"It was like they were always part of the family," Allen Thomas' daughter Charlene Roberts said

By Tiare Dunlap
Updated November 12, 2015 07:00 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Allen Family/ABC

After more than 40 years of searching, veteran Allen Thomas has been reunited with the twin children he thought he had lost forever.

The 68-year-old army veteran had been looking for his son and daughter ever since he had to leave them with their birth mother in South Korea in 1969.

Thomas had fraternal twins James and Sandra with a woman named Sun-Kim Pae while serving in South Korea in 1967. When his tour ended three years later, he was forced to leave his young family behind.

He told ABC News that the children’s birth mother put them up for adoption in 1976 without his knowledge.

In April, Thomas posted the handful of photos he had of his children to Facebook and started a group looking for help locating them.

“My name is Allen Thomas and I am looking for my son and daughter,” he wrote. “I have been searching for decades.”

The post was shared over one million times, causing ABC News’ 20/20 to take note and enlist the help of investigative genealogist Pamela Slaton along with its South Korea news bureau. After months of searching, the team located Thomas’ son and daughter and the family was reunited for the first time.

A Welcome Surprise

Thomas met the mother of his children as a 19-year-old Army sergeant stationed in South Korea in 1966. Sun-Kum, whom he liked to call Connie, was five years older and had a son named Jae-Im from a previous relationship. Connie became pregnant shortly after the pair met.

“It was [a] great surprise [as] far as I was concerned,” Thomas told ABC News of the pregnancy. “I was all for it.”

In 1967, Connie gave birth to twins – a boy and girl the couple named James and Sandra. When Thomas was 21, he married Connie and adopted Jae-Im.

The family planned to move to the United States, NBC News reports, but when Thomas’ tour ended in 1967, he couldn’t secure passports for Connie and Jae-Im.

He told ABC News he left his wife and children behind, figuring he’d be able to sort the passport issues out from the United States and bring everyone back together.

When that didn’t work, he volunteered for a dangerous mission in Vietnam to be closer to his family. “I figured if I went over there, I would extend, then I’d go to Korea and get this situation squared away,” he explained.

While visiting his family while on leave from Vietnam, his relationship with Connie became fraught.

A Return Home

The army wanted Thomas to return to the United States, but Connie didn’t want to join him and wouldn’t let the children leave, Thomas’ adult daughter Charlene Roberts told NBC News.

“He even considered going AWOL to take his kids,” she said.

Upon his return to New Hampshire, Thomas sent letters and money until his correspondence began returning to him unopened. He obtained a default divorce in 1973 and entered into a romance with a childhood friend named Polly Paquin.

In 1974, Connie sent Thomas a letter offering to hand over the twins, then 7, if he would travel to Korea to collect them.

“At that time, I had just went through bankruptcy. It was really hard, and there was just no way I could get over there,” he told ABC News.

He never heard from Connie again. Thomas and Paquin married in 1976 and together they raised three children. Still, he never forgot about the family he had left behind.

“It was like they were always part of the family,” Roberts told ABC News. “It was never a secret. We always knew about them and wondered about them.”

The couple reached out to the U.S. State Department and their elected officials seeking help. In the 1980s, an inquiry to the State Department brought a revelation: the children had been adopted by a family in the U.S.

However, upon seeking more information, Thomas was informed that privacy laws prevented him from being granted any further information.

“I was caught between two worlds,” Thomas recalled. “They were adopted under Korean law. Now all of a sudden they got the American law. Well okay, where are my rights? I was told I had no rights.”

Watch the emotional reunion unfold on ABC News’ 20/20 on Friday, Nov. 13, at 10 p.m. ET.