Aryn Lockhart, 45 ?, of San Antonio, Texas, has a story that’s all tied up with the Vietnam War, immigration, activism, and much more.
You might be thinking, Vivian has another typo in her column. Or does that question mark after Lockhart’s age have some meaning?
On April 4, 1975, Lockhart was one of the babies and toddlers aboard a C-5 Galaxy that crashed shortly after takeoff from the Tan Son Nhat Airport outside of Saigon. She was among dozens from orphanages in South Vietnam that were destined for adoption in the U.S. in the last days of the Vietnam War as the North Vietnamese Army got closer and closer to Saigon. Birth records were lost in the crash.
So Lockhart found herself growing up in Woodbridge, Virginia, in a family with two biological children and two adopted children. She reports, “I realized I was different, but I was a good student who got along well with my teachers. I was, however, stuck between two worlds and didn’t understand Asian culture. Others noticed I was Asian before I did as my parents were color blind” (Her DNA tests on Ancestry reveal that she is almost entirely Southeast Asian).
After high school, Lockhart graduated from Virginia Tech in 1996 with a degree in communication. Since then, she has earned a graduate degree in business from Webster University. After college she worked as a graphic designer for 10 years in Garmisch, Germany, at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. She is now the Chief Public Affairs Officer at the Nineteenth U.S. Air Force in San Antonio.
Ray Snedegar of Centerville, Ohio, a U.S. Air Force loadmaster who was on that flight, stayed in touch with some of the survivors. In November 2014, he, Regina Aune, the medical crew director on the flight, and Lockhart travelled to what was once South Vietnam. Snedegar says, “At the crash site where the nose of the aircraft had landed, Aryn and I looked up and a civilian plane was overhead, flying into the airport. Here we were, she an infant in 1975 who knew nothing of the crash except what she had been told, and I, as an adult at that time, remembering everything of that day. We both began to sob uncontrollably and held each other. In that moment we bonded. Later on that day, we visited orphanages, and Aryn realized she had been in that same situation — a different orphanage, a different time. Those of us who are fortunate share our humanity with each other.”
Lockhart says of that trip to Vietnam, “I went to Vietnam because I was working on a book and needed to experience the culture and return to the scene of the crash. Co-written with Aune, the book, Operation Babylift: Mission Accomplished and subtitled “A Memoir of Hope and Healing,” is available in print and as an e-book at Amazon.com and will soon be available as an audio book.
This, however, is a Mother’s Day story, so back to that. In 2020, the year that all of us will remember as one of the worst in our lives with the pandemic and the political wrangling, Lockhart adopted three siblings: Jewell, 12, Jaylah, 8, and Jessa, 4.
Why? Lockhart says, “My story is a life full of blessings: college, career, travel, recognition for my photographs. I wanted to pay it forward. I have always wanted to adopt, so I called and asked to do ‘rescue care’ for a few weeks. I was in the process of becoming a licensed foster parent when my agency called and asked me to do respite care and then… “
All three of her daughters had been separated for a year and a half, and Child Protective services wanted to keep them together.
She admits that it’s been really tough, and she is working hard to develop a cohesive unit. “I try to be understanding.” She indicates that she knows that she is “late in the game” but has the financial means, has a great boss who allows her the flexibility she needs, and that she is in it for “the long game.”
In that game, she wants her three daughters to become strong independent women, to make important contributions, and to stand on their own.
An author, a keynote speaker many times over, a voice for orphans, a strong supporter of the U.S. military, a patriot, an immigrant, a mother.
And you just might want to check the schedule for the appearance of Lockhart and her three daughters on NBC’s “Today” as we celebrate our mothers in 2021 on their special day.