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Saigon Kids Stories: Memories Of My Homeland

by H. Clark (St. Paul School, Saigon)

I guess I am a brand new member to your wonderful site.

I’ve read with great interest the SK stories and their experiences in my homeland.  Many sweet memories rushed back and reminded me of the places that have been, even the rain.

I was born in Saigon in 1951 and left in 1975.  Went back to visit Saigon for the first time in 2011.  A lot has changed and I do miss Passage Eden as I spent a lot of time there window shopping.

My dad worked for the CIA in his last years in Saigon and passed away in duty right after when President Kennedy was assassinated.  My school years were somewhat interrupted after his death and the war…

I worked at USAID in Bien Hoa, and the USO in Saigon as their executive secretary in their office headquarters on Nguyen Hue.  And then when the U.S. troops withdrew, USO moved its headquarters to Thailand, I found and worked in the same capacity for a U.S. shipping transportation named Sea-Land Service until Saigon fell.

I studied French from kindergarten through high school at the all girls (this was not so much fun) St. Paul high school on Cuong De street near the zoo and a swimming pool, I believe located on Nguyen Binh Khiem St .  Also, attended classes at the Vietnamese American Association while working in Saigon.

I’ve never subscribed to any website before, so this is my first time… LOL.

Thank you so much for creating this website.

I am not a Saigon Kid, but I am very much so…

Share your memories, experiences and stories of your days in Saigon.

You can submit your stories and photographs by using the
*Contact Form*.

CLICK HERE To Go To CONTACT FORM

15 comments to Saigon Kids Stories: Memories Of My Homeland

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    May I be the first to say welcome and yes, I think you qualify to be a Saigon Kid, perhaps more than the rest of us on this site. Your homeland means a lot to us, despite the war. A number of us are former GIs who served in Vietnam as well and we (certainly I) still have warm and close feelings about the country. Again, welcome.

  • Cathie McIntyre

    Dear Huong
    Welcome to Saigon Kids. Those of us who were in Saigon in the 1950s and 1960s have many fond memories of our time there. I went back in March of this year and explored both the north and the south.
    I will be retiring from my teaching job in Saudi Arabia this June and hope to return to Vietnam for a couple of months of volunteer work next spring. Part of my heart remains in Vietnam.

  • Sandy Hanna

    I too say you are a ‘Saigon Kid’ and am so glad you have signed on to this group that doesn’t fit anywhere but here amongst those who all loved Vietnam. It was a singular experience that bonded all of us and you too are now counted in the family. Thank you for becoming part of this wonderful group. Sandy

  • Gene (Joe) Weinbeck

    I concur with the above writers in welcoming you. Your homeland gave me many of my best childhood memories. You are part of our family.

  • H. Clark

    Thank you so much for your heartwarming welcome notes. For me, to be part of your group is such an honor. Memories are like clouds, always lingering… To get to know so many SKs who share the same thoughts, I don’t feel so alone.

    I left VN roughly a decade after you, but at the same age. I guess it was the age that we felt fearless and looking ahead to new and exciting things. What you experienced in Saigon proved to be of the idyllic youth, despite the war as Ken Yeager and Bruce Thomas had expressed. I wanted to do something big with my life. I left VN on my own at 23, as I remember it was right after work around 6 p.m. in late April of 1975. Good thing I’ve made the right choice. After Dad passed away, I felt like the world sank underneath me and the foundation of my family had crumbled. In my mind, no matter what it takes, I hope to live in the U.S. where there is freedom, away from the war, and so here I am. The rest of my family joined me many years later. Only with freedom that we can advance and prosper. I believe freedom is the ultimate right that we have.

    We had a big banner that reads “Home Away from Home” at USO Saigon. My bosses were all retirees from the military and I was used to working alongside with servicemen in uniform every day, from the days at USAID in Bien Hoa. My father-in-law was a US Navy Captain and my husband served as a Lieutenant in the Army. They were civilians when I met them. I particularly have many wonderful memories working at the USO. I tasted my first hamburger there. Better than that, as staff member all my lunches were free! We had a restaurant downstairs that had live music during lunch. The bands played music of the 60’s… you can hear “Proud Mary” and “Put your Hand in the Hand of the Man” songs played many times… The music in the 60’s, and the oldies and goodies are still my favorites.

    Thank you again Bob, Ken, Cathie, Sandy, Gene (Joe), and many other SKs for sharing their stories. Part of my heart remains in Vietnam, but California is a place I now call home.

  • Frank

    Houng Clark, Anyone who was a “Donut Dollie” (meaning in complete respect)has my love! Have you heard that term about the USO women?

    I knew some when I was at the Freedom Hill PX near DaNang. I was in the Marine Corps, but most of my time was at Hue and Dong Ha (of course by choice..HeHe)

    I can realize what it must have felt like to lose your father, for I lost mine in Saigon when I was 18.

    One thing I can tell you, if folks are on this website, it means much of their blood has Vietnam pumping to their heart!

    • H. Clark

      Hello Frank,

      You can call me Huong. I’m happy to hear from you and want to thank you for the kind words. I’m sorry that you also lost your father, especially when you were just 18! It was so hard for me.

      Hue and Dong Ha are in the heart of Vietnam (where the kings lived)! I believe you were at the DMZ (?) I read that Dong Ha was demolished, but such is war…. You were brave to be there by choice (ohlala). I admire your courage and many others who fought in VN to prevent Communism.

      I was just a kid working at the USO. I typed, sent letters, helped coordinate events such as invited the celebrities to entertain the U.S. troops. I’ve met quite a few of them (Bob Hope, Miss America (Phyllis George)… Went shopping with her and her runner ups at Passage Eden. I acted as an interpreter with my limited English. Had not a dime to buy anything (sigh). Of course, we had MPs escorting us and the whole bit. It was real exciting for everybody.

      Haven’t heard the term Donut Dollie before. It sounds so funny a term, I had to look it up (LOL) and stumbled upon this link: Click Here

      As it would appear, the donut dollies are actually the American Red Cross women, not USO’s. Here are some interesting facts for your reading enjoyment:

      … The women who served in the American Red Cross Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO) program that we refer to as “Donut Dollies” were civilians. The recruitment ad circa 1967 asked “Are you creative? Could you develop an interesting program on travel, holidays, sports, music, or current events? The American Red Cross needs qualified young women who are willing to serve one year overseas….

      Among the qualifications: The job requires considerable ingenuity and a capacity for hard work under far less than ideal conditions.

      More than 600 young, college-degreed women took the job. The Vietnam War Donut Dollies hopped helicopters and deuce-and-a-halfs to combat zones armed only with a smile and a bag of games, bring “round eyes” and a touch of home to troops in the field. Three decades after the war, they tell their untold story…

      We volunteered to go to war and, for the most part, could choose where we were stationed (not the unit, but the country) and when we left. Regarding the name, Donut Dolly. We didn’t make or serve donuts—too hot! In fact, there were no donut machines in Vietnam and most don’t recall ever having seen any donuts during our entire tour. Here’s a little history about the name. It was the GIs in Korea (in the 1950’s) who gave the Red Cross Recreation workers the nickname, “Donut Dolly.” The women had donut machines and could make up to 20,000 donuts a day when the troop ships came in. As you can see they earned that name? We just inherited it….

      I also notice these women’s names who apparently were in Danang during Nov 66 – Oct 67: Alice Voytko, Holly McAleese, Ann Alloway, Cece Dumbrigue, Linda Waldron, Joan Proger, Jacqueline Fooshe Angie. Did you know them by chance? You will see quite a few photographs of the American Red Cross women wearing light blue uniforms in the above link.

      Enjoy!

      Huong

  • jim lou

    You and I are the same age, since I was also born in 1951.

    I left Saigon in June of 1965. I had been in Cholon from 1960 , when I arrive from Kansas with my mother and younger sister until the time I left, to go to Kansas.

    I lived with my grandmother ( a NGUYEN) who had married Chinese (LAM). As such I had mixed heritage.

  • H. Clark

    You certainly have a rich heritage. Do you speak Vietnamese and Chinese then? And is Lou a Chinese family name?

    Did you leave Saigon in 1965 or 1975? (I am afraid there is a typo, so just wanted to be sure). Do you still live in Kansas?

    When I was very young, everything seemed so big. Cholon sounded like another country. We practically lived next to it, but I had never set foot there. Then when I was a little older, my family moved much further away from Cholon, which made the place an even more mysterious to me.

    • jim lou

      I left in June 1965.

      I went to Johnson County Kansas, right next to Kansas City Kansas/Missouri.

      I now live in NYC.

      My mother died last year and was the last of her generation.

    • jim lou

      My father was from Shanghai China. He had gone to University of Paris Medical School (Sorbonne) where he met my mother.

      My Vietnamese is almost non-existent. Since I only spent 5 years in Saigon I had very little exposure to Vietnamese. My grandmother (NGUYEN) spoke a dialect of Chinese.

      Cholon at the time had a very large population of ethnic Chinese as well as those of mixed heritage, like my mother.

  • Frank

    Hi Cuz, I was at the Freedom Hill PX at what is called Hill 327 (I think)just out side of DaNang a few times. I actually was able to go to the Bob Hope Christmas Show in late December 1966 just a few days before I had orders to go north. I somehow got a seat about 20 feet from the stand. Oh yes, I could could go on about all the the “shows” cast. I think when Anita Bryant sang the “Grapes Of Wrath”, the whole hill side of Marines shed a tear. The Do-nut Dollies (endearing term from this guy) were certainly there, and so friendly and compassionate..
    As a kid in Saigon, I would go to Colon, sometimes to gamble with a Chinese friend (and his friends…is it O.K. if I stereo type because of that , I think Chinese really like to gamble and they certainly beat my butt most of the time!)), but most of time, I did not go there to play poker but I went there in order to buy cloth. I would then go back to Tu Do Street and have a Vietnamese tailor sew my pants and shirts.

    • H. Clark

      Hi Cuz,

      How is SuzieQ doing? I hope she doing well by now. And you, too?

      The donut dollies pictures I saw on the web, thanks to you, were just beautiful and kind. It took some real courage and personalities to carry out the work that they did to support the morale of the troops, to show they care. You and the marines were the most courageous ones.

      You might be surprised to hear that I do not have any Chinese friends, living in Vietnam, and even now. However, I do love Chinese food, and all of their soups, i.e., won ton soup, noodle soup, corn crab soup, and hot and sour soup. Isn’t it crazy?

      When I went back to Viet Nam for a visit for the first time in 2011 since 1975, my sister and I, and my mother, brought with us some fabrics from here to the tailor shops (3) in VN. We had only a few weeks stay in Viet Nam, but we had them made a lot of outfits for us. I am almost embarrassed to say that I’ve had many made for myself, dresses, pants, blouses, and jackets, enough to last me until I meet my maker. I’ve NOT gone shopping for clothes since.

      Frank, I can’t help but noticed your writing about children and grandchildren. I have a fair share of what you’ve talked about. I can say without any hesitation, I am a living proof of it. Too many to tell.

      Our beautiful daughter is ½ Vietnamese, ¼ English, and ¼ American. Her paternal grandfather came from England. Her paternal grandmother was a Crockett from Maryland, descendant of Davy Crockett. Our daughter is a tall girl, 5’8”, has a mysterious look that people often are surprised that she is half Asian. They thought she is Italian, or Iranian, or Mexican.

      I have a brother-in-law who is half Indian and half Vietnamese, but he looks 100 percent Indian.

      For myself, everywhere I turn, my ethnicity plays a bigger role than my abilities, at work and in public, and I believe you already know what that means. I am also invisible, especially if I were standing in line, 5’2” (if I were just a few more inches tall, my life stands a better chance) some people literally would push me aside from behind and cut in front. Sometimes I would fight back, sometimes it’s not worth my time, and rarely, but it happened, to my surprise that there were some nice people who would stand up for me seeing what happened. Certain human species are just downright ugly in their behaviors, all I could do is be careful.

      You are a good man, Frank.

      Huong

  • Frank

    Jim, please write more about your life.

  • Frank

    Thanks Huong for your kind words. Many years ago I decided to only trust people by two things. Could I trust them in the fox-hole and could I trust them with my kids (and grand-kids…and of course my wife…Three Army Officers made a move on my wife…and one was a Chaplin, during our Military life… just because someone is military does not give them a free ride in my book…again, can I trust them!!?)? It is amazing how this gave me, and my wife, insight! Of course some may thing this is weird or out of place, but that is O.K. with me (sort of). But being short, in a tall world certainly has it’s problems. lol

    Oh! All those Officers were married.

    And they out ranked me!!

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