Thursday, November 26, 2015         

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Woman meets sailor who helped give her life

Grace Tran was born on the USS Tarawa after Navy personnel rescued her family

By Gregg K. Kakesako


After 31 years a South Vietnamese refugee was reunited yesterday with the Navy corpsman who attended her birth aboard a U.S. warship.

The two met again in a tearful reunion on the flight deck of the USS Tarawa, a deactivated amphibious assault ship moored in Pearl Harbor.

Richard Reed was a 24-year-old hospital corpsman who aided in the delivery of a baby girl on May 10, 1979, aboard the Tarawa during its first deployment.

The child, Grace Tarawa Tran, weighed 6 pounds, 11 ounces.

She is now a financial analyst in Philadelphia, where her family settled. She is a U.S. citizen by virtue of her birth aboard a U.S. ship; other family members have become citizens, too.

Several days before she was born, her pregnant mother and 441 other refugees had been rescued from their sinking boat in the Gulf of Thailand by the crew of the frigate USS Robert Perry.

Tran said her mother told her that before the Navy rescued them, their boat had been attacked by pirates 11 times, had broken down and was "just drifting in the ocean."

Reed, now 55 and a minister in Smithville, Ind., said his encounter with the refugees "had a profound change on my life."

"I never had to face the persecution that these families faced," he told a small group of veterans and friends who traveled to Hawaii to visit the Tarawa, now one of 30 ships in the "mothball fleet" off the Waipio Peninsula.

That "profound experience was the calling that brought me to my ministry," he said For the past 10 years, he has been the pastor of New Horizon Church in southern Indiana.

Yesterday, Reed presented Tran with photos and newspaper clippings of her birth.

Tran told him that her family "was grateful for all that he had done."

They and other guests toured the 833-foot vessel, including the berthing area where Tran was born and the hospital bed she shared with her mother, Phung Kieu Huynh, for three days.

Reed said he tried to keep in touch with Tran's family but lost all contact with them and did not know they had moved to Philadelphia.

For her part, Tran had not seen any crew members of the Tarawa until last month.

"When I was called by a former crew member, I thought he was a telemarketer," said Tran, a 2002 Penn State graduate. That call was to invite her to a Tarawa reunion Oct. 21-23 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Tran, her mother, two brothers and uncle -- who all are now U.S. citizens -- attended the reunion. Tran had hoped to meet with Reed, but the reunion committee could not locate him.

It also was attended by former members of Kaneohe Bay's 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment, which was the Marine detachment assigned to the Tarawa during the humanitarian mission.

The Navy continued efforts to reunite Tran and Reed. He was finally contacted last week and took out a $2,500 loan to buy a plane ticket to Hawaii to surprise Tran.

Yesterday's reunion also was attended by two former Kaneohe Marines -- John Ishikawa and Teetai Nuusolia -- who were in the Marine detachment serving aboard the Tarawa when it aided Tran's family and the other refugees.

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