émigré greets governor years after receiving help

Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2003

FAIRBANKS - A young woman at the Governor's Picnic reminded Frank Murkowski of what he called the highlight of his 22-year U.S. Senate career.

In 1986, Murkowski, then a U.S. senator, led a congressional delegation to Hanoi, calling on the Vietnamese to resolve cases of American soldiers missing in action.

He also had a second goal - to answer the request of a Fairbanks woman who fled Vietnam years earlier, to bring her children to join her in the United States.

The children, Chi, then 9, and 10-year-old Chinh, hadn't seen their mother, Xuan Thi Nguyen, for seven years. Behind-the-scenes negotiations freed the children to enter the United States.

"It was the most significant event in my life to see those kids reunite with their mother," Murkowski said.

Sunday at Pioneer Park, Murkowski and his wife Nancy visited with Chi Lepine, now 26 and the wife of an Air Force captain she met in 2000 while he was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base.

"God sent her to me and I had to marry her," said Rick Lepine, Chi's husband, who has since been transferred to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

The Lepines still consider Alaska home, they said, and keep in touch with Murkowski via e-mail. They have a son, Jarrett, 2, and were in Fairbanks to visit friends.

Lepine still remembers the reunion with her mother in Anchorage, particularly the cold weather.

"'Mom, why do you live in such a cold place,' is what I told her," Lepine said, laughing.

Lepine's brother, Chinh Uhlig, is now 28 and serving in the Navy. Their mother lives in Atlanta with sisters whom Murkowski also aided in coming to the United States, Lepine said.

Before Sunday, Chi Lepine had not seen the Murkowskis in about six years, she said.

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