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REUNION Saigon's fall to North Vietnamese forces in April 1975 bothered Craig Johnson deeply.
Before returning stateside and eventually moving to Oakdale, he'd served in Vietnam and had gained a genuine empathy for the South Vietnamese people.
So when Vietnamese refugees came pouring into the United States, Johnson and wife Bonnie wanted to help. They were members of the Presbyterian Church in Fort Chaffee, Ark., which had adopted an extended Vietnamese family. The Johnsons opened their home to three of them, and learned of their hardships: Mother Bich Lien and young daughter My Linh had been evacuated by helicopter from the U.S. Embassy's rooftop (Modesto's Rich Paddock was a Marine assigned to that very same rooftop at the time).
Father Tran Van Mau once ran the Louis Pasteur Research Institute in Saigon and was in Manila working on his master's degree in public health when the North Vietnamese stormed Saigon. He returned three days later, only to learn his family had been evacuated.
"He and a couple of friends stole a boat and headed for the American fleet," Craig Johnson said. "It took them three days to get there."
Reunited as a family, the refugees were simply numbed by the upheavals in their lives by the time they reached Arkansas in June 1975.
"I remember that they came to us at 10 or 11 at night," Bonnie Johnson said. "They had one suitcase between them. Everything they had on them and in that suitcase had been donated by the church. They were in shock."
The Johnsons helped them acclimate to life in America. They helped the parents both well educated find jobs. The daughter adjusted quickly, mastering English so well that she went through high school in just three years and through the University of Oklahoma in three years as well.
"We got more from them than they did from us," she said.
Over the years, the Johnsons moved repeatedly before eventually settling in Oakdale in the early 1990s. By that time, they'd lost touch with their Vietnamese friends. Then, earlier this year, their sons connected on the Internet.
They set up a reunion last month in San Francisco.
"We spent four days with them," Craig Johnson said. "It was very emotional."
Tran Van Mau and Bich Lien are now retired. My Linh is married, a mother and works for a corporation in Texas. Her husband, also a refugee, whose parents died during the 1968 Tet Offensive, now is a securities broker.
The Johnsons said they all plan to get together again soon. They still have some catching up to do.
COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO-DOO Monday's story in The Bee about the cockfighting bust near Grayson reminded me of a couple of others, including one I covered back in 1997 when deputies raided cockfights near Patterson. They arrested four people. One man died when he attempted to avoid arrest by diving into the Delta-Mendota Canal.
And while in the campus library at the University of the Pacific in Stockton in 1976, I happened to be thumbing through an edition of National Geographic. The issue included an elaborate piece on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Among the photos was one of cockfights on one of the delta islands. Upon closer inspection, I recognized two of the men father and son tending to their fighting birds in the photo: I'd worked with them in a sawmill near Sonora that summer.
SOME TWEAKS In my April 4 column on a landlord-tenant war in southwest Modesto, I linked to a video showing the living conditions at the complex. The beginning of the video credited the Modesto Peace-Life Center. But the actual protest outside the civil courts building last week was supported officially by Occupy Modesto, not the Modesto Peace-Life Center.
Secondly, in my Sunday column about the lost (and found) diamond bracelet, the jewelry piece was appraised by in-house Ciccarelli Jewelers gemologist Wilhelmina Willemse, not by an outside appraiser.
And finally, the Alzeheimer's Aid Society indeed closed its Modesto office on McHenry Avenue (March 23 column), but plans to continue serving Stanislaus County by offering caregiver and patient support groups through Sutter Health in Modesto beginning April 25 and Turlock's Emanuel Medical Center as of May 2, the society's Max Perry wrote.
REMEMBERING Some readers will recall Bel Lange, host of "The Outdoorsman" show weekly for 28 years on KOVR (Channel 13), including during the time The Bee's parent company, McClatchy, owned the station (1964-79). Lange served in a number of roles at the station, including executive producer, production manager and general manager.
Lange died at 88 on April 1. His memorial service begins at 2 p.m. Sunday at Light of the Hills Lutheran Church in Cameron Park, off Highway 50 east of Sacramento.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.