As we remember our servicemen and women, past and present, on this Memorial Day, it is worth noting how much the landscape of adoption in America was changed by servicemen and women. U.S. soldiers fighting in Europe, participating in the post-war occupations of Germany and Japan, and later serving in Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries helped to familiarize their families back home with the needs of the many orphans they encountered.
Although some of the armed services discouraged their personnel from adopting during their service, there are several stories about units informally taking on the cause of one or more orphans and lobbying to get them to the States.
Some servicemen and women did manage to adopt at the end of their service. Washington State Senator Paull Shin refers to himself as the “oldest Korean adoptee” in America. As a teen-ager in Korean he became acquainted with American soldiers, one of whom adopted him after the war. Shin’s adoptive father later encouraged him to return to Korea to seek out his birth father (his birth mother was dead). With his adoptive parents’ support, Shin reclaimed his Korean surname and took his adoptive parents’ surname, Paull, as his first name. Shin later became a history professor and a member of the Washington state Legislature.
The visibility of orphans and refugees to American military personnel and then to the American press and public led to the foundation of organizations such as the League for Orphan Victims in Europe (LOVE) and the American Joint Committee for Assisting Japanese-American Orphans.
Of course, as the title of the latter organization suggests, the military’s influence cannot be said to be universally positive. Many orphans were themselves children of U.S. servicemen. Life was especially difficult for these children in their native countries, many of which were almost completely homogeneous, because of their mixed racial heritage. Americans’ outrage at the way these part-American children were treated led to adoption of many of them, which led to adoption of other children from those countries.
Military families stationed abroad were among the first intercountry adopters, adopting children from West Germany.
Adoption of children from Asia who were victims of war also paved the way for transracial adoption in America, having provided the impetus and then the precedent for parents to adopt children regardless of the physical characteristic “matching” that had been previously been adoption practice in the U.S. The first recorded adoption of an African-American child by a White couple took place in 1948.
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