In the Spring of 1969, Li Lai Ha came aboard the U.S.S. Ranger (CVA-61) compliments of the ship’s Marine Detachment (MARDET). I was there from the Public Affairs Office to take pictures.
A brief story of her visit appeared in the March issue of the “Shield,” Ranger’s shipboard magazine with a black and white photograph. Headlined “Girl With 61 Papas,” the story read as follows:
Li Lai Ha, a 13-year-old from Hong Kong, was adopted by Ranger’s Marine Detachment eight years ago after her escape from Red China. When Ranger visited Hong Kong last month, Lai Ha got a deluxe tour of the ship and was presented gifts of a stuffed dog, a jewelry box and a flash camera from her papas.
The photo that ran with the story shows her on the flight deck with her maternal grandmother, interpreter, and an imposing group of marines.
Since I left the ship for shore duty that fall, I heard nothing more about her or any subsequent visits. I have often wondered whether her association with the shipboard detachment enhanced her life or was more of a brief interlude.
The Ranger is gone and the Marines no longer station detachments onboard capital ships. So, if an historical archive exists that follows up on Li Lai Ha’s 1969 visit, I have no idea where it might be.
She would be about 59 or 60 right now. I wonder if what she remembers about that day and if she still lives in Kong Hong.
At the time, I thought she was a bit overwhelmed by all the attention as well as the ride from the pier out to the carrier’s anchorage in the harbor. I was older than her and a bit overwhelmed by my visit to Hong Kong.
This is one of those memories that stayed with me and was a bit haunting.