Saigon Kids Emporium
August 2017
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Archives

Categories

A Saigon Kid for 50 years

By Bruce Thomas

Bruce Thomas 61Fifty years ago my family departed the shores of the United States for Saigon, the capital of what was then South Vietnam. Most of our friends asked, “Where?” At that time, Southeast Asia was not a familiar piece of the globe for Americans.

After I finished my first year of high school in southwest Florida, in May of 1960, we traveled up to Washington, DC, where my father was to be given indoctrination training for his two year posting overseas. He was being loaned by the Federal Aviation Agency to the Agency for International Development. (Throughout his entire career, beginning in 1937 after a stint with the Army, Dad worked for the FAA and its variously-named predecessor and successor agencies.) He was going to be an advisor to the Directorate of Civil Aviation of the Republic of South Vietnam, specializing in electronic equipment used in the field of aviation.

While Dad’s schooling continued, my mother and I enjoyed touring our nation’s capital and its many interesting sights. I remember gazing down from the visitors’ gallery in the Senate and spotting that handsome young senator from Massachusetts who would soon be nominated by the Democratic Party in Los Angeles to be its presidential candidate. The Smithsonian at that time was packed into the old castle structure, and its contents were fascinating to this teenager. We toured the White House, and visited art galleries, as well as Ford’s Theater (where Lincoln was shot), the large Catholic basilica, and the far-from-finished Episcopal cathedral (another 30 years would be needed to see its completion). My parents and I stood on the sidewalk in front of the White House the afternoon of May 19, when all federal employees in the city were dismissed early to greet and cheer President Eisenhower, who was returning from the Paris summit meeting with the Soviets that had collapsed because of the U2 incident.

My older brother, on finishing his first year of college, joined us in the final days of our time in Washington. We stayed in an ancient wooden rooming house called the Francis Scott Key Hotel, located 4 or 5 blocks due west of the White House. On May 25, I recall watching on the tiny black and white TV in the hotel’s equally small parlor behind the lobby area, while President Eisenhower showed the American people amazingly detailed pictures taken from a high altitude aircraft. He pointed out six-inch wide stripes in a parking lot photographed from an altitude of 70,000 feet — today, we get that and more with Google Earth! Today, George Washington University has a large modern student living facility standing on that same land at the corner of 20th and F street named, appropriately, Francis Scott Key Hall.

We left Washington on June 7 and arrived on the West Coast about a week later. We crossed the continent in our 1957 Ford station wagon, windows rolled down to catch the breeze, since air conditioning was a rare automotive luxury that we didn’t have back in those days. Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming the temperature was comfortably cool at an altitude of several thousand feet. But crossing the Utah desert region west of Salt Lake City, on our way to San Francisco, was particularly uncomfortable.

In San Francisco, we stayed at the St. Francis Hotel, an impressive old establishment that was nowhere near as large as it has grown into today. We took a quick ride down the coast to Monterey on this first visit to California. Then our station wagon was soon turned in to shipping agents and began its journey to Saigon on a freighter. My brother and I rode a city bus out to the brand-new Candlestick Park and I got to see my first major league baseball game.

Soon it was Sunday, June 19, and the four of us wedged ourselves and our bags into a cab and rode to the dock where our transportation was tied up. It looked so huge to me, this American President Lines passenger ship, the SS President Hoover. After seeing that my mother, brother, and I were securely settled into our cabin, my father went back down the gangplank to the dock to watch the lines cast off. While our ship sailed past Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge, departing the calmness of San Francisco Bay to plow the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean, Dad rode out to the airport to start his quicker journey to Saigon, beginning the trip via Pan American Boeing 707 jet, which had been introduced into commercial service less than two years before. In the weeks before our arrival in Saigon, he would work on picking out a house and furnishing it, and making sure that all was in readiness for us to take up residence.

The President Hoover, quite small by today’s cruise ship standards, only accommodated slightly more than 200 passengers, so in the weeks ahead all aboard got to know each other. I particularly recall a Chinese family by the name of Lee. Wellington Lee, the father, was the head translator for the Chinese language at the United Nations, and when we arrived in Hong Kong, he invited a number of us other passengers to an authentic Chinese dinner in a Kowloon restaurant. Shark fin soup didn’t sound like something I’d like, but it turned out to be something this teenager managed to enjoy anyway.

Before we got to Hong Kong on July 10, the ship made one-day stops in Tokyo and Manila and we had quick tours of those cities. It not being too many years since the end of the Second World War, sailing past the island of Corregidor at the mouth of Manila Bay was emotional for many of the adult passengers.

For three days we stayed in Hong Kong, where my father, a couple of weeks earlier, had scouted out an outstanding tailor shop in the shopping arcade beneath our modern hotel in Kowloon. My mother had several nice dresses made, while my brother and I were fitted for custom made linen suits and several white shirts. Between fittings, the tailor provided a car and driver and we toured the island of Hong Kong and took in the sights, including the tram ride to the highest point on the island, as well as the fascinating Tiger Balm Gardens.

On the morning of July 13, a Wednesday, the three of us boarded a Cathay Pacific Lockheed Electra and flew the three or four hours to Saigon. I can still recall the wall of heat that hit me in the face at the top of the steps as we exited the airplane down to the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut. My father had brought a sedan and driver, and we rode to the USOM guesthouse for our first night in Saigon, while the final details of readying our house for occupancy were ironed out.

It seemed like school in Florida had just finished, but the next day I was taken to school to begin the tenth grade! The school year at the American Community School had begun the week before, on July 5. Soon I was indoctrinated into the regimen of riding the school bus, with the wire mesh screen over the windows, from our house at 15 Rue Truong Minh Ky (a two-block long quiet little street, just a quick 2-minute walk from the PX) out to the ACS campus near the airport. The squalor along the roads was monumental. School days were short, both to avoid the heat of midday, and because of the correspondence course nature of the high school curriculum.

I’ve written on this blog before about the one true classroom course with a teacher: Madame Quinquet trying to teach us French. For the other correspondence course material, I remember Mrs. McMurry helping me with algebra (especially linear algebra and determinants, which would become the stuff of my graduate studies ten years later). Mrs. Duthie gently made English a palatable subject. History work was eased by frenetic but focused Mrs. Sheppard. Collecting our work, they’d seal it into the manila envelopes along with any tests we’d taken, to be sent to the high school service administered at the University of California (via embassy mail, I think) and returned to us with the grades in about three weeks.

Returning home after a few short hours at school, there’d be lunch with the other three family members. All four of us would arrive in different government vehicles: me via school bus; my brother Bill in the chauffered van he was assigned to use as a paid embassy courier, shuttling among the various U.S. government agencies in Saigon; my mother in a sedan from her duties as a secretary at the U.S. embassy; and my father in another sedan from his workplace at Tan Son Nhut. When all had arrived home, Hai the maid would get the signal from her sister-in law, Tu the cook, and would announce phonetically in a sing-song voice the only English words she knew: “Madame, M’sieur, Beel, Brooz — Eat now!”

Left to myself after the others had returned to work at mid-afternoon, I might hail a cyclo or taxi and ride to Cercle Sportif for a swim. Or, I’d ride to Tu Do street to stroll through Passage Eden and visit the bookstore there, walking past the old French opera house that had become the National Assembly building, and the Continental Hotel. There were other stores along Tu Do that had merchandise that spoke to my introverted nature: stamp collecting, and drafting pens and lettering templates (I was in a phase where I thought I wanted to become an architect). Sometimes I’d tag along with my parents in the evening as they visited the various military clubs for dinner (e.g., the Dai Nam NCO club on the top floor over a Vietnamese movie theater on Tran Hung Dao Street), and find something to keep myself occupied, while they played bingo and worked the slot machines and drank with their friends. Sometimes, my brother and I would go to movies at the American movie theater a little farther down Tran Hung Dao.

The old Ford station wagon made it to the dock along the Saigon River not too long after we got to Vietnam. It had a large decal in the rear window that declared our family’s university of choice: Auburn. One day, driving down Tran Hung Dao, my father immediately pulled to the curb when he heard an older American man shout, “War Eagle!” It was the local American manager for The Coca-Cola Company (with its home offices in Atlanta), who was thrilled to see this collegiate symbol of his Southern heritage in the middle of Southeast Asia.

I wasn’t much into social situations, other than sitting by the pool at the “Cerc” and surreptitiously watching the girls and drinking “limonade” from a bottle thru a paper straw. The two students with whom I had the most interaction were the children of a banker from Taiwan: my classmate Linda Pei, and her brother Jack, who was a year behind us. I remember taking a cyclo to visit Jack in the apartment building where the Pei family lived. But I can recall no parties attended that year, so I suspect I’m not much of a memory for the others at the school during the 1960-61 school year — other than as the butt of merciless kidding from “the Clods” because my long pants tended to be cinched up by a belt inordinately high above my waist.

Linda Pei passed on a couple of years back, but Jack lives in California now with his wife Ramona, and in an email he sent me this past year, it sounds like he and I continue to be guys absorbed in quiet introspective pursuits, since he lists “nature photography” as his current hobby. Both of us spent careers with Fortune 100 companies (Jack as a scientist at Xerox, and me as an IT manager at The Coca-Cola Company), and his lament is mine, too — “enjoying retired life: there’s never enough time each day to do all you want to!”

My family’s experience during the attempted coup against Ngo Dinh Diem on November 11 is something I’ve described elsewhere in a comment on this blog. My fifteenth birthday that December has also been described along with a Christmas memory in another comment.

In late January or early February, I went to school suffering a painful back condition; I recall leaving school early in one of the little blue taxis to go home with greatly increased pain on the right side of my back. My parents took me to the Embassy dispensary, where I was admitted for several days awaiting the once-a-week Air Force C-121 flight that serviced American embassies around the region.

My mother accompanied me to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, where I was given a lot of diagnostic tests that pointed to a kidney problem. I was in a large open ward of American servicemen and was treated like a mascot of sorts. X-rays were taken, and blood drawn. After a visit from one doctor, my mother told me what was in store for me next: it would involve a long narrow tube to be inserted in a very private orifice, to better see what might be wrong with my left kidney. I began to feel instantly better, thus staving off that indignity. My right kidney, which had been complaining about having to carry the load, while my left kidney had been stricken with “acute glomerulonephritis,” heaved a sigh of relief and I was released from the hospital. By that time, my father had flown in from Saigon, and for a few days, while awaiting a return flight to Saigon, we enjoyed visiting Baguio and its temperate climate in the mountains in the northern reaches of Luzon, where we stayed at the Air Force rest area known as “Camp John Hay.” Instead of the tropical heat of Saigon, we were burning logs in the fireplace of a guest cottage and sleeping under blankets! There my parents hatched the idea of sending me to Brent School in Baguio for the second year of our stay in Saigon.

Returning to Saigon in the latter part of February 1961, I completed my sophomore studies and the school year came to a close on March 29. For a few days, I got to go to the “Cerc” and Tu Do Street beginning in the mornings, returning in time to join the family for lunch. But the plan to send me the next year to Brent School was quickly nullified the next Friday, April 7.

I was alone at home, awaiting my parents and brother to arrive for lunch, and screwing around with my father’s new stereo hi-fi record player that he’d bought at the PX around the corner. Those LPs he liked sounded so much better when played very loud. And at 78 rpm, The Platters singing “The Great Pretender” really sounded neat! Suddenly, I heard the crunch of gravel as Dad’s sedan stopped in front of the house, and I quickly switched off the stereo and turned to walk out the screen door to greet him. But halfway to the door, I realized I’d left the speed switch set to 78 rpm, and this guilty kid knew it would be discovered and he’d be in trouble. So I turned and quickly flipped the switch back to 33-1/3 and lowered the lid of the stereo console. Then as I turned around to head back to the door, a large explosion outside knocked me to the tile floor of the living room.

I picked myself up and dashed through the screen door. One of the driveway gates was slightly ajar. They were steel plate up to waist-level, and mesh fencing above, with a fringe of barbed wire at the top.

Through the slight opening, I could see my father’s sprawled body. Hearing me scream, he rose from that prone position. Later, he’d tell how as his sedan drove off, he heard a motorbike whiz by behind his back followed by a dull thud somewhere inside our fenced yard. Looking up, a rag dangled from the gate’s barbed wire, and his mind instantly told him that rag had not been there a moment before. He instinctively dove down to place the steel plate between himself and whatever had landed in the yard. He was too fast: a single piece of shrapnel from the exploding hand grenade flew through the slight space between the protective solid gate and the ground and burned a hole in the plastic right lens of his eyeglasses, bore through his lower eyelid, and embedded in his eye. Back inside the house, my guilty conscience about the speed selector switch had saved me, though.

A trickle of blood came from this single wound on Dad’s face and stained his white shirt. Our French neighbor who lived across the little street from us dashed into our yard, and speaking no English and despite apparently not being used to driving a car with automatic transmission, he indicated that my father should sit in the passenger seat of our Ford station wagon. The car backed out into the street jerkily, and Dad was taken to the same dispensary I’d spend time in 10 weeks before. Soon he was rushed by ambulance to the flight line at Tan Son Nhut, where the senior Air Force officer at the American Embassy was preparing to fly him in a C-47 transport to Clark Air Base. Dad would stay there for more than three weeks, where a surgeon removed the small piece of shrapnel from his right eye with a magnet. But blood that had flowed into the vitreous fluid of his eye could not be dealt with, the retina had detached, and he would spend the rest of his life blind in that eye. For the rest of his life, he asked me to always walk on his right to protect his blind side.

While Dad was at the hospital in the Philippines, Mom resigned her position at the embassy and worked single-mindedly to accomplish all the tasks necessary for our family to pack up and leave Saigon. A month after the attack, we boarded a morning flight on Air Vietnam and flew to Bangkok (with a brief stop to take on passengers in Phnom Penh). By midnight, we were on a Pan American jet heading westward, visiting several European capitals along the way, finally boarding the large passenger liner, the SS United States, bound for New York City. The Statue of Liberty never looked as beautiful as she did the morning our ship arrived, a year after our Vietnam adventure had begun.

Another two high schools awaited me (in the Canal Zone and Puerto Rico) before I could head off to college at Auburn in 1963. Upon graduation, and with an ROTC commission in the Army, I ended up like so many other young men with another all-expense paid trip back to Vietnam. Unlike too many of those other young men, I ended up surviving the experience, again.

18 comments to A Saigon Kid for 50 years

  • Bruce – Great story!! 🙂

    Interesting about the *decal* on your dad’s ’57 Ford … the local manager for Coca-Cola in Saigon … and where you settled in later in life. Chance? – or – Destiny? Ahh … but the mysteries of the Orient – 🙂

    Bob

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    Bruce, excellent piece. While I don’t believe I ever met you (we arrived in 1961, but don’t recall the month), your memories certainly coincided with mine. Time at the Circ watching the girls, roaming on To Do street. Ahhh, great times. Take care – Ken

  • Mike McNally

    Bruce, thank you for the thoughtful account of your father’s wounding and your close call. Can you tell me where exactly 15 Rue Truong Minh Ky was? I’m familiar with the Truong Minh Ky near Tan Son Nhut, but not the one downtown. In searching for the address, I found a translation of a French/Vietnamese document which lists various French buildings circa 1960. It might be of interest to Saigon Kids. I’ll attach it…Mike McNally

    Click here to view attachment.

    • Bruce Thomas

      Mike, if you look at the 1963 Saigon Map that’s in this blog’s ACS Library, enlarge it to about 400% and find the graphics for Independence Palace and the Xa Loi Shrine. The left portion of the palace graphic lies on top of where Cercle Sportif is, with the street Hong Tap Tu running uphill from left to right. Truong Minh Ky is the short 2-block street that’s above and parallel to Hong Tap Tu roughly midway between the two graphics. (The “Minh” portion of the name is obscured by the crossing street.) It was only a 5 minute stroll for me from our house to the Cercle Sportif.

      If you have Google Earth, then have it fly to these coordinates: 10 46.62’N 106 41.40’E and you’ll end up on the orangish clay tile roof of 15 Truong Minh Ky. If you’ve got the layer called Panoramio Photos turned on, you’ll see a marker entitled “Ex Rue Truong Minh Ky” (when you put your cursor on the marker) because the street is now named Nguyen Thi Dieu. If you click on the Panoramio marker, it shows (I’m pretty sure) what had been the home of the French family that lived across the street from us (Alain Jacquemann was the teenage son who was known to some of the Saigon Kids). –Bruce

  • Mike Parker

    Bruce,

    Great story! A lot of similarities to my own. I was one of those “CLODS”, but hope I wasn’t part of your harassment.

    My Dad also worked as a FAA laison while in Saigon, and probably knew your Dad.

    Oh, by the way, I also went to Auburn (1961-65), graduated with a degree in Industrial Management. My middle daughter also went to Auburn. Met my wife there. We were married my junior year. Still are.

    War Eagle,

    Mike Parker

  • Bruce Thomas

    Hi, Mike. I do remember you and your parents, and our fathers indeed did work together in Saigon. Your parents were particularly supportive of Mom during that month she worked to get things ready for our premature departure from Saigon. Also, our parents socialized on occasion with supper at the various American military clubs around town. (I’m trying my best to remember your mother’s name … it’s a variant of your middle name, isn’t it?)

    I remember my father letting me tag along with him one afternoon after lunch when he went back to the office of the FAA advisors at Tan Son Nhut. It was a large room with several of the men at individual desks around the room. One of the unoccupied desks had a marvelous modern (for then) electromechanical Friden calculator and I probably drove your father (and the others) crazy as I kept it whirring loudly doing random calculations. So if you had harrassed me (and I don’t recall any of that, really!), it would have been payback for this nerdy kid annoying your father while he was trying to do his work that afternoon. 😉

    War Eagle!
    Bruce

  • brooks toland kasson

    what a wonderful, detailed memory you have, bruce. your story is so similar to mine…

    we also left from SF on the ss president wilson, which i remember as being luxurious to the point of baked alaska for dessert one night. we stopped in hawaii, yokohama (harrowing taxi ride into manila), and manila, before arriving in HK. very similar experiences in hong kong, then on to saigon. i suppose i remember the heat and humidity the first day i arrived, but, more clearly, i recall the delicious tropical smells of rich fruits and decaying vegetation.

    your description of that important april 7, l961 day is impressive. you state that your dad was flown to clark by the senior AF officer at the embassy. i wonder if that was my dad? he was the air attache, and had a C-47 at his disposal. a plane that had a rich history, besides airlifting your dad to the hospital. in fact, it was written about in the stars and stripes when my dad was flying it over laos. he took some hits from communist ground fire i believe. my dad was able to take some photos of supplies being dropped by the north vietnamese that evidently was important to those who were gearing up for war. in a happier incident, our family once accompanied the ambassador and his family to baguio for r&r in that plane. on the way over, dad let me have the controls for a while. until i bumped it around too much, according to complaints from the passengers.
    if i knew how to do attachments to this site, i’d send a copy of the stars and stripes article.
    i just helped my dad celebrate his 89th birthday in san antonio. is your dad still around?

    anyway, thank you so much for your wonderful memory and clear, descriptive writing. you must have absorbed quite a lot from our english teacher. do you remember the name of the teacher/supervisor who had a daughter named heather? i believe they were from san marcos, texas (about 30 minutes south from where i now live). we kids gave her, the teacher, such a hard time. i recall turning off the overhead fans prior to her arrival and piling the blades with chalk dust. made an impressive mess when she walked in and flipped the fan switch on.

    enough for this saturday morning. i’m off to barton springs for a swim…
    brooks

    • Brooks – E-mail the Stars and Stripes article to me and I’ll attach it to your above Comment for you.

      Bob

    • Hi, Brooks! Thanks for your kind words. I think I inherited my mother’s penchant (or curse!) for remembering the minutest trivia.

      I’m glad you still have your father around to share times with. Mine passed away 4 years ago, age 92. Mom preceded him in that direction by 19 years.

      In Dad’s house I discovered a huge packet of letters that Mom wrote to Dad while he was at Clark in the hospital. I just looked at the first one (written the next day after the grenade attack). She mentions by name one of the C-47 pilots who had just returned and come by the house on his way home, Colonel Caruthers, who gave her a personal update of what went on at the hospital (the surgeon’s use of the magnet, and preliminary hopefulness for sight restoration). I’m sure that there had to have been two pilots in the cockpit, though. Perhaps when you see your father, you can learn if he remembers the incident.

      In that letter, Mom transcribed the contents of very sweet handwritten notes of concern from both Ambassador Durbrow and his wife. She described a phalanx of visitors from the American community, including Mike Parker’s parents.

      Best to you from Hotlanta!
      Bruce

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    I missed this week’s news, but am catching up.
    First, Bruce, I left Saigon to return stateside summer of 1960, after 2 years there. Like others, my first memories are similar to yours, except we departed June 1958 from Long Beach, CA (where we had been stationed for several years)on the President Wilson. A stop in Honolulu gave me my first experience of switching from sealegs to landlegs for the day’s excursion. Then out to sea once more, for the long haul across the Pacific, where we encountered a typhoon and rocked and rolled for a day. I was told it was sometimes easier to sail into one than around it…I debated that during the long hours of our heaving back and forth. Due to the typhoon, we missed a
    side trip, but enjoyed walking the streets of Yokohama’s tourist area for an evening.My little sister’s curly blonde hair fascinated the Japanese, and we were stopped many times along the sidewalk, so women could touch Betsy’s head.
    I, too, remember sailing past Corregador, with my Dad pointing out the holes of caves where brave men sought shelter, that could be seen on that huge rock. On to Manilla and a day with the man who was my Dad’s counterpart there, and then to Hong Kong. Again, the Naval Attache there treated us royally,and we spent the day at his home high on Victoria Peak, riding the cable car up. I recall someone pointing out to the distance and identifying “Communist China,” as “put there”.. a place no one had been at that time. Very memorable to me.Lots of memories of Hong Kong and the Pennisula Hotel’s maids, who floated quietly in black “ballet shoes” to remove any piece of gum wrapper placed in an ashtray in our room.Did they have x-ray vision or a peephole to observe us through, I wondered?
    Great excitement and terror was our flight out of Hong Kong to Saigon, especially the take-off where the mountains meet the end of the runway.

    Bruce, I hope you will continue to share your recollections of Saigon and your life there. Madame Quinquet was a favorite of mine…so sincere and a fascinating woman who had lived 40 years in the Far East. I thought that in itself was amazing.
    Thank you, Bruce for your great memories…they evoke many of my own, which I treasure.
    Suellen

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    Brooks~
    So funny you should mention the incident in the class with the fan and chalk. I was there that day, and I think it finally sent that teacher over the edge, didn’t it? I cannot recall her name, but she had long, red, curly type hair.
    Kids had been trying for weeks to pester her so she would quit. I was annoyed at her because it appeared that the only student she paid attention to each day was Mitch Battleman. She would walk over to his desk, and lean over to ostensibly see his work so he could peek down her scooped-neck dresses. All the kids thought she was worthless, except Mitch perhaps, and wanted her “out of there.” During break, kids opened out paperclips (do I recall corrrectly Mike Parker having assumed responsibility for this part of the project?), hollowed out the centers in pieces of chalk, then poured powdered chalk dust inside them. The plan was that when she went to the blackboard to write, it would break and chalkdust would fly all over her.I recall that plan worked pretty well.
    There were also cups of water placed on the fan blades, and when she turned on the switch, the cups of water went flying all across the room. My memory is she did not return after that day. What do you recall?
    Did not realize you live in Texas. We are in Houston. Have a good swim at Barton Springs. Sounds nice and cool!
    Suellen

  • brooks toland kasson

    bruce and suellen,
    re: annoying people (teachers and other kids). well, i remember well putting steenie’s pb&j lunch up on the fan blades. i also recall snagging a formaldhyde frog from the science stash and stuffing it up into the water cooler. that worked better than steenie’s sandwich in the water cooler ( or did i just make that up?)
    as for your dad’s evac, bruce…colonel caruthers was with MAAG, the head of the air force division. MAAG was military assistance advisory group, and a different entity from the embassy. col. caruthers had his own C-47, according to my dad.
    bob, i’ll have to scan what i have of the article, and a few others, if you like. should have my new scanner hooked up in a week or two.
    brooks

    • Brooks — I just spent a couple of hours reading the stack of letters my mother sent my father for the 3 weeks he was at Clark Air Base in the hospital. And I came back to my computer in order to update you on what I’d discovered, about Colonel Caruthers being with MAAG instead of the embassy, and here’s your message with the same info! This blog is a fantastic communications tool! Thanks to Bob for providing the SKs with such a fine electronic watercooler around which we can chat about those days of our youth!

      Today must have been Graham Greene day on TV. One channel was showing “The Third Man” (post-WW2, set in Vienna) while another had the 2002 remake of “The Quiet American” (set in 1952 Vietnam), filmed on location in Saigon starring Michael Caine with Brendan Fraser in the title role. I chortled at the scene where Michael Caine and his girlfriend are supposedly sitting at a sidewalk table at the Continental Hotel. Trouble is, they were obviously sitting on the Caravelle Hotel side of the Opera House! And the many cyclos in the background filled with women in traditional Vietnamese dress were wandering aimlessly in every direction across the space in front of the Opera House, with the drivers pedaling soooooooooooo slowly (just like the director must have told them to). But it’s still a good movie to watch if you can catch it on TV (or Netflix).

      Note to Mike Parker: my two hours of reading my mother’s letters answered my earlier question about your mother’s name. The letter Mom wrote to my father 5 days after the attack closed with an admission that a blue funk had finally descended upon her that day at noon, but that your parents had come by to visit “and I was so happy Deannie and Guy came tonite.”

      –Bruce

  • brooks toland kasson

    elvira,
    i am so sorry to hear of your accident, and am glad you are able to move on. i hope your back heals fluidly and quickly.
    will email you at the address you left…
    brooks

  • Bruce Giza

    Hello Bruce,

    I just jumped out of my chair when I found this website.

    I was your neighbor across the street (himey hi,22) when we lived in Saigon with my dad (who was a Capt. assigned to MAAG).

    I actually was standing at our gate waiting for my dad to come home for lunch when the VC tossed the grenade at your dad.

    My dad pulled up and told me through the open car window that he was going over to the PX to get a carton of cigarettes and drove away.

    Seconds later the VC raced by and tossed the grenade which knocked me to the ground when it went off.

    We always assumed that my dad was the 1st target and when he drove away instead of being dropped off, the VC targeted your dad.

    It seems to me that the large steel gates may have saved your dad from the blast. We had open, exposed gates which wouldn’t been much protection if the grenade had been tossed at us.

    I remember the terror and horror when we found out that your dad had been wounded.
    Our thoughts have been with you and your family ever since that day.

    It’s great to see that you are still around.

    Bruce Giza

  • Bruce Thomas

    Bruce!

    What a delight to read your comments. I had to haul out my 1961 Gecko and leaf through it a while to finally find a picture of you with your fourth-grade classmates. As I suspected, you are a half-dozen years behind me in age, which explains why I have utterly no recollection of there even being another American family on our block of Truong Minh Ky. (As I noted last year in a blog thread at that time, the younger students tended to be invisible to us older kids.) 😉 But I’m betting my older brother knows, since he regularly visited the MAAG compound as a courier … tried to call him just now to check, but you know how those septuagenarians are — I suspect he’s already gone to bed (and here it is only 7:30 pm on the East Coast). Now, I do remember that in the second block of our little street there was the Boudreaux family. But Daniel was just one year behind me, so he wasn’t invisible! 😉

    It is really a thrill to know, even a half-century later, that there’s another Saigon Kid who was there that day who knows the terror of that moment when the grenade went off. I’m grateful that you came across this blog, and that you were kind enough to write about what you experienced that day. I’m glad you and your father were spared any direct involvement, though.

    Just curious: what were the circumstances — the magic search words — that first led you to find this blog? I know we all wish there was a magic way to let all those Saigon Kids out there know of this valuable resource.

    Thanks so much for sharing your memories!

    Bruce

  • Bruce Giza

    Hi again Bruce.

    I got curious about our house and started looking for maps of Saigon before the names all changed.I googled the street name and your blog came up down the page.Amazing !
    I spent Thursday with some Vets who were unaware of any families having been in Vietnam,all they know about is the war.

    I had often kidded them about being in Vietnam years before them and yet I am still a youthful 59.

    I always explain that I was in the “1st INFANTry,Cub Scout division” and that I am not a veteran.

    I never made it back but it has been a wish of mine to sometime return.

    I remember the Boudreax family well.

    We flew all the way from Travis AFB to join my father in Saigon, in a Lockeed Tristar PROP job. Wow! What a nightmare of a flight with stops in Hawaii and Guam for a few hours and then we continued on to Saigon.

    The first year that we were there,we were able to travel to Cap St.Jacques and Dalat but that ended with the attacks and ambushes that became more frequent in ’61.
    We did fly the milk run on a C-47 to Dalat once to visit our friends but the fact that the plane was protected by jeeps with 50 cal.machine guns at one of the stops,left my parents unwilling to repeat that with all of us kids.

    Our friends from Dalat were staying with us during the Coup in Nov.We baricaded the house and covered up the cars so we would not be targets.One day after the start,we were escorted along with the Boudreax family to the BOQs until the situation cleared up.The Boudreax house suffered some damage from flying bullets,etc. but we were un-scathed.

    I don’t remember if you all were evacuated also.I also seem to recall that our dads stayed at the house,armed,to prevent looting.

    Anyhow,we were all very fortunate that day when the VC tossed the grenade at your dad.

    Your dad made it out alive,you went back into the house at the last minute,my dad barely stopped at our gate and I headed back into house far enough to escape anything more than the concussion. Yikes,we all were lucky.

    Cigarettes may have saved my dads’ life that day but they ended up ruining his health.
    He spent the last 20 years suffering with cardio/pulmanary disease that the doctors blamed on smoking.

    He past away last Aug.and is buried at West Point.

    The rest of us are all doing well and are spread out across the southwest with me in Ca.

    This has been an enriching day today going through this website and remembering a unigue place and time in our lives.

    Looking at the two “Gecko” yearbooks just reminded me that I still have a crush on Bootsie McMains 🙂

    Take care of yourself and keep up the good writing.

    Bruce Giza

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>