- 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 (https://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.”

Without more than a wedding ceremony and a little time knowing Harry, Thua said she put her utmost trust in him for the future of her and her family.

“I put my faith in him,” Thua said. “The war was so bad in my country, I couldn’t sleep. I was always scared.”

A friend of the Ketzners, Carol Buchheit, lives a couple of streets over from the Ketzners’ home. She said Thua told her stories of how in her home in Vietnam, the family would hide in a secret spot under the floor of their home once the shooting began.

She left everything she ever knew, starting a new life in a country she’d never visited.

Thua said she planned on gaining her citizenship and bringing Michelle with her within two years’ time, but she didn’t know at the time it would take her more than a decade.

Her citizenship papers got lost in the bureaucracy at the Vietnamese embassy. She and Harry kept in touch with the offices there to hurry the process along as much as possible, but it was little or no help.

In that time, the couple honeymooned in Hawaii. They lived in New Orleans, then moved to Indiana.

It took her 13 years before she was naturalized. At last, she was able to sponsor her daughter, nephew and brother to come to the U.S.

In 1985, Michelle came to America at the age of 22. She married and lived in Houston, giving birth to her daughter, Julie. After a divorce, she raised Julie largely on her own, but they never really got to see their family in New Albany.

After 24 years in the Navy, Harry retired, then spent 22 years as a teacher of math and physics at Central High School in Louisville.

Thua landscapes the rental properties that she and Harry own. She also volunteers her time at Park Christian Church on Green Valley Road.

Julie said she’s proud of her family’s history and glad things happened the way they did.

“I’m a believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason,” Julie said. “I’m thankful that I’m here, I’m thankful that my grandmother met him.”

Harry’s 85th birthday was Wednesday, the same day his stepdaughter and granddaughter left for Houston again.

“They are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. And I thank God for them,” Harry said. “I’m going to do everything I can to make their lives as good as I can.”

He said though they don’t get to see each other nearly enough, he feels their bond had never been anything but strong.

“I think that it was God’s will that I’ve got these two folks, this granddaughter and my daughter over there,” Harry said. “It’s God’s will. I could never have done it any other way. They’ve been the greatest blessing in my life to this date.”


Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., https://www.newsandtribune.com

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