Vietnam veteran reunites with refugee family 40 years after sponsoring them

RIVERTON, Utah -- For the first time since 1980, a Vietnam veteran who lived in Utah was reunited with the Vietnamese refugee family his family sponsored after the war ended.

“This is the very first time we had met after 40 years,” said Dave Hansen, Vietnam veteran.

Friday, July 12 marked a reunion decades in the making, and answered a question Hansen had asked for years.

“We always wondered what happened with Ha and Chau and their family,” Hansen said.

It started in Salt Lake City back in 1979 — the story of a Vietnam veteran who opened his Utah home to sponsor a Vietnamese refugee family.

“I did not want to even hear the word, ‘Vietnam’ after I got back. It was so traumatic,” Hansen said.

Eight years passed after Hansen returned from the war. He, his wife, Carol, and their two young children were living in a small adobe home in Salt Lake when a woman from their church group asked if they would be interested in sponsoring a family from Vietnam.

Hansen was attending the University of Utah at the time on the G.I. Bill, and his family was living off an income of $432 per month. Still, they decided they wanted to bring in a family.

“It’s hard. Life was really hard, so I had a chance to escape Vietnam,” Chau Phung said.

Phung and her husband, Ha Tieu, moved to the United States -- bringing along their young daughter and 5-month-old baby.

“It is really emotional when I talk about 40 years ago,” Phung said.

Hansen recalled months where Ha and Chau slept on the floor in front of their stove.

“He says we slept on the floor, but it’s that somebody opened the door. That’s all that mattered, and I’m thankful for that,” Phung said.

The two families lived together for months, until Ha and Chau could secure jobs and get a house of their own.

“We spoke no Vietnamese at all, and they spoke no English at that time, but we really got along really well,” Hansen said.

The two families lost touch in 1980 when the Hansens moved out of state, but neither forgot the other.

“It was a wish from my mom several years ago that no one really took seriously, because I think no one thought they could really pull it off,” said Amy Tieu, Chau’s daughter.

But Amy Tieu took to the internet to try and find the people who sponsored her mother and father.

Amy Tieu  said her mother only had limited information about "Mr. and Mrs. Hansen." They had a son named Luke, and a daughter named Rose. Mr. Hansen graduated from the University of Utah in engineering in either 1977 or 1978.

“Reached out to a lot of random people. Got a lot of, ‘Best wishes,’” Tieu said, describing how she used the University of Utah’s alumni network to try and narrow down the options.

Amy Tieu stumbled across a "Dave Hansen" while searching the online White Pages.

“It was wonderful. Like a bluebird landing in the yard, you know? She said, ‘Are you the David Hansen who sponsored some Vietnamese people in 1979?’ It was emotional,” Hansen said.

“I was actually really stunned, but elated, that I had been able to find him after several years of being on the cusp of, 'Could we really find these people off of so little clues?'” Tieu said.

Forty years later, both families were still just as grateful for the other.

“It was a blessing to us to have them come into our life,” Hansen said.

Now that they have been reunited, they said they would stay in touch.