As Greg Lockhart learned this month, there’s nothing that will prepare for the moment he met his birth family.
Not friending them on Facebook and clicking through albums of faces that look sort of like his own. Not talking on the phone and hearing the Buffalo, N.Y., accent he would have inherited if his adoptive parents hadn’t moved him to Florida.
Not even deployments as an Army medic to Europe and Afghanistan. That’s pressure, but a very different kind than sitting in a parked car outside a Wendy’s on Hilton Head Island, steps away from the biological brothers he left when he was four.
Lockhart, 34, was frozen to his seat.
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But he needn’t have worried. His wife, Jessica, headed into the restaurant first, met twin brothers Michael and Richard Guard — also 34, born 11 months before her husband — and led them outside, where Lockhart was now standing. Without a moment of hesitation, they embraced.
“They walked up and both gave him a hug and just kind of clicked after that,” Jessica Lockhart recalled. “It was like they were friends that just hadn’t seen each other in a while.”
Lockhart, who’s stationed at Fort Stewart Army post in Georgia, timed the family reunion with a vacation through Operation R&R — a nonprofit organization that pairs military families with unoccupied rentals to provide nearly free trips to Hilton Head.
Even with the disruption of Hurricane Matthew, the organization has served at least 125 this year and about 1,500 since 2008.
Lockhart’s background resonated with Robert and Ann Maccarini of Hilton Head, as they have three adopted children of their own. So when they decided to donate a week at their ocean-view villa at Island Club of Hilton Head, they hoped it would go to a family like theirs. It was an added bonus that their gift would bring a family back together for the first time in 30 years.
A family found
Greg Lockhart, born William Wallenberg, lived with his biological family for just about six months before they were separated. His mother wasn’t able to raise her three boys, so Greg went to live with his aunt, Joaquina Moss, and half-brothers Michael and Richard went to live with their father.
But after four and a half years, Greg went into foster care. He was too young to remember his brothers, but Michael and Richard, nearly a year older, noticed his sudden disappearance, they said at Island Club on Dec. 9, a few hours after their initial reunion.
“One day,” Michael starts, “it was...”
“We didn’t see our brother anymore,” Richard finishes. “No idea where he was.”
Greg was ultimately adopted and, in second grade, moved to Florida. As he got older, he would ask his mother questions about his biological family, but — perhaps to protect her son — she withheld most details until he was a teenager. Meanwhile, Michael and Richard grew up in Buffalo and wondered each year on Dec. 10, their brother’s birthday, how he was doing and where he was.
Over the years, both families tried to find each other numerous times, with each new digital adoption registry bringing fresh hope. It was Joaquina’s daughter who finally made the connection, when she typed in her cousin’s birthday in a New York database and got a match — a Greg William Lockhart.
She tried to message a man with the same name on Facebook, but he didn’t respond. So next she tried the blonde woman in his profile picture, hopefully a girlfriend or wife. It was Jess.
When she got her husband on the phone, it was about 3 a.m., his time, as Greg was a month into a deployment overseas. He thought Jess was joking when she said his family had found him, and in his morning haze, he barked at her, a sharp “What?”
He’d given up his own search a few years ago. But Jess had kept looking. And his family had kept looking. And now, he was found.
‘Meant to be found’
Greg Lockhart used to think he was tall.
Then, he met his brothers.
Mike and Rich, identical twins with short, sandy hair and wire-framed glasses, both have a couple of inches on Greg.
They all love sports, but Greg is a Steelers fan, while Mike and Rich root for the Buffalo Bills. On Sunday, Pittsburgh beat Buffalo and the twins donned Steelers hats for a walk of shame out of the sports bar where they’d gathered.
The brothers share the same expression when they’re deep in thought, Jess noticed as she watched them examine their menus at an island restaurant.
And while the men don’t think they look alike, relatives have commented on their reunion photos that there are similarities — they all have their mother’s nose, one says.
Greg’s mother, a “wanderer” as the twins say, died in 2009. But Greg still has a big family waiting for him in Buffalo. The Lockharts are already planning a trip up from Fort Stewart so he can meet more of them and see where he spent his first few years.
And he wants his kids, ages 10, 8 and 2, to know where their father came from.
“I’d kind of got that acceptance of, ‘OK, if I’m meant to be found I’m meant to be found,’ ” Lockhart said Dec. 9, as he held his youngest. “I’ve got to focus on them now. I’m starting a family.”