Thank you for your service

Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo.

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- This Veteran’s Day our country feels divided. Our friends, our neighbors, and even our families are seeing painful division in the aftermath of a contentious and intense election. We have a desperate need to find a path of healing. It is in these moments, I believe we need stories that remind us to cherish one another and to prevail with love, respect and kindness.

With our election behind us and on the eve of Veteran’s Day, my story is worth telling. It is a story of kindness and gratitude for service. Together, these Vietnam veterans and I found healing where race, religion, and politics didn’t matter. We connected over a tiny village in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.

From 1963 until 1975 the Vinh Long Airfield was located deep within the Mekong Delta. Next door to the airfield was the Good Shepherd Convent run by Irish nuns. It was here that the nuns worked tirelessly educating and rehabilitating young Vietnamese women teaching them skills that would improve their quality of life. It is also here where an orphanage was established – my orphanage. At just a year old, Sister Ursula Lee chose me to travel across the world to find a better life in America.

My name is Aryn Lockhart and I am a Vietnamese adoptee. With the fall of Saigon imminent in April 1975, President Ford sanctioned a humanitarian mission called Operation Babylift to evacuate thousands of orphans from Saigon. I was one of those orphans.

Fast forward 42 years and I would spend a weekend meeting the men from 7th Squadron, 1st Calvary Regiment Blackhawks who were stationed in Vinh Long, Vietnam. Attending their annual reunion in San Antonio, Texas, I met the Blackhawks for the first time. These men risked their lives every day to protect the village of Vinh Long and its surrounding area. Flying helicopters as an air support unit, these men had one of the most dangerous jobs during the war. Their job was to fly dangerously low scouting out the enemy and drawing fire to keep the local area safe from the Viet Cong.

In addition to their flying stories, I heard how they would bring supplies to the convent daily. They built a pool for the children using a helicopter blade as the diving board. Sometimes they would escape for a much needed break from the long, tiring, daily routine. Many remembered interacting with the children, as they endured the daily struggles of war and survival.

I listened patiently to every story and shared in memories of these brave men. I journeyed through their photo albums and stories of yesteryear. Most of these soldiers had left long before I arrived in Vinh Long and yet we were directly connected. These men protected the village where I was born, they watched over the nuns who prepared me for my long journey to the life and privileges I have now. I was full of gratitude and humbled by my warm reception.

I have stories for a lifetime. I received a handkerchief one of the soldiers had for over 40 years. He sent his laundry to the convent where they would stitch a number on each garment for sorting and he bestowed his treasure on me. I also received an original, combat-worn Blackhawk patch from another veteran. I met Brigadier General Edward W. Thomas, Jr., the Chief of Air Force Public Affairs, who was the guest speaker and whose father was stationed in Vinh Long.

I was speechless when these heroes voted me into their organization as an honorary Blackhawk. Writing this article, I am empowered by the goodness and kindness of people. Blackhawk member Elvis Bray said, “You’re one of us,” and I felt the connection. As an orphan from Vinh Long, Vietnam, I had a mission to offer my sincere gratitude for the efforts of these men and how they played a role in my life. Together we bridged years and healed the scars of war. “Thank you for your service,” had a meaning and intensity that was felt from my core for their direct connection to my life and my blessings. The hugs we shared told our story. I have no better way to honor these amazing men than to tell our story this Veteran’s Day.