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American Community School Life: The Untold Story

To my knowledge, to date nobody has documented (in print or on film) the stories of life at our American Community School in Saigon, nor what we experienced as dependent children living in Saigon during our school hood years.

Personally, I’ve always thought this was a shame. It seems everything in the universe has been documented about the *Vietnam Era* in history – except “the lives of dependent children of American personnel living in Vietnam during the Vietnam Era”.

During our youth we were a vital part of world history in the making; yet, the part we played has not to date been recorded, documented and preserved.

We arrived in Vietnam from all corners of the globe. Stayed for a relatively short time. Then left from Vietnam for all parts of the world – taking with us experiences which for each of us has played a roll in the direction our lives took as we entered into adulthood; and, to this day.

We view the world through different eyes and have a different perspective on life in general, because of what we experienced during our youth as, what has now been labeled, 3rd Culture Kids. It’s hard for others to relate to what we experienced growing up. How many times have you told someone about your Saigon experiences – only to have them look at you in total disbelief and completely unable to relate?

The reality is, many of us are reaching the stage in life where we are on the edge of starting to drop like flies. If we don’t enter our stories and experiences in to the journals of history while we are still here – will anyone after we are gone? Will we simply become a missing part of the history of the *Vietnam Era*?

It seems to me, if it is going to be – it’s up to us.

So, my question to you is:

How many of you are willing to take the time and effort to write about and share your Vietnam experiences and life as a student at American Community School in Saigon?

Why do I ask, you might be wondering. For several years I’ve been seriously considering and pondering the idea of a book or documentary film about our lives at American Community School in Saigon. But, this is something that is not possible without your help and assistance.

While at this point I’m not ready to make a commitment to take on such a project, I might be willing to commit to it if there was enough interest, participation and co-operation by each of you.

Are you willing to commit to participating in such an undertaking?

Please leave your comments and thoughts below.

Rock Onnn … Saigon Kids 🙂

Bob

18 comments to American Community School Life: The Untold Story

  • Al Misker

    Bob,
    I would be willing to participate.
    Al

  • Les Arbuckle

    Bob,
    I have written a memoir, 90,000 words long, about my experiences in Saigon when I was 13-14 years old, 1963-64. I have also acquired a literary agent (Roger Williams of NEPA) and am currently seeking a publisher. The problem we’re running into is that, as soon as you say the word “Vietnam” most publishers eyes glaze over and they write you off as just another ‘Nam war story. They don’t realize how many of us former brats there are out there, and that we might like to read a story about our experiences overseas.
    Although I’ve changed a lot of names in my book, many of my fellow brats from that era appear in one form or another.
    If you know of any publishers that might be interested in a book like mine, please let me know and I’ll have Roger submit the MS to them. It took me eight years to write the book, and I sure would like to see it in print.
    Thanks,
    Les Arbuckle
    les@saxoasis.com

  • Les Arbuckle

    P.S: Saigon Kid Ms. X* (see note below) has been working on a documentary about the Saigon Kids for the last six years or so. My brothers and I have taped segments which she intends to use in her film.
    If any of you are interested in talking with her, email me and I’ll send you her contact info. She might like to interview you also.
    You may remember Ms. X* (see not below) as “Hope Bauer” on “The Guiding Light” back in the 1980’s.
    Les

    [* Name removed. This person requested in the past that her name not appear on the site due to her acting career. – Support Team, Help Desk – Saigon Kids American Community School.]

  • Bob, I wrote a short essay that appeared in Nimrod International Literary Journal in 2004: “39A Phan ?ình Phùng.” That was the address of our home in Saigon from 1960-64, when we returned Stateside. The essay contrasted an idyllic childhood w/ the wartime images of Vi?t Nam.

    For the Saigon kids who are trying to get published: Jon Cole, who went to school in Bangkok, published his memoir of his years in Thailand to some acclaim. However, it’s more a tale of his spiral into drugs and his subsequent time in prison — “Bangkok Hard Time.”

    As a writer myself, I’ll note that most publishers aren’t interested in strictly a memoir, unless it has some connection to something of interest today. If you’re trying to publish memoir, you might check university presses or historical presses. I have a colleague who just published his memoir of growing up as a Quaker in the Vi?t Nam War.

    In other words, it’s not easy, but it can be done. If you can split chapters out as essays, and publish them in lit journals, you have a better chance of selling the eventual book.

  • Laurie Methven

    I would be happy to participate. I lived there from 62-65 and have many stories/photos from that period. Some were highlighted in my Dad’s book, CIA memoir – the lighter side of it – called Laugher in the Shadows. Included was my hearing impairment from the bomb blast at our movie theatre.

    • ron ryan

      I remeber the bomb last. I always thought the movie was 101 dalmations but it was lady and the tramp. I lived in saigon from 63-65, was 9 at the time. Interesting to know that others in the theaterare still around. The first time it was bombed the longest day was playing. Haven’t heard much about that one.

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    Happy to help any way I can. As a young teenager in 1958-60, there are some memories that shaped my life forever. Let me know how I can help.
    Suellen

  • Drew Price

    I remember Saigon VIVIDLY. I was in 1st grade, Now 55 yrs. old…I would be Happy to participate in any way I can..My Dad was CIA, which I didn’t find out (FOR SURE) until He passed in Nov. 2011. My address in Saigon was #12 Alexandre des Rhodes…Our Nextdoor neighbor was General Stillwell, where We got airlifted (by helicopter) from His roof, the day after the overthrow of President Diem. So Many memories. I’m trying to find My “Gecko” Yearbook from then…I know it’s somewhere here. My 1st grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Stapleton

    I, as well have a box of 8mm film from Saigon that I got from My Dad…I’m going to have them put on DVD..I can’t wait to see what’s on them..I know that My Mom had Madame Niu’s personal diary..(from the Palace) Gotta find that too. I also remember Pricess Seroya from Turkey was My Mom’s drinking buddy..(Johnnie Walker Black)…Strange how I remember this crap.

    BTW…To this day, I remember having many Dinner’s at the Majestic Hotel. The smell of Sandalwood (which was what they scented the Napkins with) when the staff brought the steamed linen napkins after dinner..Is still ingrained in My Brain…Not to mention the French Pool..I think it was called “Circle Sportif”..As I’m typing this the Memories are coming back.

    Let Me know How I can help.

    Thanks,
    Drew Price

  • I am painfully aware of the NY publishers lack of interest in the Vietnam War. But they work in the area of “adult trade fiction.” Les, your character and narrator — you — is 13-14 in your 90K word memoir. Publishers are having great success with young adult memoirs and fiction. Several have had wonderful critical receptions, full NY Times reviews and commensurate sales. You might think about trying the young adult divisions as opposed to the adult.

    Bob has voiced my sentiments exactly, though I did not feel it right to suggest your recording your experiences from my perspective of onlooker. I was not a student at the American School, Dalat or Phoenix. I was a GI in the 67-68 phase of the war.

    Juris Jurjevics, former publisher of the Soho Press, author of Red Flags (2011).

    • Les Arbuckle

      Juri,
      Thanks for the suggestion! I will talk to my agent (he is planning to get in touch with you, anyway) and see what contacts he might have in the YA sector of the business.

      With 10-15 million former American military brats still alive, it’s a shame there has been only one book published (“Military Brats” by M.E. Wertsch) that sheds light on their experiences. My book is more than just my story; it is a story in which most military brats will see at least a little of themselves. It is OUR story.
      Thanks for your helpful comments,
      Les Arbuckle
      Boston, MA

  • Jo Brown Strasburg

    If someone is putting together a collection of memories, I too would be willing to contribute…will also contact my brothers, Harvery and Edward Brown who actually were there for 2 school years (61-63) whereas I came back to go to college (62-63). I know what you mean by the looks of disbelief when you tell someone that you “graduated” from high school in Saigon, VietNam. I believe it was the pre-post experience of my life. Although I had lived overseas previously as a younger child, in Saigon I was old enough to venture out on my own, make friends with Vietnamese people, etc. It was nice to show my husband my house in those pictures that were posted recently of the baseball fied area…I lived across the street from the ARVN gate and walked to school each day. We are an elite group and experienced many different things….if for no other reason than to pass it on to our grandchildren, we should record our history. Whether it becomes a book or not is not important..we would have it for posterity.
    Let me know what I can do to help!

    Jo Brown Strasburg (SCS grad 1962)

  • Bruce Berger

    Bob,

    I think this is a great idea, and am willing to contribute what I can. I was there from Sept ’62 until the evacuation in February ’65. Among my memories is being on vacation the summer of ’63. We ended up stranded in Singapore because of the Buddhist self immolations and unrest.

    We got back to Saigon in early September, just in time for school (darn). I remember the first coup most vividly. We lived down an alley off of Cong Ly, and heard gunfire. In fact, our next door neighbors, the Colliers, had a bullet go through their bedroom window.

    I also remember getting days off from school during subsequent coups. That was the Saigon equivalent of snow days.

    There are so many memories. I was explaining life of a teenager in Saigon to my daughter’s 7th grade class several years ago. One of the students, got really wide-eyed and asked, “Weren’t you scrared?” I really hadn’t considered anything that happened particularly scary. It was just the way things were.

    Bruce Berger Class of ’66

  • Richard Turner

    Bob,

    You have my story, James Dean in Saigon. I also took a bunch of notes that I still have for a possible screenplay. I have stories written by Paul Christensen, Dick Plagge and Janet??? somewhere in a file. Larry Duthie has also done some writing about his time in Saigon.

  • Tom Hanna

    I would be happy to take part. We were there from July ’60 until June ’62. My dad was a Lt. Col., Chief of Ordenance, advisor to the South Vietnamese Army. I spent my 8th grade year at ACM and was sent to Brent School in the PI for 9th grade.
    Let me know how I can assist.

    Tom

  • Pete Case

    Bob,
    I recently discovered this website and would certainly contribute what I remember. I arrived in Saigon in 1954 and remained until 1958. That made me 8-12 years old, and was part of the early years of ACS and have some interesting recollections as do my brother and sister who also attended ACS.

    Let me know what you you need!

    Pete Case

  • Susan Canavan

    I attended second grade at Pheonix Study group…and then school was closed and my Mom attempted home schooling, we pretty much stayed indoors and fought each other and played “refugee”. Family game we made up , my brother sister and I spent hours “packing” to flee and then went around our outdoor kitchen where neighborhood ladies gathered and chewed beetlenut, and we kids pretended to beg…What they must have thought of us weird American kids with time to hang around pestering them, yikes.
    I would be really open to sharing memories and stories, many of my memories are oddly happy but like most kids of that time and place, they don’t really translate so well ….its certainly interesting to think about the impact those two years had on shaping me and my life. I grew up in Singapore and attended SAS, I now live in San Francisco where I was born.I have visted Vietnam a few times, first in 1996, still mystified fascinated and wildly sentimental about all that is Vietnam and her beautiful people.

  • Sarah Rogers

    Somewhere I have my diary and while it mostly talked about who I was dating, it still has some usable info. And of course my memories which are with me forever.

  • virginia wilson king

    I would love to share my memories of Vietnam. My mom worked for Dick Hughes in the Shoeshine Boy’s foundation adn my dad worked for World Rehab Foundation (the hospital down from the school on Cong Li that made prosthesis for Vietnam Vets and kids who had stepped on landmines.) I originally was living with my parents when I was 18 months in a flat by the racetrack and we were caught and had to hide during the tet offensive. After all of the danger of living in Vietnam we moved back to the states and my mother was killed in a homicide after going to the grocery store for milk one night. So ironic. At any rate, I’d love to share pictures and memories.

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