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How the Death of His Son Helped an LDS Dad Find His Long-Lost Family in Vietnam


From Lost Son to Losing a Son

Years later, Don married his high school sweetheart, Kaylene Johnson from Logan, Utah, and the two raised four children together. Life seemed to be going well, until an unexpected tragedy struck—one that rocked the Skanchys’s world and drove them to rely on their testimonies. The Skanchy’s youngest son, Eric, had spent four years in the Navy and two years at college. On one of his breaks, he flew to Chicago to propose to his girlfriend. They made plans to marry a few months later, but while Eric was driving home from Chicago the next day, his car began leaking carbon monoxide and he passed away.

“That was very devastating,” Don says. “But you know what? The gospel is just wonderful because without it, we wouldn’t know if we could have survived this ordeal. But knowing that our Heavenly Father took him [Eric] home because his job is done here, and knowing that there will be a day where we will see him again because we were sealed as a family, just as my family was sealed to my parents [brought us comfort].”

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The last picture of the Skanchys with their children and grandchildren before Eric's death

Their faith didn’t take away all the hurt, however. And as Don and Kaylene mourned the loss of their son, the pain began to take on new meaning as Don started to remember that he himself was a lost son. “I never really understood the meaning of ‘broken heart’ until the experience [of my son’s death]. . . . My heart just hurt, physically hurt,” Don remembers, “and sometimes I had to counsel my chest and just say ‘Stop hurting. Keep beating.’ It went on for quite a while until one day, I felt how important family is. Families are meant to be forever. And then I thought about my family that I left behind in Vietnam 50 years back and I decided it was time for me to go and look for my family.”

He continues, “I believe with all my heart that he [Eric] did help. He was there, helping every step of the way to look for my family. I truly believe that.”

Finding Family

Since both of his adoptive parents had passed away, Don felt no guilt spending his energy on searching for his birth relatives. Finding his Vietnamese family proved difficult, however. With no memory of the name of his hometown and only vague recollections of a Buddhist temple and a nearby bridge (both as common in Vietnam as LDS chapels are in Utah), Don started by searching for clues using Google Earth. After a month and a half of diligent searching, he finally found a place that looked promising. On November 18th, 2015, Don and Kaylene flew with hesitant hope to Vietnam to search the location. But nothing looked familiar when they arrived. Standing on the street near the Buddhist temple, Don suddenly had a strong feeling and knew his mother was no longer alive. And so he uttered two prayers: “Mother, I’m back but I don’t know where I am. I need to look for my siblings and I need to find them” and “Son, you know why I’m here, and I need your help to look for my siblings.” Then, he and Kaylene began searching.

After three and a half hours of walking up and down the streets asking elderly people if they remembered his family, Don and his wife decided to try the police station. They explained their situation but were quickly told, “We can’t help you. It’s too long ago. Come back another day.” Persistently, however, Don told the man the name of his family. As he did so, it caught the attention of a young woman sitting nearby: “She said, ‘Let me see that list.’ And she said, ‘Sit here, I will go up and check.’ I didn’t have any hope because it was just too long ago, and they would move away or die or so forth. Then, about 10 minutes later, she ran down and she was yelling, ‘I have found them! I’ve found them all! And they live nearby!’ I was so surprised, and said, ‘How can this be?”

Not 20 minutes later, a woman arrived at the station, walked straight up to Don, and asked him to tell her the name of his mother and father. When he did so, she then demanded the names of his siblings. Don remembers her reaction: “I told her my name and the names of all my siblings. She looked at me, she cried, she hugged me, and she said, ‘Oh, elder brother, where have you been? We thought you were dead.’”

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First hug with Don's sister Tuyet at the police station

The connection was instant. Four months later, the remaining Skanchy children accompanied their parents to Vietnam to meet their aunts and uncles. A year later, Don’s family returned and some of his siblings joined them on an extended trip to North Vietnam to look for more relatives. They found the house where his mother was born, 3 aunts, and 40 cousins. It had been over 60 years since these Vietnamese relatives had seen or heard from their older sister, Don’s mother, and having forgotten what she looked like, they were overjoyed to see a picture of her and be reunited with her family.

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