Department of Defense Position Regarding Children Born Out of Wedlock, 1971

Source: Steven DeBonis, Children of the Enemy: Oral Histories of Vietnamese Amerasians and Their Mothers (Jefferson. NC: McFarland and Co., 1995), 135.

The adults in this 1990s photo lived with their Vietnamese mother and African American father when they were small. They were unable to leave Vietnam in 1975 because their father had a wife and children in the United States.



Source: Steven DeBonis, Children of the Enemy: Oral Histories of Vietnamese Amerasians and Their Mothers, (Jefferson, NC:  McFarland Co., 1995), 215.

The Buddhist nun who ran the Vietnamese orphanage in which these children grew up reported that eight of the forty-six orphans who lived there in 1975 were Amerasian. This was a much higher percentage than the two percent estimated by the U.S. Department of Defense.


The command in Vietnam is not complacent about the morals of the servicemen and associated activities. In this regard, responsible military commanders strive to curb the problem at its sources by making it clear that irresponsible and immoral behavior on the part of servicemen is never condoned, including the conditions which tend to induce or encourage immoral behavior and in particular, where it contributes to the problem of children born out of wedlock.

Separation from family and placement in an alien environment, coupled with the difference in mores which frequently prevail, are recognized as conditions which require unusual efforts. Accordingly, special command emphasis is given to character guidance and other programs to provide servicemen an opportunity to channel their off-duty activities into wholesome pursuits. In addition, direct control measures are employed as warranted. These include such measures as the enforcement of curfews, off-limits restrictions, bed checks, and disciplinary actions. Areas and establishments can be and are placed off-limits by our commanders concerned when such is necessary to protect the interests and welfare of our servicemen.

Personal conduct of servicemen in Vietnam can be governed by forcible measures only on a transitory basis. In general, service personnel are neither more nor less moral than when they enter the service; unfortunately, some persist in engaging in immoral conduct despite counseling and advice to the contrary. . . .

We recognize that emotion and compassion often lead to a distorted view of the magnitude of the problem of illegitimate children by some persons. Accordingly, the number of such children fathered by American servicemen overseas is frequently exaggerated. Official reports from authorities in Vietnam state that the problem there is not of substantial magnitude. A recent survey of 120 orphanages with a total orphanage population of 18,000 children indicates a range of 350-400 children or about 2.08 percent were of possible U.S. parentage. Another survey of a representative number of institutions for children in Vietnam shows that children with possible U.S. parentage account for approximately 2.6 percent of the total. A United Press report indicated that less than one-half of one percent of the children in Vietnamese orphanages are thought to be Vietnamese-American.

Similarly, in 1952, when estimates of children of mixed parentage born out of wedlock in Japan during the United States occupation placed the number at 200,000, the American Consul General enlisted the cooperation of the Japanese Ministry of Welfare in evaluating the true extent of the problem. The Ministry’s subsequent report placed the official figure at 5,013, of whom 1,000 were born to parents who were legally married subsequent to the birth of their child. (Eveland, Virginia D., “Welfare Program for Children of Mixed Parentage,” Foreign Affairs Association of Japan, Tokyo, 1956). Again in 1963, allegations were made that there were about 100 orphan children in an orphanage on Okinawa of whom the majority were illegitimate children of American service personnel. However, an official investigation established that, of the 85 children assigned to the orphanages by the Ryukyuan Government, only six were of mixed parentage.

The other side of the story often goes untold. We take pride in the fact that the American serviceman, through his generosity in all foreign lands, has adopted many of these alien children.


Source: DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE POSITION REGARDING CHILDREN BORN OUT OF WEDLOCK IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES WHERE U.S. ARMED FORCES ARE ASSIGNED, June 28, 1971, International Social Service, American Branch Papers, Box 38, Folder: “Conference on the Special Needs of Children in Vietnam,” Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota.

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To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403-1288
(541) 346-3699
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