Six members of a family in central Vietnam who were scattered during the last days of the Vietnam War and thought the others had died have reunited 40 years later.
It took a son from the patriarch’s second marriage, who recently visited the man’s hometown, to inform people he was still alive.
Nguyen Niet, 87, said he, his wife, and four children aged between three and 16 had fled their hometown in Quang Nam Province in February 1975 because of heavy bombing.
“Most people were fleeing,” he told news website VnExpress, sitting in his old house.
They took a bus to Da Nang and jostled with 1,000 others to get into a small boat and then a large vessel that sailed to Vung Tau.
When they stepped on the 100-meter-long vessel, however, the couple could not find their eldest daughter Ty, then 16, and eight-year-old son, Hue.
Pham Thi Ty, 85, his wife, said when they could not find the two children, they just lay on the floor of the barge with the remaining two.
“We were fatigued. We just hoped to reach land so we could do something.”
That night Niet went around the barge looking for water for his family and came back to find only his 12-year-old son, Tue, who had fainted out of thirst.
“I gave him a few drops of water to revive him before carrying him to look for the others.”
Many people on the barge had already died of hunger or diarrhea from drinking seawater.
“I asked many people and they said my wife and daughter had fallen into the sea.”
When the ship arrived near Cam Ranh in Khanh Hoa Province, a large boat came with fresh water and offered to pick up anyone interested.
Niet decided to go with his son to Cam Ranh, believing only the two of them were alive.
They wandered for months before finding a piece of land to pitch a tent and plant something.
He set up an altar for his wife at home with a photo he had.
He remarried a local woman several years later and had three children.
Pham Thi Ty said after waiting for her husband for a while, she decided to go and look for him.
That's how they lost each other.
To find some water she carried their youngest daughter along and left Tue behind. But when she returned, her husband had already left with the boy.
She cried a lot and did not know what to do.
She ignored the boats that came to pick people up because she was not sure if her husband had gone on any of them. She stayed on the ship until it reached Vung Tau more than a day later.
“Without my husband, without money, I decided to return home.”
It took Ty and her youngest daughter, Lien, two months of hitchhiking to return to Quang Nam.
She then waited and waited for her husband to return home like many of her neighbors did after the war ended. But he did not.
She went to a psychic and was told he was dead.
So she also set up an altar for him and their son.
Ty, their eldest daughter, and eight-year-old son Hue were also on the barge to Khanh Hoa but didn’t see each other or their father.
Without any of her family members around, the 16-year-old girl too decided to come back to Quang Nam and she managed to return home after three months.
Ty's brother Hue was shot in a crossfire when he was in Khanh Hoa. Some strangers took him to hospital in Saigon and a family here adopted him.
Hue remembered his address in Quang Nam and five years later his adoptive parents took him back there, but he only stayed there for just two months as he chose to live with his new family in Saigon, which was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1976.
Hai, a son of Niet from his second marriage, went to Quang Nam last May for a background check to become a Party member.
He said local officials introduced him to Niet’s original family.
They then accompanied him to Khanh Hoa and the family had a tearful reunion.
Niet said he had never dared to go back home “because I did not have much money and also because I did not want to face what I thought was the loss of my family.”
He plans to stay with them for several months before returning to his other family in Khanh Hoa.
“Now I just hope to stay healthy to travel back and forth.”