We arrived back from dinner to find our hosts at the door warning us of the terrifying events happening in America. We were all in a state of dazed shock and confusion as we watched film footage of the towers being hit and then crumbling to the earth along with the strike to the Pentagon in the nation’s capital.
My first thought was of concern for my many coworkers at Delta Airlines who might be en route on one of the many airborne planes thought to possibly be in danger of a terrorist takeover.
My husband, an avid student of history and world affairs just stared into the television screen muttering “It’s Bin Laden. It’s Bin Laden,” over and over. Sad to say, I had no idea what he was referring to at the time, but in times of great turmoil, our learning curves must often shorten dramatically. And mine did as he filled me in on a brief history of the Middle East and the marked divisions and unrest that gave venom to the radically evil ideology of wealthy Saudi businessman and terrorist, Osama Bin Laden.
Such a sad, sad day in our nation’s history. We mourned, just as all of our fellow Americans did that day. But our experience was different than most. We were smack-dab in the middle of Hanoi, VietNam, filing the paperwork that would enable us to bring our beautiful infant son, John Henry Thanh, home to the USA.
We had arrived a few days prior to this bustling and vibrant French-colonial city, and along with about 10 other families, had had the unparalleled experience of spending countless hours each day bonding with our new baby at Tu Liem Orphanage.
These will always be counted as some of the most peaceful and treasured days of our lives. And in an instant, our tranquil experience was turned on its head as we quickly tried to surmise what exactly was occurring back home (you may recall that internet access was far from what it is now 16 years ago).
We were contacted by our slightly alarmed travel agent who warned us that if we didn’t cut our trip short by a few days and fly home the next day, we would likely be stuck in VietNam for a month or more. No two ways about it, this was uncharted territory so all estimates were simply anyone’s best guess.
We reluctantly heeded his warning and asked that he find us a flight back as quickly as possible. At this point, the likelihood that we might only make it as far as Canada and then have to drive across the border into the US, was probable. We made the heart wrenching decision not to stop by the orphanage for a quick “good bye” visit with John Henry since we had had a wonderful time with him the day before.
And I wished that to be the memory that would sustain me until we could return and take him home to be with us, his “forever family.” So we said our farewells to the wonderful staff at the Claudia Hotel and all of the amazing families with whom we had forged such an indelible bond during those few days and we were shuttled off to the airport.
After a brief layover in Taipei, Taiwan, we nervously boarded a plane bound for the U.S. The ramped-up security protocol was frightening yet reassuring all at once. It was a stark reminder of the potential dangers that might await us as we took to the skies with no possible means of exit until the aircraft touched terra firma.
Once in Dallas, with one two-hour leg left of our long, long journey home (close to 24 hours of flying time!), we were alerted that the departure would be delayed awaiting the arrival of the one flight attendant needed to complete the crew.
I was exhausted and wanted to be home so I charged up the gate agent and asked the agent if she would call crew scheduling for me and ask if I could work the flight back so that we could leave sooner. As I was sporting flip flops and had no uniform or on-board manual, I fully expected my unconventional request to be flatly denied.
But alas, scheduling granted it and I quickly boarded the plane to help my fellow crew members ready the aircraft for departure. As luck would have it, I was soon able to take my seat as a passenger as another standby flight attendant showed up ready for work!
These were indeed strange times we were living through!
I spent the next two months painting multiple murals all over my sweet boy’s new nursery while we breathlessly awaited “the call.” And just shy of eight weeks after that tragic and life-changing day known as September 11th, our presence was once again requested in Hanoi, VietNam, to bring home our son, John Henry Thanh Adams.
At the time, I remember wondering if we were actually bringing this precious life into a country more perilous than the one he was leaving. But after arriving back home with him and seeing the wonderment of an entire nation pulling together like one big family, I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that our little family was exactly where we were meant to be.
May God grant comfort and strength to those who lost loved ones on this date sixteen years ago.
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