WAYNESVILLE, North Carolina - The last thing Henry “Jimmy” Ford Shade Jr. expected when he went to fight in Vietnam was to fall in love. Raised in Canton (North Carolina), this 1966 graduate of Reynolds High School joined the Army after graduation and served three tours with the 82nd Airborne.
“We formed a relationship, and I’d sneak off the base and go visit her and we’d stay with each other as much as we [could],” he said.
During the course of their relationship, they ended up saving each other’s lives. Nhung hid Shade under her bed when the Viet Cong came to her house and he rescued her from the Viet Cong when she was taken because she was out past curfew.
Their relationship ended on March 17, 1972 when Shade was shipped back to the States. Unbeknownst to Shade, Nhung was three months pregnant.
“She didn’t get to tell me and I didn’t get to say goodbye,” he said. “I had no idea I was going to be a father at all.”
Jimmy returned to Canton and after serving with the N.C. National Guard's 211th Military Police based in Clyde, he went to work for a paper mill. He met his current wife, Sarah, and they settled into a blissful domestic life, completely unaware that he had a Vietnamese son. They had two children together, Canton Police officer Tyler Shade and Anna Shade.
Across the world, Nhung gave birth to her son, Phuoc Minh Nguyen in 1972. His mixed-race heritage
earned him the distinction of being an
Ameriasian, the child of a Vietnamese woman and a U.S. military father. As
such, he faced difficulties growing up.
|Phuoc as an infant|
He was an outcast in his community and endured racial slurs and substandard treatment, and his mother faced persecution for having a child with an American soldier.
In 1989 when Phuoc was 17, he heard about the Ameriasian Homecoming Act on the radio, a U.S. law that gave preferential immigration status to children in Vietnam born of U.S. fathers. The law also allowed immediate relatives, like his mother, refugee benefits.
Phuoc was 18 when he and his mother arrived in the United States in 1990. He was encouraged to pick a nickname; by complete coincidence, he chose "Jimmy." They were sent to Portland, Maine, where he attended the local high school and worked as many jobs as he could to support his mother.
In 2000, Phuoc met his wife, Renee and the two were married in 2004. They have two daughters, Quynh and Tien, and reside in Casco, Maine with his mother. [Renee now works at Construction Consultants in Windham, ME.]
In 2003, Phuoc and Renee went to the American Red Cross because they were told the nonprofit might be able to help them locate his father.
The Red Cross was unable to help because, for safety reasons, his mother didn’t list the name of his father on his birth certificate. So Phuoc took the DNA test offered by Ancestry.com.
“For him, I knew we were only going to get the father’s side because they don’t send the test overseas (at the time), said Renee. “So I knew I would be getting the right results.”
Phuoc said Renee “went a long way” to help him find his father, spending two to three hours almost every night on Ancestry.com, combing through documents to find a connection.
“She wanted to find my father, but didn’t know how,” he said. “How do you find a diamond in the ocean?”
Renee searched for three years until last fall, when she found a cousin, Ashley McClelland, who connected her to Charles Hill, another cousin. He offered to put the picture of Nhung and Phuoc on the Shade Family Reunion Facebook page on Dec. 25, 2016.
Meanwhile, in Waynesville, Sarah Shade was scrolling through the Shade Family Reunion Facebook page in March 2017 when she came across the picture Renee had posted. According to her, Jimmy suddenly said, “I know her!”
|"Thu", Jimmy and Phuoc reunited|
“One of the first things Jimmy asked was, where my mother-in-law was, and he asked to talk to her,” said Renee.
Before allowing the two to speak, Renee said she needed more information. She asked Jimmy what he called her mother-in-law. He replied, “Thu.”
The next day, Nhung confirmed that that was the name Jimmy called her, and Renee excitedly told Phuoc she had possibly located his father.
“I was shocked,” said Renee. “I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to get [Phouc’s] hopes up. I wanted to be 100 percent sure. I was happy, but I was shocked.”
According to Sarah, the next time the Shades spoke to Renee, Jimmy “jumped out of his chair” upon hearing that Renee’s mother-in-law’s nickname had been “Thu.”
“It was the connection,” said Sarah.
Confirmation and meeting
An old picture and anecdotal evidence, though strong, wasn’t enough to convince the Tyler and Anna Shade, Sarah and Jimmy’s children, that Phuoc was the real deal. Out of love and a sense of familial protection, they requested a legal paternity test in April.
“Within two business days, we had the results,” said Renee. “It was a 99.9997 percent chance they were father and son.”
To raise enough money to make the trip to Waynesville, Phuoc, who works in the construction field, took on a second job. He worked night and day for two weeks. The family left Casco, Maine on June 9 and arrived in Haywood County on Saturday, June 10.
“It was just like a miracle,” said Jimmy, “All this time, and to finally be able to touch him. It was deeply felt. I didn’t think I’d ever see her again, either.”
“I don’t think we could have asked for a better outcome,” said Renee. “Everyone has been so accepting of it. [Phuoc’s] new stepmom Sarah, his stepsisters, his uncles, they’ve taken him in. We came and within a number of hours, we’re like family.”