Red Cross Reconnects Brothers Separated During Vietnam War

Story by Robert Pollock, Southeastern Pennsylvania Region, Emergency Communications Volunteer and RFL Caseworker

In July 2011, the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania received a tracing request for Mark Chew from the Vietnamese Red Cross in Hanoi, Vietnam.  An American man, whose last known address was in Wallingford, PA, had adoped Mark in 1970.  His brother in Vietnam was trying to reestablish contact.

We were supplied with a large amount of search material by NHQ, however, the name of the person being sought was relatively common and the material proved to be of little help. After pursuing all these leads and getting nowhere, we were unsure how to proceed further. We started to search for the adopted father next. When that failed, we felt like we were at a dead end. As we thought more about the situation, it occurred to us that the father might be dead since he appeared to be a middle-aged man in the photograph we had from 1970. We found that the local obituaries are archived at the Ridley Township Public Library. A telephone call to the librarian proved to be very valuable. She searched their index for the father’s name and found two obituaries which she sent to us. That was the key to unlock the mystery.

In one of the obituaries dated June 2003, two sons were mentioned. One was Mark Chew with no identifiable address and the other one was listed as living in a small town in Maryland. We searched his name and the town on the Internet and easily found contact information for him. The brother was interested in our search and told us that while he had not been in touch recently with Mark, he had previously owned a restaurant in Maryland. We looked up the restaurant and Mark was no longer the owner. We then went to “The Wayback Machine” (from Rocky and Bullwinkle) or and looked at the past iterations for the restaurant website.  In the April 2009 edition, we found Mark listed as the owner with a photograph and the story of his early years in Vietnam.

A call to this restaurant, gave us new information that Mark now owned another restaurant on the Eastern Shore. We called and the phone was answered by Mark himself. That was October 5, 2011. The lost was finally found!

When we explained our search to Mark, he was silent at first. That is not an unusual reaction to the kind of news that we deliver. We recognized his reluctance to reconnect with family after 40 years of separation and his concerns about the validity of the search. We told him that we would send him the photos and information that we had and call him back in a week to see how he wanted to proceed. The following week, he agreed to share his contact information, which we forwarded to the National Headquarters of the American Red Cross to send back to Vietnam.

Normally, our story ends there. In this case, Mark contacted me in November of 2013 to tell me that he has established a frequent email relationship with his siblings. He then had plans to go back to Vietnam with his wife for 3 weeks in January 2014. The success of the search after much frustration is a great encouragement for caseworkers. The follow up story is like icing on the cake.