- Associated Press - Thursday, August 14, 2014

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (AP) - On Sunday morning, Harry Ketzner sat in his recliner in the middle of his living room in his Albany Street home. His 85th birthday was coming in just three days, but he didn’t expect anything special, just time with his wife, who likes to be called Rose.

Suddenly, his front door swung open. Two beautiful women, both with flowing black hair, rushed inside.

“Surprise, grandpa!” Julie Nguyen, his 24-year-old granddaughter, said. She and her mother, Michelle, flew in from Houston to celebrate his birthday for a few days.

“I almost had a heart attack,” Harry told the News and Tribune (http://bit.ly/1uwwNgT ). “I was overcome with joy.”

Though they’d come hundreds of miles to celebrate with him, the family’s journey spans half a world and a couple of decades. Harry met Thua, or Rose, during his tour of duty as a commander in the U.S. Navy in the Vietnam War.

He helped her flee a war-torn country, but the battle to bring her daughter, Michelle, to the United states would drag on for years.

Harry was a commander in the Navy at the tail end of the Vietnam War. He worked with the staff of the Vietnamese Internal Service on the Chieu Hoi Program, which helped the Northern Vietnamese defect to South Vietnam.

In the team of translators he worked with were Thua and her brothers. Together, they brought people out of the war zone as much as possible.

Thua said the fighting got worse, not long after she and Harry met in 1972. Seeing the situation Thua and her daughter were in, Harry said he wanted to help in any way he could. The safest route was to get her out of the country, but he’d have to take a plunge, first.

“I met her in South Vietnam and after a certain period of time, we thought we might be compatible,” Harry said.

Harry married Thua.

“The reason that we got married was I wanted to bring her here to the United States and you couldn’t just bring anybody here,” Harry said. “So that’s what I did.”

Thua said even though Michelle was 9 years old and attended the wedding, she had to leave her behind until she could become a U.S. citizen. Without time to say goodbye to her family as the war raged closer, Thua and Harry caught a plane to America.

Michelle stayed with her grandmother. She said while everything happened at an age where it had an effect on her, she didn’t blame her mother for how everything went.

“It was very hard over there,” Michelle said. “The government (in the United States) was willing to help, but with the war on in Vietnam, no one there could help.”

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