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Bernard James Barlow Jr.
Class of 1971
Published: October 4, 1987
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LEOMINSTER, Mass., Oct. 2â€” For eight years, Mai Barlow kept the existence of a daughter in Vietnam a secret from her husband. When she told him, it began a six-year quest that ended with a chance encounter with the right Vietnamese official at the right time.
That encounter enabled the Barlows to cut through red tape and place Mrs. Barlow's daughter, 19-year-old Nguyen Thi Ngoc Linh, on a flight to the United States in August.
''The officials in Vietnam and Bangkok are just upside down trying to figure out how we got it all done,'' Bernard Barlow said. ''So are we.''
Mrs. Barlow believes the father, an American serviceman, was killed when her daughter was 4 years old. Mrs. Barlow, who is 35, had not seen her since 1973, when Mrs. Barlow came to Massachusetts from Vietnam and married Mr. Barlow. Raised by Grandmother
The child was raised by her grandmother in a village about 30 miles inland from Nha Trang. Mrs. Barlow kept in touch and sent money, telling her husband the girl was her sister.
Mrs. Barlow said she waited eight years to tell her husband the truth because she feared his reaction. When she finally told him, Mr. Barlow was determined to add the girl to their family.
Mr. Barlow, 35, has a two-inch thick binder of letters and documents he compiled while seeking permission for Miss Linh to leave Vietnam. The couple sold their house to raise money for the quest. Fourth-grade schoolmates of their son Bobby wrote President Reagan asking him to help.
Six years of paper pleas were fruitless.
The Barlows decided to try a more direct approach. In August, they joined the first tour of Vietnamese-Americans returning to Vietnam. Mrs. Barlow was reunited with her daughter, who had been working in rice fields, earning 30 cents a day. Hands Showed Hardship
Mr. Barlow said, ''The first thing I noticed when I held her hand was how rough and calloused it was.''
Then the couple appealed to government officials, trying to get permission for her to leave.
''He was persistent,'' said Greg Kane, an organizer of the tour. ''He went to the local offices. He pushed them to process the paperwork. He hand-carried it from office to office to office. He was persistent and he was lucky.''
With less than a week left in their trip, they returned to an office in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, where a government worker sympathized but said only an official in Hanoi, the capital, had authority to grant an exit visa.
As they were leaving, that very official, Tran Quoc Van, strolled into the office for a surprise inspection.
''The official was curious to know about us, what our thoughts were on Vietnam and Communism,'' Mr. Barlow said. Mr. Van asked about the changes Mr. Barlow saw in Vietnam since being stationed there, and if the family could support Miss Linh. Good Wishes and Advice
The official granted her a passport, telling her to go to school and to be a good citizen, Mr. Barlow said.
The girl had not been interviewed by United States authorities, a normal requirement that can take nearly two years to arrange. Mr. Barlow called the American Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, demanding that Miss Linh be allowed to come to the United States.
On Aug. 6, Miss Linh left Vietnam with 130 other refugees under the Orderly Departure Program, a United Nations operation to help Asians with American ties reach the United States. The Federal Bureau of Refugee Affairs estimates there are 8,000 to 12,000 Amerasians in Vietnam.
The Barlows were on the same flight with Miss Linh, after spending about three weeks in Vietnam.
''Something like this has never occurred,'' said Mr. Kane, a co-founder of Vietnam Veterans of America. ''For someone on the first group to get their own daughter out of Vietnam is unbelievable.''
Photo of Bernard and Mai Barlow with Mrs. Barlow's daughter, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Linh (AP)
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