Woman Of The Week
Thousands of veterans helped her piece together her
father’s heroic life
In a world of uncertainty Stephanie Hanson is sure of one thing – the legacy her birth father, Gary Norman Young, left her. Author of A Corpsman’s Legacy, she was adopted at birth and never considered meeting her biological parents until a medical condition prompted her to search for them at age 26. She soon discovered that her father, a Navy Corpsman in the Vietnam War, lost his life at only 20 years old when his helicopter was shot down during his first day flying medevac missions. He never knew about Hanson. After learning of her father’s tragic but heroic life, she reached out to his family and fellow veterans to piece together his story. Now, almost a decade later, Hanson has spoken with thousands of vets and shares their experience and her father’s in this acclaimed book. She also finally found out where she gets her crooked smile from. Read on for more info in Hanson’s words, and check out acorpsmanslegacy.com.
1. In your book you share an incredibly personal journey. How did it feel putting it all out there for the world to read?
Putting in the personal emotions was definitely difficult. It was like opening up my life for all to see, which did not come naturally. But it was the emotions of all involved that made this such an incredible story, so they had to be included. In addition to having to describe my own thoughts and feelings, I also had to be true to all the people that helped me. It was a fine line between telling the story and respecting people’s private emotions. And it was very important to me to “get it right” when talking about Vietnam and the military.
2. You pieced your birth father’s heroic life together by reaching out to his fellow veterans. How willing were people to talk to you? What was the main thing you learned about your father through these conversations?
That’s one of the most amazing parts of my journey – how willing all the veterans were to help me. There wasn’t one person who refused to talk to me – and quite often, it was the first time the men ever talked about either the crash or just their time in Vietnam. It was very humbling to have so many men put aside their own emotions just to try to help me.
I was also astounded by how many men wrote or called me that did not know my dad. Over 2,000 people have contacted me over the years, and only a very small handful actually knew my father. But these men wanted to tell me their thoughts on Corpsmen and that they regarded my father as a hero. They all said that if he was a Corpsman, then they could tell me about his character.
They all told me how my father was very courageous in volunteering to fly medevac missions. His whole being was wrapped up in helping “his” Marines however he could. He had an old-fashioned sense of honor and didn’t let anything sway him from that.
3. You have some remarkable reviews, including one from senator and presidential candidate John McCain – how does it feel to have so many notable, respected people reading and talking about your work?
It’s still unbelievable to me. To have Senator McCain’s endorsement is such an honor. I get chills thinking that, in a few months, I might be able to say that the president of the United States knows my father’s name.
4. What inspired you to write about your experience finding your birth father?
The veterans. I had no plans to write a book, but as more and more people heard my story, they all said it needed to be told. I had some media attention locally, and when I began receiving responses from people saying how much my story had helped them heal, I knew my father’s story had a bigger purpose.
5. If you could meet your father today and say just one sentence to him, what would it be?
Thank you for leaving me such a wonderful legacy.
6. In the book you talk about receiving your father’s broken watch from his brother and how it started miraculously working again once you had it. Can you tell us more about this life-changing moment?
It was like a moment written by Hollywood. If I hadn’t been there and seen Uncle Steve’s face, I don’t know if I would have believed it. It felt to both of us like my father was there with us. And to me, it felt like this was his sign that he was pleased that I existed and that I had searched out my family. I felt like what I was doing had his blessing.
7. How have you helped other children of Vietnam Veterans?
Over the years, I have helped children whose fathers died in Vietnam connect with the men who knew them,. and some who were with their fathers when they died. It’s an incredible feeling to see both sides get a sense of closure.
8. Your father’s legacy is now part of your own. Of all the things you’ve learned about him, what do you hold closest to your heart?
How much I am like my father. My adopted parents are wonderful, but not knowing who you look like or where you get personality and traits can sometimes leave you with a lot of questions. Being able to see how much I looked like my father, and then learning from his family how similar our personalities and likes were, made me feel that much closer to my father and made me feel like I knew him, even though I never got the chance to know him.
9. If other women in your situation want to find their birth parents, how would you suggest they start? What should they be prepared for?
Each state has different rules for locating birth parents. It will just depend on where you live and how much information you know. I would first start by finding an adoption support group. Being adopted presents problems because you don’t always “fit” in your adopted family. But too many people think that finding their birth parents will change their life in a fairy-tale ending. This is almost never true. What people tend to forget is that there is a reason for the adoption, and it’s not always pleasant. It is like opening a Pandora’s box – once you open it, you cannot close it. You need to be sure you can handle whatever information you discover.
Rapid Fire Questions
1. When you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Olympic ice skater
2. What type of kids did you hang out with in high school?
I went to a small school, so pretty much everyone.
3. What women from the past do you most identify with?
Anne Frank – her story shows how one person’s journey can impact so many people.
4. What’s your workout?
Exercise ball and walking my dog
5. Cat or dog?
6. What do you do when you want to completely tune out?
7. What book is sitting on your shelf, waiting to be read?
So many! Next up, though, is Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich.
8. If you could have dinner with any two people, who would you choose?
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg
9. What is the one thing you want or do not want the next generation of girls to encounter?
A world with no terrorism
10. If there were one thing you could change in your life, what would it be?
No more chronic pain (from my car accident)