A NORTHERN IRISH MAN who was one of 100 children evacuated from war-torn Vietnam to the UK in 1975 is heading back to his homeland to reunite with his birth mother, and to get married.
Vance McElhinney, from Lurgan, Co. Armagh was an infant when he left Saigon for Co. Armagh in April 1975.
McElhinney was among more than 3000 Vietnamese children included in Operation Babylift, during the Vietnam War.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, he travelled back to Vietnam last year for a BBC Northern Ireland documentary, where he was reunited with the woman who has since been confirmed as his birth mother.
64-year-old Le Thi Anh immediately recognised Vance as her son.
McElhinney told the BBC: “I hardly knew this woman, but she kept saying, ‘This is yours, this is your house’, she wanted to sign everything over to me straight away. A DNA test was crucial for me; I wanted to lay a few ghosts to rest, but she was already convinced.”
The DNA results confirmed what Vance wanted to hear. He had found his mother after 43 years.
“My mum was so grateful that I was here in Northern Ireland and getting a better life and she was relieved that I was alive.
"It is for me now to stand up and be the son she never had – and look after her.
“The last time I saw her she was maybe my mum – and this time I know she is.”
McElhinney was adopted and raised by Cyril, now 78, and Liz McElhinney, who sadly passed away last year from Motor Neurone Disease.
Not only did he find his long-lost mother during his return to Vietnam, he also met the love of his life, fiancée Le Hang.
McElhinney met the 28-year-old clothes shop owner last year and is returning to make her his bride.
His plan is to split his time between Northern Ireland and Vietnam: “It’s my intention to be in Vietnam for most of the time, and return to Northern Ireland regularly. I have my dad and brothers here to think about.”
In order to give a little back to the community from which he sprung, McElhinney is setting up a charity to assist orphaned Vietnamese young people.
Helping Hand will offer funding to give these young people the prospect of a better future with more opportunities.
“I was given a good life by my mum and dad in Lurgan – and now I want to give something back and help others.”
If you want to get involved with the charity, email [email protected]