Cherie's Work In Vietnam


Part One: Cherie Improves the Vietnamese Quality of Life, Adoptions

Work began very quickly for Cherie's orphanage. As soon as Thuy got the word out that FCVN was sponsoring orphanages and accepting new babies into its centers, demand grew exponentially. Cherie was always sure to grant financial support only to honest orphanages that she felt would use the money wisely; she learned early on that some orphanages were in poor condition not because of poor funding but because of poor leadership. By promoting honestly run orphanages, Cherie made significant progress toward ensuring that all Vietnamese adoption agencies were well run.

FCVN began to be regarded as an orphanage as well as an adoption agency and benefactor of many orphanages. They began to relieve over-crowded orphanages of some of their babies, primarily mixed race ones that wouldn't be accepted in Vietnam. The Saigon center quickly filled, and Cherie was forced to constantly add new staff to keep up.

Cherie was now able to explore the orphanages in the suburbs of Saigon, and in the outlying provinces. Her first trip, which can be considered her "standard" trip (albeit she had much less experience then) was to the Mekong Delta, located near the southern tip of the country. While there, caught a first-hand glimpse of the army itself, gaining a greater appreciation for the war being fought across the country. She also visited the Diem Phuc Orphanage, the Good Shepherd Orphanage, St. Paul's Orphanage, and the Providence Orphanage. She was impressed by the effort made by the nuns at each place to provide for the children, but also recognized that they had to deal with a lot of poverty. She resolved then and there to help such orphanages as best she could. Toward that end, she distributed the food she brought with her, and took some babies with her back to Saigon. Because of the war, which was going on all around them as they were driving from orphanage to orphanage, and because of the massive friendly military presence, travel was long and slow, and some babies almost died on the trip.

At this point, FCVN's operations in Vietnam really began to take off. They moved to a gigantic center in Saigon, located near the Tan Son Nhut International Airport, which was fully equipped with a five story apartment building, where they could fit anything or anyone they wanted to! Cherie also took it on herself to travel to Da Nang, where she visited the Sacred Heart Orphanage, and along with the staff decided to create an intensive care nursery in the new center to keep mortality rates down. Baby deaths were never fully prevented, however; epidemics such as "Saigon measels" were imminent threats. Her plans were starting to crystallize quite quickly; at about the same time, her husband sold their American house and came to Vietnam, too.

As the operation's size grew, so did its sophistication. Two secretarial staff were hired, as was a doctor. Additionally, 4 volunteers came from America to help out with the children; Cherie's wife Tom also became a major help, focusing mostly on administration. One of the biggest tasks they faced was sorting out all the necessary paperwork for their babies, since most did not receive any at their time of birth; it was often too expensive for the orphanages as well, since they had no idea whether any given baby would actually survive or not. Paperwork began to get quite impossible; for such organizations at that time, as many babies died waiting for visas as made it through. The main culprit was the U.S. bureaucracy, whose foolproof system to ensure "perfect" adoptions kept any from actually happening. To deal with the clog of children, and to improve the quality of life, Cherie and the FCVN board decided to rent or purchase another property for the older children, at Thu Duc. This would at least temporarily provide space for the flood of new charges.

In response to another epidemic, this one of pneumonia, adoption agencies in Vietnam, including FCVN, instituted foster programs. FCVN's foster program was an excellent success, accomplishing two goals in one: dealing with the influx of babies, and decreasing the center's vulnerability to viral/bacterial attack. This lowered the fatality rate from nearly thirty percent to a much lower amount. Combined with the new center for older children, the program swung enrollment at the main center in the other direction; it soon became unnecessary and wasteful to continue to reside there. They therefore left the center for a new one in Gia Dinh, a more remote district of Saigon. They stayed at this center until Saigon's collapse.

Remarkably, despite the frequent shakeups and the constant difficulties Cherie faced, FCVN continued to grow quickly in Vietnam. Some staff members left for the States, but they were quickly replaced by fresh volunteers. Their "intensive care" center was expanded to handle a broader variety of situations, with incubators and medical supplies from the states, and a plethora of staff to the point at which there was a staff to infant ratio was one to one. Staff workers provided excellent care for the babies, giving them everything they needed to stay physically healthy, and playing with them, too, for the babies' mental health. Most importantly, they began to finally make the bureaucracy work for them (They had gone straight to the top, bypassing the petty officials that had originally given them trouble.). As a result, they sent babies out weekly, and received many more. Cherie's center had turned from the babies' residency to their portal!

Part Two: The War Closes In

Such success, unfortunately, would not grace Cherie's efforts forever. By this point in time, it was early 1975, and the Vietnam war was drawing to a close - Cherie would eventually be on the losing side. The incoming Viet Cong troops presumably would kill many of the Amerasian infants, and so any areas the enemy was beginning to take over would have to be evacuated. Cherie coordinated FCVN's role in this endeavor.

There was a dim perception that South Vietnam was not winning the war. However, it was not until the country surrendered its Central Highlands to the communists that it became apparent that the democratic forces would not emerge victorious (though it was not clear at the time whether they would be utterly defeated or not). Panic began to develop, and Cherie was forced to reform her long term plans for FCVN in Vietnam; from then on, she would focus on helping as many babies as possible "retreat" from the advancing forces, and make it to the United States, by way of Operation Babylift. Ironically, it was at this late stage that she got the most children out of the country in the least amount of time. Her concern was greatest for mixed-race children, since they would be rejected by Vietnamese culture, especially communist Vietnamese culture.

She traveled to the Mekong River Delta to evacuate as many babies as possible from there, before the area was taken over, visiting the orphanages of Can Tho and Bac Lieu. She used the opportunity to deliver a last package of supplies to the Bac Lieu orphanage, which was nearly at the center of the firefights at the time. The fighting was so bad all around that they had to wait until soldiers told them it was safe to travel down certain sections of road; in fact, they were almost hit by a rocket while on the way back. Rockets that missed their mark were flying everywhere, and some hit and killed children and workers inside other orphanages.

Fighting wasn't as bad to the north, which was the other major area that Cherie was trying to evacuate. Unfortunately, this was because the southern army had all but given up. Not even Air America, run by the CIA, which had a history of obligingness, if not cooperation, with FCVN, was available to help Cherie bring orphanages located there the necessary supplies, or relieve them of their babies.

It so happened that one of the orphanages, Quang Ngai, just north of Da Nang, had been rocketed during a firefight there. Ignoring the very dangerous situation that far away from Saigon, in what was one of their most courageous acts of the fateful year of 1975, Cherie and Tom drove all the way to the shelter occupied by those babies and nuns in a van stuffed with supplies. Remarkably, they made it through unscathed, and even took a baby back with them.

Unfortunately, just before that, the cultural and religious center of Hue surrendered unconditionally to the communists, cementing further the eventual surrender of the south. Cherie and Tom were lucky to have left the Da Nang area when they did; soon after they got back, Da Nang was surrendered to the Viet Cong as well. Since Da Nang had been South Vietnam's second biggest city and one of its largest military bases, it had been one of the only things standing between the Viet Cong and Saigon. After Da Nang's surrender, the war was centered almost entirely around Saigon, resembling a seige.