50 years on, American GI, Vietnamese girlfriend reunite:
Their future might be uncertain, but for a U.S. veteran and his Vietnamese girlfriend, rekindling their 50-year-old romance is enough, for now.
The gloomy weather in Bien Hoa Town does nothing to dampen the spirits of an elderly couple who are reveling in each other’s company.
Thuy Lan, who runs a congee (rice porridge) stall, and Ken Reesing, an American war veteran, are trying to make up for a lot of lost time. They had first met and dated in 1969.
The 67-year-old woman has introduced her “honey” to relatives and friends, and they have become an item everyone recognizes.
They visit a favorite coffee-shop every morning, and hold hands in an open display of affection.
They discuss everyday things like the cobia fish he had that morning for breakfast (the 71-year-old veteran loves Vietnamese food) and the miracle of finding each other again.
She pats him gently as he gets misty-eyed talking about their past.
“People here all great, but I would love to have more dates with Lan,” the former G.I says wistfully. Over the last week, they’ve just had one dinner alone.
Lan is busy with the congee stall she has been running for 30 years. And with an unusual companion in tow, people are only flocking in increasing numbers to the stall.
Ken knows all the neighbors now and talks to them regularly. He has been trying to learn Vietnamese and when she is not busy, they look at old family photo albums and talk nonstop.
Lan does not want him to help her at work. Ken has tried to serve her customers several times, but she has refused to let him.
She is fiercely independent and he respects that, but she is also very protective, never letting him cross the street alone.
“We will spend more time together and see how things go, but she is more than a close friend to me now,” Ken says.
In an excited tone, he adds: “We will go to Vung Tau this weekend, I’d love to spend more time with my Lan.”
Through the years
Surviving the war and returning to the U.S. after his application was accepted by a university, Ken intended to rejoin the army and return to Vietnam. But no one could guarantee that he would return to his previous job.
But he never lost the hope of finding Lan again. A few months ago, after reading a post by a veteran looking for his first girlfriend in Vietnam and discovering she had died, Reesing decided to share his own story on Facebook.
Robert Frank, a man living in Ho Chi Minh City, approached Ken, who was hesitant initially because he did not want to share Lan’s photo with other people. But after Frank posted the story on Facebook, Lan was located within a day, with one of her neighbors spotting the likeness in the photograph.
Frank visited Lan’s house to meet her in person to make sure she was the right person. First, she failed to locate her former place of work on a map, and claimed she did not remember the letters she’d written to him after he left.
“Robert showed me the picture of a 70-year-old man, and I was sure I had never met him before,” Lan says. But when she was shown old pictures of him in Saigon, she could not deny recognizing him.
Once the identities were confirmed, they began talking to each other over the phone every day, and a month later, he told her he wanted to visit Vietnam and see her.
After one month, Ken told Lan about his plan to visit Vietnam.
“All my friends knew I was going to Vietnam to see my former love, and were happy for me.”
That meeting happened at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City on September 12.
“The first thing I told him at the airport last week was that I missed him.”
“I don’t know why you missed me while I was standing in front of you and holding you,” Ken joked.
Ken, who has gone through a failed marriage, lives with his cat Chester in Ohio. Lan is reticent about her past, but is single at present, living with a daughter and a granddaughter. The daughter helps her with the congee stall.
Ken will return home at the end of September.
When someone asked him if he wanted Lan to go to the U.S. with him, he hesitated. He does not want to push her because “she has every reason to stay here.”
Lan has not thought yet about leaving her hometown. When Ken asked her about it, her answer was different from the clear refusal she gave him 50 years ago. She said then that she could not leave her family.
Now, she’s leaving the door ajar.