In 2018, Michael Bennett purchased a 23andMe DNA test kit to learn more about his family’s health history. But what he ended up discovering was more than he expected: a whole new family waiting for him.
Michael, 70, was born in 1951 in post-World War II occupied Japan. His biological mother is a Japanese woman named Yoshiko Nakajima, while his biological father is Dick Webster, an American serviceman.
In 1953, at three years old, Michael was adopted by a couple in the United States. That’s all he knew about his real family.
“I had a very happy childhood. I adored my parents,” he told TODAY.
Michael would eventually join the Army, become a Green Beret, and start his own family in the U.S.
In 2019, Michael, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, received a message on the 23andMe app from a young man named Damien from Cincinnati, Ohio.
“It was someone who said ‘hey, we have a lot of DNA in common and I don’t know who you are. I know all my family. I don’t know who you are.’” he told KENS 5.
Michael replied by sharing his story and how he had relatives in Japan. Then, more questions followed.
“Is your mother’s name Yoshiko Nakajima? Were you born in Japan in the 1950s?” Damien asked next.
Seeing his mother’s name on the screen was a huge ‘aha’ moment for Michael.
“Hey, we know who your father is,” Damien responded. “And you have a huge family and they all want to talk to you.”
Several hours later, Michael was on the phone with Damien’s aunt, Robin Reid. That call opened up a whole other world for him.
Michael, raised as an only child, discovered that he had seven half-siblings in Ohio, including Robin. She even had a picture of him as a little boy.
“That picture of that little boy stayed with me all these years,” Robin said of the photos that their dad kept. “That head full of black hair and those beautiful dark eyes stayed with me all these years and I wanted to know where my brother was.”
Robin explained that their late father, Dick Webster, did all he could to stay in Japan with Michael and his mother. He had re-enlisted for another three-year stint in the Air Force to be with them. However, the Air Force sent him back to the U.S.
Dick was a low-ranking airman with no means of influence to stop the transfer. Once he learned his son had been adopted, he never saw him again.
“He was broken-hearted,” Robin said. “He was a broken-hearted man over losing his family in Japan.”
He would find love again in the person of Alma Jean, whom he was married to for decades. However, he never stopped thinking about the family he left behind in Japan. In the 1980s, he even sent two of his sons on a mission to locate them.
The mother-and-son were long gone, but the brothers managed to gather information for their dad. After talking to the locals, they learned that Yoshiko has placed Michael for adoption to protect him. He was her only child.
Yoshiko passed away in 2017.
“She knew it was going to be hard for me as a mixed-race child in post-World War II Japan with a single mom,” Michael said. “There’s no question she did what she did out of love.”
Days after his life-changing call with Robin, Michael and his wife, Mari, made the 14-hour journey to Cincinnati to meet his long-lost family.
Michael’s siblings were all standing on the front lawn when they arrived, ready to greet him with hugs.
“I don’t know if they’re all huggers but they were that day,” he recalled of the precious moment. “And I am not, but I was. So go figure!”
“It might sound crazy, but if you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know the feeling of wanting to be able to look into their eyes again,” said Robin of meeting Michael. “I felt like I got to see my dad again. He has his eyes. It was the most comforting feeling in the world.”
Since then, Michael chats with his family regularly and celebrates holidays with them.
“I’ll tell you the one thing it has changed for me, from that family perspective, oddly enough is, I get to be a big brother,” Michael said. “And I cherish that. I’m having a great time.”
The siblings plan to meet next in Fort Worth in June. And surely, it will be another hug-filled reunion.
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