When Michael Bennett ordered a 23andMe DNA testing kit in 2018, he was hoping to gain insight into his family health history.
“Every time I went to the doctor, they’d ask questions that I didn’t have the answers to,” said Bennett, a retired army veteran in Fort Worth, Texas, who was adopted at age 3.
Bennett, now 70, was born in 1951 in post-WWII occupied Japan. His biological mother, Yoshiko Nakajima, was Japanese; his biological father, Dick Webster, was an American serviceman. In 1953, Bennett was adopted by a couple in the United States. That was pretty much all Bennett knew about his birth family and he was OK with that.
“I had a very happy childhood. I adored my parents,” Bennett told TODAY Parents.
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Sure, Bennett was curious about Nakajima and Webster — what happened between them? Why was he placed for adoption as a toddler? But Bennett didn’t dwell on the unknowns.
"It didn't eat at me or anything," he said.
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Then, in 2019, Bennett received a message on the 23andMe app. It was from a young man named Damien in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“He was intrigued by the fact that I had more DNA in common with him than anyone else in his family. He was like, ‘Who are you? I pretty much know all my family,’” Bennett recalled. “I told him my story and how I had relatives in Japan.”
Shortly after, Bennett received a phone call from Damien’s aunt Robin Reid. It was a call that would change his life forever.
Bennett, who was raised an only child, had seven half-siblings in Ohio — including Reid. She even had a photo of him as a little boy.
Reid explained that her late father, Dick Webster, did everything he could to stay in Japan with Yoshiko Nakajima and Bennett, but the Air Force shipped him back to the U.S.
“He was heartbroken,” Bennett said. “From what I understand, it broke him."
Webster would find love again — he was married to his wife, Alma Jean for decades— but he never stopped thinking about the family he left behind in Asia. In the '80s, Webster even sent two of sons on a mission to try and find them.
Bennett and Nakajima were long gone, but the brothers were still able gather information for their dad. In conversations with locals, they learned that Nakajima placed Bennett for adoption to protect him and that she never had any more children.
Bennett said Nakajima 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," Bennett said. “There’s no question she did what she did out of love.”
Bennett didn’t waste any time going to meet his long-lost family. Days after receiving that life-changing phone call from Reid, Bennett and his wife, Mari, drove nearly 1000 miles to Cincinnati.
When they arrived, Bennett’s seven siblings were standing on the front lawn waiting to smother him with hugs.
“My bond with Michael happened the moment that our eyes met,” Reid told TODAY. “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. I felt like I got to see my dad again. He has his eyes. It was the most comforting feeling in the world.”
Bennett chats with his family regularly and they celebrate holidays together. He can't imagine his life without them in it.
“I’m so grateful we found each other,” Bennett said. “Not only are they the warmest, most amazing people, but they helped round out a picture for me. For 60 plus years, I thought I was the product of a wartime romance, and that my father was a soldier who just left. But Dick didn’t leave on his own free will. He loved me and thought of me constantly. He didn’t forget about me.”
This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY: