More than four decades ago, Chien Danh Florio fell into a river in Vinh Long, Vietnam, at the age of 14 and almost drowned. The moment changed his life forever.
It was 1969, and the United States was engaged in the Vietnam War when Florio waded in the river with the town's other children, jumping and waving to welcome an American ship carrying supplies and candy. In his exuberance, Florio's shorts were caught on barbed wire in the river and he was pulled under the water.
According to Florio, an American Navy lieutenant pulled him out of the river and saved his life. The lieutenant then took Florio to the ship and later adopted him as his own son. Florio left his family behind in Vietnam and never knew whether his parents and siblings survived the war.
Chien Danh Florio, center, meets his two nephews Tan, left, and Tanh Danh for the first time in Bridgeport. Florio and his two nephews were all taken from Vietnam and adopted by American families.
Florio and his adopted father traveled around the U.S. until Florio struck out on his own at age 18. Currently living in Bridgeport with his wife Lea, Florio has been searching for his lost family in Vietnam.
And it turns out someone was looking for him, too. In early April, Florio heard from a private investigator that Florio's two nephews had been looking for him for 22 years. The brothers Tan and Tanh Danh had found Florio online and wanted to meet him.
The nephews' story is similar to that of their uncle. The brothers said their father put them on a refugee boat in 1978 so they could escape Vietnam. For a time, they lived in a refugee camp in Cambodia. They eventually came to live in Michigan with an adopted family. Like Florio, they had been searching for their lost biological relatives for years.
Florio met his two nephews for the first time last week when they came to visit him in Bridgeport. Through his nephews, Florio discovered his five brothers and four sisters were still alive and living in Vietnam with his many nieces and nephews.
He also learned his parents had died of old age in Vietnam. Florio was able to talk to his brother by phone for the first time in 44 years.
"I was in shock," Florio said. "There was a lot of emotion. It was exciting. When I called my brother, there were a lot of tears."
Florio said he and his wife now hope to visit his original family in Vietnam, but their trip has not yet been scheduled.