Every war had their heros, or people that act herotic saving their buddies or civilians. Heros are not born to be like that, situations make them to do things they won't image. But war heros in peacetime ??? How can it be ?? Well James "Jim" Copeland are an peacetime hero, he went all the way fight for,what he belived in.
James was an normal fellow from the Mississippi. When the military called him up for duty, he didn't runned away to Canada, hide or burned hes draft card, he simple did what he was told and went to Vietnam.
Bien Hoa 1969. James had arrived to Vietnam, he was assigned to MACV ( Military Assistance Command of Vietnam ), and were working together with The Republic of Vietnam 517th Reigional ARVN Div as an military advisor .
MACV's base were located in the front of the train compund in an area named HoNai/Bien Hoa.It was an part of greather Long Binh Camp,the camp where a lot of American Gi's spend their time in "Nam". The main group that lived in the HoNai area, originated came from northern part of Vietnam, they were catholics. Catholics left the north in 1954, to the southern part of Vietnam in fear of the new communist goverment in the Hanoi. With them, they took an whole different lifestyle,culture and taste of food. The goverment in Saigon, placed them around the big cities, on empty pieces of land. And by time that group of migrants became an very strong supporter for any sitting goverment in Saigon before the fall in 1975.
Long Binh Camp. The name that cover the huge military compound, hosting American gi's arriving to Vietnam, leaving back to the world or just did their duty there.
From food brought in containers over beers to any tax free items from the PX's, then the camp was an second home for an generations of men.
James, spend hes time working in the camp, and in the meshall he met the Vietnamese women Nguyen Thi Thu. She was working in and out of the camp, selling food and soft drinks for the military men.
What started as friendship, ended up in love. 1970 James tour of duty had ended, he was about to detour to USA, leaving behind the women that meant so much to him.
October 1970, an letter arrived from Vietnam. An letter that changed the outcome of James life. Nguyen Thi Thu was pregnent !!! For any man in this world, knowing that you gona be an father, are proberly the biggest moment in life, and for James too. He reassigned for duty, so he could join hes girlfriend and future child in Vietnam.
But the army had different plans, so James ended up in Germany, Europe very faraway form those he missed most. Connections with hes girlfriend worked by letters, but it faded by time and with the end of the war in 1975, it ceased.
40 years after. The army life are history, so are Vietnam too. James had retired from an long working life and lives an quiet life in hes native town in the Mississippi state. Things should be ok, but they not !!!. Events that happend in Vietnam long time ago, wouldn't leave james mind, that there was an child of him somewhere crying out for hes help.
February 2011. Father Founded recived an request from an Vietnam vet, that asked for our assistance in looking for hes lost child in Bien Hoa, Vietnam.
James started an long journey with one goal in hes life, hes lost child. There was no directions, no manuals in how to locate the exlady and child and noone to ask, it was all based on events happend 4 decades ago.
Recover the past
Bien Hoa, April 2011. It was an day like everyday in Bien Hoa, for those living there. People were busy working, making up for the daily survival and the roads were full of cars, dust and noise.
But something were not like everyday. 2 men on mission, driving around on an smal motorbike asking questions, showing old maps, photos and really bringing the past alive.
It really started in just before Father Founded arrived to Vietnam. Preparations had been under way with James case. An map had been draw by hands, of the area of duty with the old entrance of the camp, roads, food stall everthing worth to remember.
Besides that we had old photos of James and old info of hes time in Vietnam and about hes exlady.
Plans are hard to make when your search for someone after such an long time. People had moved, passed away of actually vanish from the earth and those living in the area, don't remember the past or had moved away too.
So its an uphill battle, all based on hearsay informations, maps and photos and huge share of luck and hard work.
Father Founded ( Me and my friend Hung ), took off for Bien Hoa by motorbike not really knowing what we heading for. Our plan was to follow the highway down from Ho Chi Minh City to Bien Hoa passing by old Long Binh Camp's main entrance.
Today Long Binh Camp had changed to an huge industrial complex for foreign companies and the whole area are one huge factory, swaming with life and people from foreign countries and Vietnam.
The map James draw, showed us the highway to the north and just before the city of Bien Hoa, there was an crossroad, on that road follow the old railway track to HoNai train compound. That at least what we were looking for, but reality after 40 years and an war later had change a lot. As closer we came to that crossroad as more we found out that we really were looking for the needle in the haystack. Noone knew about the old military complex and we were close to give up, to we met an old motorcyckle driver.
He was an older man, that made hes daily living driving people and goods. He used to work for old military and knew the area very well, and could reedit the map we had with us.
The crossroad took us to the truth, it was simple just follow the railway tracks to the end. Still the map gave us some headache, due to distances but it was usefull.
HoNai train compound !!! Those 3 words to cover for the dust,bad roads, cars and polutions. Strange to be taken back in history by seing an train compound, trains and where the old entrance to James place of duty.
The trees don't grow in to heaven and its not just locating an person after 40 years. Those that used to be young and worked there during the war, had eather moved,get killed or just simply disapear from the earth.
In the front of the train compound was an small corner cafe shop, more like and house turned in to shop. So we decided to stop there for an refreshment. The senior women that owned the place, we very please and curios to meet us, since its very rare foreigners coming around in their area.
The women was an open door to the past,she used to sell fruits and sodas to the Americans during the war and knew well about the whole area and those that worked for the Americans. Based on the info James gave us on her girlfriend and her working friends,she was able to correct a lot the names, special when they was only based on nicknames.
After an long time talking, we left some photos and some little economic "Help" and told her to contact us,if she had more info.
Now the day turned to afternoon and time was against us and we didn't knew what to do. But as usally luck hit us !!!! Hung decided against all odds to ask the older women walking around outside their houses, it was an mad idea but you only winn by madness.
An older women spoke good english, she used to live in USA but had returned to Vietnam for retirement. She remembered 2 Vietnamese women,that had children with American military men. One child had an african American father and the other an Caucasian father.
One child with an caucasian father. Now we were very close to the truth. All that was to waite for an messenger to find that Amerasian childs family. Seconds turns to minuts and we sweat and felt the sensations of waiting, being so near to reality as ever. The messenger came back and told us to follow him to the house of an other older women.Outside the house, we talked to some ladies in our age,they were related to those we were suppose to meet and very eager to help us.
Inside the house and more waiting, talking about the weather and nothing. Finally the older women came, and we shared info and photos and she confirmed that she knew about the mother that had an child with an caucasian American soldier, but that the mother and the child moved to USA allready.
Bad news, hard to find the truth when the evidence had moved around the earth !!! But there were still family left in the area so we took off one more time to an other destination. Destination, an other house full of people in all ages and genders, looking at us like we were aliens. Again informations and photo sharing and the same questions, it was like an repeatment of what happend all that day. The snowball started to roll and got bigger now. We got it !!! We knew it !!! When we saw the photos of the Amerasian child and the one we had of James, then it was out of questions, they looked so much like each other.
Mother and the child had moved to USA long time ago, under the refugee program and left behind family in Vietnam, so all communication had to go though mobile phones. Eveningtime arrived faster than expected and it turns dark outside, we were ready to turn back to the big city and some peace after an very long day.
Day 2, a lot off lose ends. We had to turn back to yesterdays place of events, again on the roads with dust,noise and an lot of traffic.
The second day was an continuation of day one, with many questions and answers, phonecalls and emails. To make an connections to something happend so long time ago and to present are an huge task, that demand an almost inhumane energy, time and understanding the local way of dealing with the past.
Now after 2 days in row at the frontline, we could pack up our all our papers, photos and notes. Tired after so much talk and transportations, there wasn't much more to say. I had heading back to Europe and Hung back to civilian life.
Mean while in USA, James were waiting for news. He had been updated though emails and by phone, but still hadn't the smoking gun. The smoking gun were already in USA, and with those hard evidence that we gather from our trip to Vietnam, James started to the first email of many to hes " New " amerasian daugther. After an bunch of emails, photos and information sharing, the first phonecalls took place and some time after the final proof an DNA test, that was positive.
After so many years of sadnes and pain, the Vietnam war was finally over for James and hes amerasian daugther Tiffany, and in june 2011 they finally met, for the first time in their life.
Even in such an happy moment in life, an shadow came over James land Tiffany's life. James family didn't accept hes child at all, they found it bizarre that he was looking for hes child and they never understood the pain in James heart. For them the war in Vietnam, was an foreign thing and same goes with James past, it was something not to use time on.
As the search progressed and James were about to meet hes daugther, the pressure around him kept growing, verbally and economic, in not going. But james met hes daugther, and the anger kept boiling. It had turned in to an tragic situation for James and hes daugther, there happiness been rejected by hes family and her family put under siege for not meeting her father.
James won't ever again give up the child he loves so much, no matter what it takes for him, he's ready to go though hell for her.
For Father Founded, James are an hero !!! He lives in an stage off hell since he found hes daugther, he don't like it but accept it, since love for hes child are stronger than anything else in that world and noone can take that away.
The lesson learned in this very special case, are that its importent to make plans for the search and to have all informations, photos and maps you can get, with you. Hard work in the field allways pays off, in other word keep the pressure to find the missing puzzles and fit them in, on the big picture. And in the end an big piece of luck too.
The last words in James "Jim" Copeland's case. Father Founded would like to thank my good friend Hung for hes outstanding work in the search, being such an patient person under such an pressure of during the large amounts of interviews and people that came in to our life, in that short time of period, few could had done that.
Then to all the wonderfull people in HoNai ward/ Bien Hoa, special Tiffany's relatives. Thanks for all the kindness, patience and sincerenes in dealing with 2 complete strangers, jumping from place to place bother people with questions, that for many touch an painfull past.
And in the end, James old buddy you did it !!! No matter what the world thinks and say about your search for your daugther, then you never gave up, as you say " Its never to late, before its to late".
James own words
It was a night like thousands of nights before, I could not sleep i was thinking of the child I had left in Vietnam. As I tossed and turned the same thoughts as always did my child live did it have the proper clothes,was it alright was it hungry.
It was getting to be more than I could bear. I thought we, I mean America was dealing with Vietnam now and I knew I had to make an effort to find my child before it was to late as I was in my mid sixtes. and with the help of Brian Hjort, with father founded.
He went to Vietnam, and found my child a daughter already living in America. I thank god for Brian and Hung, they were relentless in the search.
My daughter and I talk every day and I have visited her and she and her children are coming to visit me soon. I sleep great now and things are much better in my life now. Sincerely Jim Copeland.
James case had been covered in different newsmedias, countries and language around the world,more to see below here. .