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FAMILY’S ARRIVAL FULFILLS WARTIME PROMISE

SHARE FAMILY’S ARRIVAL FULFILLS WARTIME PROMISE

Quoc cracked open the fortune cookie and unraveled the rumpled slip of paper.

He leaned over to Dr. Virgil Kovalenko and rattled off the words: "To have a friend you must be a friend."Kovalenko believes that sums up their relationship pretty well. Quoc Anh Nguyen, his wife, Dung Thi Nguyen, their daughter, Trang, and Dung's mother, Tri Thi Nguyen, arrived Wednesday afternoon from a Vietnamese refugee camp in the Philippines.

Kovalenko and members of VASAA, Veterans Association for Service Activities Abroad, brought the family to the United States. His efforts are part of a promise he made to Vietnamese members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"We promised his parents . . . that if they would stay faithful to what the American servicemen had taught them, we'd never forget them," Kovalenko said. "And if the day came when they needed our help, all they had to do was ask."

Quoc Nguyen's mother asked for that help in 1982. She sent a letter addressed to: Church of LDS, Mormon, Utah, USA.

"Does anyone remember us?" the letter asked. "We are still alive. We are still here." That letter moved a group of Vietnam veterans to form an alliance and help the people who'd been their allies during the war.

Kovalenko's efforts to bring the Nguyen family to the United States got easier when he heard Quoc had married an Amerasian woman. Because her father was a U.S. Marine, they qualified to come to America under the "Amerasian Homecoming Act."

The family has spent the past few days filling out paperwork and getting settled into their new apartment. Quoc and Dung said they're ready to go to work and are willing to do anything.

They've spent their spare time watching "Sesame Street," hoping it might help them with their English. They learned some basic English in the Philippine refugee camp where they'd lived since April.

"The living there was more difficult," Quoc said through a translator. "Even more than Vietnam. We didn't have any freedom there."

Tri said everything she sees here makes her happy. "There is more freedom," she said. "Everything is new to us."

Quoc said he wanted to bring his family to America because there are more opportunities here. In Vietnam, he bought and sold used merchandise for a living.

They talk about the English classes they'll be attending and how much their utility bills might be. They say their life looks better than it once did.

Kovalenko receives payment for his efforts by watching the family plan for their future. "Instead of shooting at each other, now it's much more satisfying to try to provide a life for them instead of take it away."