ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Two Vietnamese children, accompanied by a congressional MIA delegation, were reunited with their refugee mother after seven years Tuesday in a tearful but joyous event aboard an Air Force jet.
Xuan Thi Nguyen, 35, who now lives in Alaska, tried to flee Vietnam with her children three times but was caught and jailed during each attempt. The fourth time, traveling through the Cambodian jungle, she escaped--without her children.
But on Tuesday the children, clutching a teddy bear and a floppy-eared rabbit, received welcome hugs from their mother, whom they had not seen since she fled the war-torn country.
Emerging from the plane, they stepped out to a warm American welcome in the bitter 10-below-zero wind chill.
Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska) led a four-man congressional delegation to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand on an eight-day mission to follow up reports of Americans sighted in Indochina and to account for about 2,440 American soldiers still listed as missing in action.
Although the group came back without any remains, without any resolution of the "live sightings" mystery and without any promises from Hanoi, they brought back the world to the Nguyens.
'I Am Very Happy'
"I am very happy and very appreciate, senator, to bring my children to live with me. This is my hope," Nguyen said. "I don't know how to say more."
After their private reunion on the jet, Nguyen and her two children sat before bright television lights and she answered questions--except about what prompted her to flee Vietnam--in heavily accented English.
In Vietnam, Nguyen worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Still in Vietnam are her parents and her six brothers and four sisters, including Nguyen Thi Sau, who cared for the children and who also sought to return with them but was denied permission to do so in what Murkowski described as a "traumatic experience."
Murkowski said Vietnam demanded money for the children's release and he gave them the $1,400 they requested in American traveler's checks. Murkowski said he reimbursed the government with a personal check of his own and shrugged off an attempt by Nguyen's husband to pay him back.
Father's Whereabouts Unknown
Nguyen lives in Fairbanks with her husband of two years, William Uhlig, 44, an aviation technician. Nguyen works as an inventory clerk at an office supply store.
Nguyen Vu Chinh, 10, an adopted son, and Tran Thanh Quynh Chi, 9, who is half Chinese, speak no English. The father's whereabouts are unknown. Nguyen's third child, a 10-year-old girl, remains in Vietnam with other relatives and she said she will work to get her too.
Nguyen said she feared she would never see her children again but made a final plea to Murkowski when he went home to Fairbanks at Christmas, knowing of his scheduled mission.