Soldiers leave families behind when they deploy, but few lose track of them for half a lifetime like in James Walker's case. Walker, a Navy veteran, had been searching for his daughter for 45 years, but this past weekend, his daughter Emi McGowan found him first.
"Your search is over .. I am found .. i love you Dad," McGowan posted on his Facebook Saturday.
Walker contacted his daughter's mother, Tomie Miller, to confirm McGowan was his child, since numerous scam artists had made the same claim.
"I called her mother, and she told me things that only her mother would know," Walker told Stars and Stripes.
Walker was serving at a naval air base near Tokyo when McGowan was born in 1968.
Shortly after, he left his daughter and her mother behind in Japan to fight in the Vietnam War.
Over the years, he wrote to his daughter and visited their old neighborhood in Japan but never found her. In March, a Stars and Stripes article circulated on Facebook, and one of McGowan's friends shared the accompanying photo with her.
"I looked at the baby in the picture and I was looking at myself in the mirror. My face has really not changed," she said.
McGowan started searching for her father when she was 18, but she had little information about him. She knew his name and age but didn't even know what he looked like. McGowan said Walker likely had trouble finding his daughter because of her mother's four marriages and multiple name changes.
Since their Facebook reunion, Walker and McGowan have swapped photographs, and the father saw for the first time how his daughter had grown into a woman. Both were in tears during their first phone conversation. The Navy Veteran learned that after he left Japan, McGowan's mother started dating another sailor.
"I didn't know that my first stepfather wasn't my real dad until I was 9 years old," McGowan said.
McGowan has three children and is currently homeless in Sarasota, Fla. Her life has not always been stable, but now she can finally build a relationship with her birth father.
Walker and his wife plan to visit McGowan in Florida this winter.
Emily Leayman is an intern at the Washington Examiner