A British man saved decades ago from a Vietnam orphanage meets his birth mother for the very first time in an emotional moment captured on video.
Watch the touching moment a man is reunited with family long-thought dead, after a touching journey back to his roots.
Vance McElhinney, 43, had nothing but a crumpled baby photograph to show for his life prior to being airlifted to England in a rushed 1975 emergency mission.
Towards the end of the Vietnam War, children were gathered from Vietnamese orphanages in a frenzy of panic when the US president warned the advancing Vietcong troops planned to massacre war orphans.
The boy was adopted by a family in Northern Ireland and believed his family in Vietnam were dead.
But four years ago, Vance started to think about tracking down his birth relatives, and filmed A Place To Call Home for the BBC Northern Ireland series True North.
Local researchers and charities found out Vance had come from an orphanage in Quy Nhon.
When the documentary aired, Vance received a torrent of messages from people claiming to be family.
“My phone was like Blackpool Illuminations,” Vance said, according to SWNS reporter Laura Elvin.
“People were sending me messages saying ‘I’m your brother, I’m your cousin, I’m your mother.’
“I had to be skeptical. People sent photos and I had to be brutal and reply ‘I’m sorry that looks nothing like me’.”
But one claim stood out: a woman claiming to be a cousin.
The message contained a striking photo of a Vietnamese man bearing an uncanny resemblance to Vance.
He showed it to his adoptive parents, who agreed the likeness was obvious, and three months later, in February 2016, he was on a plane to Vietnam.
A surprise awaited him when he met the woman claiming to be his cousin. During a face-to-face meeting with her in a cafe in Quy Nhon, he was shown a neatly-dressed woman in her 60s. The cousin told Vance: ”She’s your mother.”
A skeptical Vance decided to get a DNA test done to know for sure whether Le Thi Anh, 64, was indeed his mother.
In late 2017, he received the results—a positive match.
So in February 2018, Vance traveled again to Vietnam to greet his birth mother for the very first time.
“I just said ‘Hello mum’ and she cried uncontrollably for a few minutes.
“There was no doubt in her mind, anyway, that I was her son,” he said. “She knew the DNA results were getting coverage, but I told her for sure when I saw her.
“She only knew I was there 30 minutes before I arrived.
“I kept it as quiet as possible for the ten days I was in Vietnam before seeing mum.
“I wanted to keep it as real as possible.
“It has been good getting to know her, but also difficult as my adopted mum passed away a few months ago.
“I feel torn between families. Even though my adopted family are behind me 100 percent, it’s still hard.”
After the city of Da Nang fell in March 1975, US President Gerald Ford announced his government would begin evacuating orphans from Saigon on 30 flights.
Vance was one of 100 children put on a rescue flight after he had been handed to nuns 600 kilometers (373 miles) away in Quy Nhon in the weeks or months before.
At the time nobody knew his history, but Vance has since discovered he was given to the nuns by his extended family when his mother was hospitalized for three weeks.
Vance speculates his relatives hoped to take him back, but with the country in turmoil, the children were unexpectedly moved to Saigon at short notice.
As soon as she found out, Vance’s mother and some of her brothers trekked the 600 kilometers to the city—by boat and on foot—over three weeks, but it was too late, she claims.
The border was shut for two more weeks and by the time she got in she wasn’t able to get any information about her son, and had no idea if he’d survived.
Rev. Canon Liz McElhinney and her husband Cyril MBE, national secretary of the YMCA for the U.K., watched the news in horror from their home in County Armagh.
Inspired to help, they traveled to Surrey and adopted a baby they called Vance, bringing him home to meet his new brothers, David and Stephen.
After being reunited with his birth mother in February, Vance spent several weeks getting to know her.
It is also reported he is setting up up a charity to help disabled youngsters, The Vance McElhinney Helping Hand Bursary Fund.