Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ORPHAN WEEK - Escape from Saigon

TITLE: Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy

AUTHOR: Andrea Warren (and again)

WHO IS THE ORPHAN? This is the true story of Matt Steiner, a.k.a. Long, from Saigon, Vietnam. He was born in 1966.

HOW WAS HE ORPHANED? Long's father was American. He disappeared from Long's life at the age of two. His Vietnamese mother struggled with depression, then committed suicide. Ba, Long's maternal grandmother took on raising him. Long was on his own in the streets while Ba worked long hours to support them both. When he was seven, circumstances grew more dire due to the Vietnam War. Feeling like there was no other choice, Ba released Long to an American run orphanage in Saigon, the Holt Center.

WHAT WAS ORPHAN LIFE LIKE FOR HIM? Except for missing his grandmother terribly, his experience at the orphanage was positive. His memories include caring personnel, healthy food, on-site schooling and abundant friends.

WHAT WAS HIS TURNING POINT? President Gerald Ford's decision to help evacuate over 2,300 babies and children from South Vietnam was dubbed Operation Babylift. Leading up to Operation Babylift, panic was endemic as the Communists closed in on Saigon. Any foreigner, government official or South Vietnamese soldier was in particular danger of retaliation. Because Long was half white, it is assured that the Communists would have treated him harshly. This book really gives you a sense of how desperate the days were leading up to the collapse of Saigon. The Holt Center, at enormous cost, evacuated their entire orphanage on one Pan Am flight. Long was on his way to a new life with a new family in a new country.

HOW DOES HIS LIFE TURN-OUT? He was raised by a loving, Ohio family with three older brothers. Today he lives in Indiana and is a doctor, husband and father.

“I want my children to know that war isn't just about guns and soldiers, that families get separated and many innocent people are killed. But even in the middle of war, sometimes good things happen. In this war, there were people trying to help kids like me. I'll tell them I was one of the lucky ones, because I was able to escape and I had a wonderful family waiting for me.”

Ages 9-12

For those interested in Vietnam I also highly recommend reading Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam.

Activity: Can you pin Saigon on Vietnam?

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