The twists and turns of fate

2013-07-03T22:00:00Z 2013-07-05T00:58:05Z The twists and turns of fateDeborah Laverty deborah.laverty@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2223 nwitimes.com

In the spring of 1964, Gary serviceman John W. Hunter was shot down by the North Vietnamese Army and left for dead in a Laotian farm field.

Hunter would be rescued and nursed back to health by a Laotian rice farmer.

In a twist of fate, 17 years later, Hunter took that rice farmer into his Lake Station home after marrying the man's daughter.

Thong Hunter, 57, said she was 8 when her father brought Hunter into their house.

"My dad laid him inside our bamboo hut and used herbs to treat his leg wound, which healed in a few weeks," Thong Hunter said.

John Hunter died seven years ago at 72, but his sons, including one by a previous marriage, and three with Thong, plan to honor his life and service to his country, which spanned two enlistments in the U.S. Army.

"My sons always go to his grave site on July 4 and on his birthday, Aug. 21," Thong Hunter said.

One of her sons Johnny Hunter, 29, said his brothers feel the need to pay tribute to their father.

"He gave us life. It's the least we can do," Johnny Hunter said.

Thong Hunter said their marriage of some 20 years wasn't based on some romantic love story.

She agreed to marry John Hunter in 1981 because he promised to take in her ailing father.

"I never loved him," she said.

Her father recognized John Hunter as the man whose life he had saved in 1964.

"My dad remembered him and put two and two together," she said.

For Thong Hunter, life in the United States was much better than in Laos after it was taken over by the Communists.

As a young woman in Laos, she worked at a soap factory earning the equivalent of 15 cents a month.

"After I received severe injuries to one of my fingers, I received a 5 cent raise," Hunter said.

She, her father and other family members decided to leave their country in 1979 and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand before emigrating to the United States.

Initially the family moved to Elgin, Ill., after receiving sponsorship from a family there and eventually moved to Northwest Indiana after receiving work in the Hobart area.

Thong Hunter met her future husband at a mutual acquaintance's house in Hobart.

"After six weeks, he asked me to marry him," Thong Hunter said.

The next thing she knew, she became an American wife even though her lack of knowledge of the English language kept her in the dark about what had transpired.

"After we were married by the judge, John kissed me on the cheek, and I smacked him on the face," she said.

Thong Hunter, who works as a janitor at River Forest High School, said she's happy she moved to the United States.

"It's my dream and my sister's dream and now the dream came true," she said.

She plans to celebrate Thursday by making traditional American foods and foods from her native country.

Raymond Hunter, 52, John Hunter's oldest son by a previous marriage, said he and his younger half-brothers also will celebrate their father's memory in a special way besides going to the cemetery.

"We will drink a few beers in memory of our dad," Raymond Hunter said.

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