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Mother, daughter reunite after being separated in Operation Babylift

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on November 25, 2019 - Duration: 04:07s

Mother, daughter reunite after being separated in Operation Babylift

As Vietnamese Communist forces closed in on Saigon in April 1975, in desperation, Nguyen thi Dep gave up daughter to Operation Babylift.

After searching for more than four decades, Dep found her daughter in the U.S. and reunited with her in Ho Chi Minh City.

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Mother, daughter reunite after being separated in Operation Babylift

For more than four decades, Nguyen thi Dep searched for the daughter she gave up in the last days of the Vietnam War.

(SOUNDBITE) (VIETNAMESE) NGUYEN THI DEP SAYING: "There were times I was discouraged and wanted to give up, but whenever there is news that could give me some hope, I started at it again." The last time Dep saw Phuong Mai was in 1975, when she dropped her offat an orphanage, fearful her three-year-old daughter would be killed by Communist forces because she was biracial.

A week later- Baby Mai was on a flight to America.

(SOUNDBITE) (VIETNAMESE) NGUYEN THI DEP SAYING: "It was very hurtful, very sad and I think and think until it felt like my brain shattered.

I loved her so much and what if something bad happened to her, so I decided that she should leave.

But after she was gone, I cried every night for months." Mai was one of 3,000 children scooped up as part of Operation Babylift, a dramatic evacuation carried out by the U.S. government.

Most were orphans, sent to the United States for adoption.

For Mai, it was the beginning of a new life with a new name: Leigh.

She grew up in a happy, middle-class home and started her own family in New England.

But Leigh never forgot about her Vietnamese heritage.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LEIGH MAI BOUGHTON SMALL SAYING: "I always wondered if I have a half-brother or half-sister and if my mother was out there, if my Dad was still alive.

I knew as I was getting older, they would be getting older." Leigh's father was an American soldier - he died in 2011.

She was still curious about her mother, so she resumed the searchand submitted a DNA sample to ancestry.com Four years later, in September, Leigh received a stunning message: you have a sibling or first cousin connection.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LEIGH MAI BOUGHTON SMALL SAYING: "So I was like, oh my gosh.

So a message from a person pops up as well in an envelope.

I open it and the first thing I see is "I think you're my sister, your Vietnamese mother is looking for you." She texted with a woman named Bonnie and learned they shared the same father but had different mothers.

A Vietnamese Good Samaritan who knew about Dep's plight found Leigh, and told her about her birth mother.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LEIGH MAI BOUGHTON SMALL SAYING: "You don't know, and I still don't know, if I was worthy of that decision that she made, and worthy of all that pain and love that she went through for me and had for me.

Have I lived up to that?

And did I deserve that and everything I got along with that decision?" On the 17th of November, mother and daughter met in Ho Chi Minh City, in an emotional reunion captured by Reuters.

(Leigh) "My first impression was that she was so scared of me and timid to me, and I get the impression that she's nervous that I was holding some type of resentment... but I think she's getting more comfortable and realizing that I'm not anything to be scared of and that I don't have any bad feelings about it." Leigh's husband and children were also there..

Dep meeting her grandchildren for the first time.

(SOUNDBITE) (VIETNAMESE) NGUYEN THI DEP SAYING: "I was worried that Mai and her family would be disappointed for having a mother that does not look like anyone they know." But there was only love and gratitude.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LEIGH MAI BOUGHTON SMALL SAYING: "I thank you for your decision and I understand it.

I had a wonderful life and I was loved.It turned out okay and I love you for it and I'm not angry or sad." (SOUNDBITE) (VIETNAMESE) NGUYEN THI DEP SAYING: "Thank you for still loving me and thinking of me." For Dep, the meeting validated her decision to give up Mai.

(SOUNDBITE) (VIETNAMESE) NGUYEN THI DEP SAYING: "I love her a lot and I am at ease because Mai has grown up, having her own family, can take care of her own self, as opposed to before when it was always 'Is my baby still alive?

If she is, what life does she have?

I was worried she had it hard." After 44 years, a mother's search for her daughter finally ends, and a new journey of discovery begins.

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