shadows of the Vietnam War.  They became known as “Amerasians”; war babies left behind after U.S. forces withdrew in 1975. 

Their new mothers often panicked.  Fearing the children would be found by the communist government, they dumped them at orphanages and even in trash bins.  They were discarded like leftovers from an unsavory war.  As they grew up, many were forced to work and not allowed to go to school.

“A lot of kids made fun of us too when we were in Vietnam,” says Ann.  Everywhere we go, they just pick on us.  They call us white girl.”

In 1987, Congress passed the Amerasian Homecoming Act. https://www.congress.gov/bill/100th-congress/house-bill/3171 It allowed children born in Vietnam to American fathers during the war to immigrate to the U.S.   It let their adoptive families move as well.  The kids became popular with some Vietnamese families that suddenly befriended them, as was the case with Ann.

At first, Ann says, life in America wasn’t much better.  Vietnamese children struggled to assimilate and often wound up in trouble.  Ann had only a couple of months of English lessons before the move.  Difficult to understand, she says she was treated like she was stupid. 

What’s more, Ann says the adoptive family turned on her.  She learned money that was supposed to be exchanged for her between Vietnamese families, never was.  The  family became more concerned for their own children and ignored Ann's welfare.  She ran away feeling betrayed and used.  But, she refused to give up on building a better life in America.

“I don’t have a family,” she says.  “I don’t have a father.  I don’t have a mother.  I don’t have anybody. I’m going to do better.  I’m going to find a way to go to school and not let them look down on us.”

Ann and Lisa's biological mother, Tran thi Lan Huong

Ann eventually found a foster father in a Vietnam veteran.  He was good to her.  He still is.  But something was missing, a hole she couldn’t quite fill.  So she went back to Vietnam in search of her birth mother, Tran thi Lan Huong.  The  connection she longed for, however, simply wasn’t there.

“There was no love,” she says.  “I was looking for family for love.  I tried to make her happy.  I gave her money.”

Ann heard whispers during the overseas visit she might have a sister.  So she took a dangerous journey alone to the distant mountains where she was born.  She found nothing, except lingering ghosts of a childhood lost.

Nearly 20 years later, the pieces of her broken family puzzle began to come together when she met Jennifer McElveen, a stranger with an enormous heart.

“We didn’t know each other, but something in me compelled me to ask her if she was okay,” says McElveen.

Jennifer was getting a manicure at Ann's  Charleston area salon, when she noticed the young woman looked sad.  Ann's mother had just passed.  The funeral was that day.

“It was hurting me.  It was hurting me really bad.”

Ann  had decided not to go to Vietnam for the funeral.  Yet, the permanent loss of a mother she never could quite grasp, weighed heavily on the 46 year-old, even though she had a husband and two daughters of her own.

Ann and Jennifer (from left to right) at McElveen's Charleston area home
Credit Victoria Hansen

Ann may have been filing, buffing and polishing Jennifer’s nails, but she was the one in good hands.

Fascinated by  history, Jennifer McElveen had long researched  family ancestries as a hobby .  She quickly offered to help Ann find her American father through DNA.  Within just a matter of months, she came across a match.

“She was like I found your family.  I was so happy,” says Ann.

But the discovery  was more than a decade too late.  Ann's  birth father had committed suicide.  His sister says he was never the same after the Vietnam War.  Ann’s aunt suddenly remembered something he’d said, something she’d long forgotten, until hearing from Ann.

“When he came home, he said you know there’s the possibility I may have fathered a child in Vietnam and then nothing was ever said again.”

The aunt, now 71 years-old, calls Ann the daughter she never had.  But she asks not to be identified.  Extended family still doesn’t know.  It’s been less than a year since she and Ann first met.

Lisa and Ann (from left to right) posing for pictures after meeting for the first time in Charleston.

After years of struggling and living on welfare with her mom, Lisa finally settled in Arkansas.  Now 44 years-old, she's a wife and a mother.  She has a touch of a twang as she talks about the need to find her American father, even though she’s long had the love of her adoptive Vietnamese mother.

“I have this black deep hole in my heart that I’ve always felt,” she says.  “Like I’m an unwanted person and there’s this how you say, emptiness even though I have this beautiful family.”

A friend told her about ancestry research through DNA.  She didn’t believe it would work, until she too found a match and the woman who answered her call was Jennifer.

“At first I thought Jennifer was my sister,” Lisa  laughs. 

“The other person says well I’m looking for my birth mother Tran thi Lan Huong,” says Ann.  “I said that’s my mother.”  Jennifer was ecstatic too as she  confirmed Ann has a sister.  The women share the same Vietnamese mother, but different American dads.

The sisters  immediately turned to Facebook for pictures and answers.  They were delighted  by  eyes and smiles startlingly similar to their own.  Even their teenage daughters looked strikingly alike.  They couldn’t sleep and talked for the first time very early the next morning.

“And then I can’t say anything.  I was bawling.  I was crying like a baby,” says Lisa.   “She’s my sister and she was looking for me.”

Ann and Lisa (left to right) at the beach in Charleston

Within days, Lisa booked a flight from Arkansas to South Carolina.  The women played at the beach like little girls, holding hands and splashing in the ocean.  They posed as  giddy teenagers do, taking tons of selfies and marveling at their uncanny resemblance.

"I feel like I won the lottery," says Ann.

What were the chances?  Children of war cast aside so carelessly, finally found themselves in each other.