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Before Saigon: Gene ( Joe ) Weinbeck

by Admin and Richard Turner, Contributing Editor
© SaigonKidsAmericanCommunitySchool.Com

Gene ( Joe ) Weinbeck -1964

Gene (Joe) Weinbeck (1964-65)

In the fall of 1963, we were living in Norfolk, VA. My Navy father announced that he’d received orders to a “hot spot” and asked me and Mom to guess where that might be. We couldn’t even come close, and when told it was Vietnam we had to look it up in the atlas. Once we determined that we got to go, too, I was pretty excited. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and this would be my first trip to a foreign country. I remember my father giving me a copy of “The Ugly American” to read, taking French lessons (my parents, too) from a private tutor, and going into overdrive to complete my boy scout Eagle badge before we left.

Of course, it would be several months before we could join my father, so we moved temporarily to my parents’ home town of Winsted, MN. We lived with my aunt in her mortuary-home and I got to experience Minnesota at its questionable best – during the winter. I remember playing basketball, shoveling snow, and mourning the death of Kennedy.

Finally, I think in February 1964, we got word that we could join my dad. On the way, we stopped in San Francisco to wait for our flight out of Travis AFB. We stayed at some hotel and were awakened in the middle of the night by fire alarms. I carried my younger brother as my mother and I went up and down the stairs through the heavy smoke as someone yelled out “Go up, you fools” and others yelled “Go down, you fools”. We finally found a broken window in the stair well and gasped the cool clear air. Nothing ever smelled so sweet. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. We stayed the next few days with friends elsewhere in the bay area while we waited for our flight.

I don’t remember much about the flight itself, but the ride from Tan Son Nhut to our new home was filled with sights and smells that I had never experienced before – I was thrilled.

I’m told that I kept exclaiming “Oh, wow, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world!”

It’s still a major memory for me, and a fond one.

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