It is almost two years now since the U.S. withdrew its last fighting men from Vietnam—long enough for many Americans to blot out the memory of that thankless battlefield, and the children who became its innocent victims. But Dick and Jodie Darragh have not forgotten—nor are they likely to. Through their dedication and sacrifice, and the travel privileges they enjoy as Eastern Airlines employees in Atlanta, the Darraghs have been the link by which dozens of Vietnamese orphans—some abandoned by GI fathers—have reached the arms of adoptive American parents. The young couple has made 10 trips to an orphanage at Anloc, near Saigon, bringing medicine and clothing, and trying to organize a clinic and school. They have personally escorted 62 children to the U.S., and many more (ranging in age from 5 months to 11 years) have been brought back by AEVOES (Airline Employees Volunteer Escort Service), a group the Darraghs helped create.
Five years ago, at the Atlanta airport, Jodie, now 29, met Dr. and Mrs. Patrick Tisdale, an Army physician and his wife, who were bringing two adopted Vietnamese daughters home to Columbus, Ga. Recalls Jodie: “Lein, then 3, just walked over and kissed me. And that’s how it began.” Several months later, Jodie made her first 72-hour trip to Anloc to deliver medical supplies. Whenever vacation time or days off allowed, she repeated her marathon journey. “When I married Jodie in 1971,” says Dick, 35, “I had no idea what made her so interested in those children. Then we kept Lein for the Tisdales while they made a trip to Vietnam, and I saw what a beautiful little thing she was.” Afterward the Darraghs made their first trip to Anloc together and returned with six children—Dick fastening bassinets to the plane’s bulkhead, while Jodie mixed formula on a hot plate. Now raising funds for Anloc consumes nearly all the Darraghs’ free time. “This has made us a team,” says Jodie. Adds Dick: “I just wish we could do a hundred times more than we do.”
Childless themselves—Jodie is unable to bear children—they hope to adopt a 2-year-old girl from the orphanage with whom they have fallen in love. The child’s mother has disappeared, but her father, a Vietnamese soldier, refuses to sign for adoption although she is living in the orphanage. “The father loves his little girl,” says Jodie, “and we know she’s loved at Anloc. Still, I wish we could buy her little dresses.” The Darraghs’ own case points up the strictness of Vietnamese adoption procedures. Although some regulations have been relaxed recently, the Saigon government still considers a child unadoptable unless both parents are proved dead or a living relative will sign a release. These rules are often nearly impossible to follow in the war-ravaged country.
Meanwhile, the Darraghs are in constant touch with the children they’ve helped, sometimes making 20 phone calls a night from their home in Marietta, Ga. Several mothers have gratefully named their new daughters after Jodie, and often call to tell her of a first tooth or a first step. Only one tragedy has marred the Darraghs’ efforts: the child adopted by close friends, Jim and Elsie Wallace, died in a play-swing accident. The Wallaces are now anxiously awaiting another orphan from Anloc. To Dick, the Darraghs’ last trip, two months ago, was their most rewarding. “We took rubella and mumps vaccine for 700 children. It’s good to know they will never be maimed by those diseases.” Jodie is already romantically matching up their children’s futures. “Wouldn’t it be funny,” she muses, “if Le Guang Trung [now Jon Christopher Harkins] grows up to marry Thi Thank Nya [now Elizabeth Le-Thi Fox]?”