This will be a book some day. It has to. It will probably be a movie. The story is better than any writer could create, because it is all true.
In 1972, as Viet Cong forces approached, 22 year old South Vietnamese Marine Second Lieutenant Bao Tran spotted an old man struggling to cross a bridge that was about to be blown up to block the advance of the enemy. He ran to him and as he helped him to safety, he saw that he was carrying a baby. The old man told Tran that he found her alongside a road, still clinging to the body of her dead mother.
He handed the child to Tran and pleaded, “Please help save this baby’s life.”
Tran took the infant to an orphanage in Hue City and lost track of her, not knowing her fate.
Four decades later, that baby had grown up to become a successful Naval Officer, Academy graduate, and a member of an elite staff directly supporting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Adopted by Air Force Tech Sgt. James L. Mitchell in 1972, Kim Mitchell was brought to the U.S. and grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. She was commissioned in 1996 as a Surface Warfare Officer, spending the last few years of her career in Washington, D.C. where, as a military aide at the White House, she met world leaders, celebrities, and rubbed elbows with some of the most powerful and influential people on earth.
She began her journey to discover her roots in 2011, when she returned to Vietnam. The orphanage where she had been dropped off had moved to Da Nang, but with the help of some friends, she was able to find it. The nuns – one of whom had been there when Kim had been left – had carefully reconstructed their records after the war, and they looked to see if Kim’s were among them.
The story made its way across the Pacific and was repeated within the Vietnamese communities in the United States. One man who read the story was Bao Tran. After the fall of Vietnam he spent six years in a re-education camp, eventually being allowed to emigrate to the United States, settling in New Mexico.
He reached out to LCDR Mitchell, and on March 29th, Vietnam Veterans Day in New Mexico, the two were reunited.
She told the Albuquerque Journal, “The whole point is that, during a very stressful time in his life, he took the time to save the life of a child.”
He told her, “I hope with all my heart that I have helped bring to an end your long search and longing to find your Vietnamese roots.”
Now retired, Kim Mitchell is the Deputy Director of the Staff Sgt. Donnie D. Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Community Services. In her new capacity, she is able to give back to countless veterans who served.
One man. One act of kindness. So many lives made better for it.
Bao Tran and Kim Mitchell are our heroes of the week.
The account of the reunion can be read here in the Albuquerque Journal.
This is the news report from KOB TV in Albuquerque: