what follows is uncorrected raw copy transcribed from tape.
Q. Where were you born, etc?
Born in Mercy Hospital in Sacramento. My dad worked for the state as an administrator for about twenty-five years and ended up teaching public administration at Sacramento State for maybe ten or fifteen years.
Went to high school two years at La Sierra which was being built when I got there and which has now been shut down, which makes me feel real old. We moved here in fifty-nine and I finished my last two years here at Oak Grove high school.
I was born in '44. Went four years to Saint Mary's College, Christian Brothers College, down at Moraga, and I was in what they call now, "The Great Books Program" and majored in English Lit., because you had to have a major at the time. Then I got out of there, had an education but no way of getting a job, which is what I expected, so I spent a year at Sac State studying mostly economics and after about one semester it was too much other worldly, I couldn't find a whole lot of reality in it, so I transferred over to Davis, University of California, in the international agricultural development program as a graduate student. The only trouble was that all the other graduate students had been other places in the world and my experience had been pretty much limited to California. Being there and having these discussion sessions with a guy who's saying "when I was in Whimpa-Whompa--" what this guy said didn't hold. And another guy says something else. Who knows? So about I guess the middle of the first semester, I saw a poster that said, Spend your summer in Vietnam. The International Voluntary Services had a summer volunteer program. You got to spend two and a half to three months there working with the other volunteers.
Q. Who sponsored them?
Well they were supposedly private and the Board of Directors was made up mostly of people of various and sundry religious organizations, Mennonite, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc. But over in Vietnam had a contract with UC. That was in '67.
Q. Were you curious about Vietnam?
I was living in the only graduate dorm on campus. We called it Ash Hell. It was supposedly a temporary World War II army barracks. It was a very international community, because most U.S. born people had ways of finding other places to live. So three or four of U.S. type citizens, and the rest were all from other places. And there were rather strong feelings about Vietnam, both ways, there. And I ways always trying -- "maybe, maybe not", I didn't know.
And so I saw this thing and I said, "Well, three months to check it out. That sounds good to me." It's easier than working in the hop fields, which is what I had done before that.
Q. What was your draft status?
I was still on a student draft exemption.
So I decided to find out what it was all about. So I went through all the rigmarole including I guess about three interviews from people from the IVS office in Washington. I told them, "Look, I'd like to do agriculture, community development. I don't want to teach English." "Okay, okay, okay." So we went through all this and I spent the last month of school there, there were about six or eight of us and they brought up some gal who was teaching at the Monterey Language school and she tried to give us some idea of Vietnamese which didn't work too well, because she was spending two hours three times a week doing this, and worrying about your finals, -- and you weren't speaking it except in the frigging classroom, which doesn't work as far as I'm concerned. At least they made an attempt at it.
Late June of '67 my mom took me to what is now the Sacramento Executive Airport for what was my first airplane flight. This was a prop job that went through the fog to San Francisco and you'd hear them changing the pitch, and I looked at all the other people and saw if they ain't worried, I shouldn't be. Then we got to San Francisco. There were about eight of us from Davis. They had about forty people for this voluntary program from all over the United States, but we were the last, because we didn't meet anybody else until much later. So we took this long wonderful flight from San Francisco to Hawaii, to Tokyo where we got to spend two or three hours in the airport, then Tokyo to Hong Kong where we got to spend about six hours in a hotel. That's where I met my first cockroach--carpet on the floor and cockroaches. And I got a very slight feel for Hong Kong. We didn't see much. The taxi driver picks us up at the airport and I'll be damned if he didn't go on the freeway the wrong way, it looked to me, because of the English system. Heart stop time.
The other feel I got for it, in this fairly expensive hotel I presume, was the saloons running across the street all night long. (((Ctr. 73))).
The next morning early, about six a.m., we were taken back to the Hong Kong airport and got on this British airlines plane -- not British Airways, I don't know which one -- I wish I could remember because I would really give it low marks as it bounced on and off the runways. It took us to Saigon.
Coming into Saigon it was really great. You come in and look down at Tan Son Nhut and you think this is really great, all this nice water, some of it's blue, some of it's green, different shades of color. Then you start to realize, hey, those aren't ponds, those are mortar shell holes. All around Tan Son Nhut airport. So I got into Tan Son Nhut and we were received by about three people from IVS. Again this is three times more than usually. We were just three month people, including the fellow who was starting the fall term for IVS, a volunteer there several years before, Don Luce. They took us to the IVS house which was a place that was given to them by the Vietnamese government. An old livestock experimental station less than a mile from Tan Son Nhut on the corner of Le van Duyet and whatever that road is that runs through Tan Son Nhut to Cho Lut, Phu Tho ???. And there they had three buildings, two two-story and one small one in the center which was kind of the living room sort of thing. And one building was a dormitory and the other was kitchen and a few other rooms scattered around for the employees.
It was there that I found that they had screwed me up. Despite all I had said, despite all their assurances, I was going to Tan Chao to teach English. I was so happy about that I could spit. But I figured, well, that's the breaks. . . . Tan Chao and Chao Duc province right near Cambodia. Tan Chou was a district for . . . ??? ctr 105???.
But we spent a couple nights there and one of the people who had been there in Vietnam for a while took us out to see Saigon, places like the Black Bar, where surprisingly enough all the bar ladies were black and spoke very good Vietnamese. They were left over from when the blacks had been there when the French had been there. They were half and half. The were Sudanese, or something like that. They also had a reputation for being very nasty troops. And took us to a place where they sold dope, all this kind of good stuff, get an idea of other things, the slum areas. Then the night after that the officials took us out to a seven kinds of beef dinner. Which is all right except after about the fifth portion I'm getting tired of beef.
Q. Was there a tone to it of disfavor or favor, the people were showing you around?
At this point in time, most of the IVSs were against the American policies. This was getting very strong. As a matter of fact, Don Luce signed me up for two years at the end of my tour there and about three weeks later when I was in the Philippines for more extensive training at the Los Banos Agricultural School, we got the news that Don Luce quit along with three or four of the other big executives and left the country, and we didn't know whether there was an IVS in Vietnam any more.
Q. You were impressed the first time?
The first thing you come out of Tan Son Nhut, which was all GI town, all the bright signs above the bars and the tailor shops and other things that you can only guess at. We actually got a ride from Tan Son Nhut to the house. Other times you walked. But in the IVS house, it was an experimental station, they had some Guernseys and Jerseys that at one time were trying to breed to the local cattle to get a dairy industry going. Well they found the Holstein wouldn't work there. It has to have very nutritious food, fairly cool climate, --it's been developed as a milk machine. And they had a few chickens and stuff like that. But actually not much was happening. That was surrounded by city for five miles in all directions, and more.
Q. The goal of IVS was what?
Supposed to work with the people in small projects in the locality we were assigned. For instance, I went to Tan Chau --in Chao Duc province, the first time we ever tried it, there were about seven IVSs there three of whom were in Chao Duc, the city -- two in Tan Chao, and one of them was in home economics and Betty was a English teacher; Choo who was from Taiwan was the agriculture man, crops, in Chau Doc City. Then in Tan Chao there was Diego, who was a Cuban refugee who had been in the Bay of Pigs business, he was the animal man, who'd been screwed over by IVS in his own way, because he had said he'd come over if he could work in an experimental station. So they sent him about as far away as he could get. But he was working -- he wasn't happy about it but he was working and trying to do a job, and he was a little p.o.'d about it. And Daryl, who was the engineer -- all these people just fresh out of college.
Q. Was there a sense of mission with you, almost like the peace corps?
Well, we liked to say the Peace Corps was copied from IVS. IVS started in '55 and '56 and the Peace Corps came later.
Q. You didn't have any misgivings once you got there about having made a mistake?
No, over here (in the U.S.) you could read this and that, but what do you believe? I have a lot of trouble with that still. That's one of the reasons I went there. The problem with this sort of thing, that I found, is one can get pretty good about a very small area. I can tell you about the Vietnam war in terms of the Bien Hoa mental hospital, and about two and a half months in Tan Chau.
Q. Tell me about Tan Chau. There was no danger there?
The IVS people were not being put in dangerous spots. There was always the chance, but that's part of the deal. They flew us out of Tan Son Nhut to Dan Tao airport and there Willie Shoemaker, I think that's his last name, picked us up in a truck. Most of our vehicles came from USAID too, the yellow plates with the green letters. And again at that point there was a move to change it from USAID plates to Vietnamese government plates so it didn't look so closely connected to USAID.
First of all, IVS was originally set up to go over to Vietnam in '56, I think it was, to help the North Vietnamese refugees in the South and that was its only mission. And then as they worked with the Vietnamese refugees, these first people, they looked around and said, Gee, South Vietnamese, Montangnards, Chams and all these people can use help too. And the first people there were mostly agriculture. Although like LaRue, -- I've got a little Newsweek clip on me that was taken after the communists took over that finally got shown internationally, I guess.
I was the only American outside of Saigon when the communists took over. I was something real special. I'm not sure what that means.
I was picked up in Can Tho, went to the IVS house briefly which is a two story place. The whole place was just a little bit bigger than this room here, but two story. That was a central point for people in the Delta to come in.
IVS was set up in regions. Region 4 was centered at Can Tho and Region 3 was centered in Saigon. Same as the military.
We had lunch there and the fellow who was with me, John Summers who was head of the IVS subaltern program, got the front seat and I got to get in the back and ride on the wheel well.
They talked about how green Vietnam was, and this is late June. The Delta it ain't. They're still waiting for it to get soft enough to plow. You see all this gray countryside and it looks pretty dismal, frankly. The only things that saved it were the canals which had wooded areas and high brush and stuff, and you could study the houses going by. In about three or four weeks I worked out a system of judging how rich a family was by the state of the house. If it was all thatch, they were pretty poor. They were thatch with a tin roof, they were getting a little wealthier recently. If thatch with a tile roof, they'd gotten some money ahead in times past. Tile was going out of favor because it was more expensive than the tin, but most of the people went to tin because it was the thing to do. Then you could tell the old houses, the wooden ones and that was obviously people who had pretty well off for a long time. Then again some of them had thatched roofs, some had tin, and some had tile. Then you could tell the ones who just made it recently because they had the all brick houses. And you could tell how well off they were by whether the outside walls were plastered or not.
And the other thing I noticed about that was that a lot of the villages, or hamlets, were centered around these canals, and a number of the houses were built right over the canals. They had a very good garbage disposal system when the tide was running.
Q. Did the heat or humidity bother you?
It bothered me a bit, but I'd worked in the hop fields here for three or four summers, and the worst humidity I'd ever hit was when I was out there tying up the hops about three days after irrigating. It's pretty hot and everything is close in. It bothered me but it wasn't like I had never experienced something like that.
It gets a little debilitating, but the other advantage is, the rainy season to me is a nice season because when the rains come they bring in that nice strong wind that clears the air, and all that nice water. So I got there at a good time. You work through the cool season and then in the real miserable season which is about two months before the rainy season starts.
It seemed like the trip from Can Tho to Tan Chau took forever. We made a stop off in Long Vinh because there was an IVS house there. The two people there were English teachers. And then got to Chao Doc and stopped there briefly to meet whoever was home there. And then to get to Tan Chao you had to take a ferry across the canal, which was a big canal, may even have been the Mekong. It was as a matter of fact, because about a week and a half after I'd been in Tan Chao I got up one morning and looked out the window and there was a whole fleet of big ships there. They were going up to Cambodia. But you take this ferry across, which means you have to wait for it to get over there from one side to another. It was on a cable and it was slow. You could get almost four vehicles on it plus all the motor bikes and people you could find space and wouldn't sink it. From Can Tho to Chao Doc was all paved roads courtesy of the U.S. military, I'm sure. But from the ferry side to Tan Chao , which was maybe a couple of miles, it was a levee road, gravel, very holey, but "unblessed", and very wet because of the rain. And the first thing you see getting across in the ferry -- this is Vietnam, you know, Buddhist country, with some Catholics --- you see a frigging mosque! There were Malaysians there who came over about eighty years before and had a village right there.
Then we got to Tan Chau and met Diego and Daryl, they were renting the upstairs of a two story house, from people whose whole business was making runs from Tan Chau to Saigon to pick up silk thread for weaving, because Tan Chau was in a silk-weaving area. Another surprise folks. There was a small experimental station there which wasn't doing much and they needed -- but the silk that they got from the silkworms there the way it was processed was only good for the cross weave. The long ones they had to get the imported silk from wherever. So these people would take the finished silks from Tan Chao, run to Saigon, sell it, pick up the long ones, bring it back for the people who were doing the weaving. Right next door there were three looms with -- they had these wood pattern makers. It was surreal because they had all these pegs sticking around and it doesn't look like anything, but it almost does and it's making the pattern, like flowers and birds and all this kind of stuff. These people were the nouveau riche, you could tell by the house. It was two story brick, plaster walls. They had the downstairs, about six people and all slept in one bed which was about eight feet by eight feet. And that's the way they do it. Good Buddhist family and this meant that they did all the right things, including the old man, when the electricity went on he run a line out to the power line so he wouldn't have to be metered. So he ran his whole house off of one plug with about twelve different sockets. Vietnamese wiring is scary.
That was a Friday, and Saturday and Sunday was a big Hoa Hao festival in Hoa Hao village so we took the road up to Hoa Hao . It seemed like it was about twenty miles. It probably wasn't. Everything moves slow there, takes so long it's hard for me to figure, and I'm not sure, I saw my one and only sheep, or goats in Vietnam. These long woolly scraggly things out in the middle of the road. This is in the middle of a real hot area in the Delta.
Hoa Hao is named after the village where it was founded. They're having a big festival for the founding of the Hoa Hao religion and this was an eye popper for me. It was all floats out on the river, with generators, and they had flashing lights and spotlights. This is in the middle of nowhere, folks, as far as I'm concerned. And here they've got all this stuff.
Q. Nobody seemed concerned with all the lighting and electricity about the Viet Cong?
No. No, the Hoa Haos were definitely anticommunist. This area around the village, even in Tan Chao, didn't worry much. They got a couple GIs while I was there, but that was later. There wasn't any worry about that. As a matter of fact, the province chief and the American provincial adviser and all these upper muckys flew in by chopper to this thing and did all their proper whatever they do. And we were just in there watching. They rented a room there, because people came there and spent a night or two because they were working with some of the Hoa Haos, mostly in livestock. That was Diego.
And of course the Hoa Haos you could always tell from anybody because of the way they did their hair with a bun on top. You can tell them anywhere. And the Hoa Haos are very important to the South Vietnamese government because they were so anti-communist. They weren't necessarily pro-South Vietnamese government, but by God they hated the communists and that was what mattered. Supposedly the Hoa Hao army of which there was a Major Sadec was supposedly the leader.
Q. How were you getting along in Vietnamese at that time?
Not very well. As a matter of fact the first time I went to Chao Doc on my own, I decided to take one of those sedans, one of those big jobbers, and I thought he said it was only forty piasters, and what he'd said was four hundred. And since we were limited to two hundred fifty piasters a day it was quite a blow to my budget.
T-a-n C -h-a-u.
I started work the following week. It's the last stop where the fleet gathered going into Phnom Penh to get their final escort into Cambodia.
Q. Is it near something called Tram Kim, a bird refuge?
I have no idea.
Tan Chau was a fairly unique place. Around Chao Duc you could look over, and coming into Chao Doc you could see Nui Sam, which is a mountain, and that was a safe mountain. The next two mountains down were nnnnnh (a gesture meaning questionable?). The fourth mountain down was a safe one because Derald the engineer was helping set up a water system there. And there were lots of areas there where you just didn't muck around much. And even Tan Chao itself, as the district went clear over to the border, there were times they went and took out the rough puffs, the regionals, and all that, and they'd lose a battle.
I was also introduced to the guy in Tan Chau, a major who's also related to a famous Civil War man, and proud of it, Davis. And there were about six MACV guys there, one sergeant, two sergeants and a couple of corporals, private, whatever. And their Vietnamese interpreter. I got a very bad impression of the MACV operation there because old Major Davis would insist old Captain Dung, who was head of the district, was an honest man, and the rumors were that these positions were sold based upon how much they figured the people would be able to make off of them. And Tan Chau was the center of the Cambodian and Chinese black market, I mean from Red China. You could go down there and buy all kinds of good stuff that wasn't legal that came from those places.
Q. Came down the Mekong?
Yeah. I don't know. Probably came down -- because at that time Cambodia was -- Prince Sihanouk was still there and he still maintained relations with China and all that.
And there were also some very fast junks or whatever they use that could outrun any patrol boat that the Vietnamese navy had there. But you say to yourself, he could be honest, but the chances are very unlikely. This was the province chief. And there was certainly very little proof in that direction.
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. . . Marijuana in Vietnam, they'd been smoking it down there for a long time in preference to tobacco. So it wasn't considered a bad deal for them. But some people got smart about this and ended up in places like Long Binh, and Can Tho, GI areas, and this was kind of nasty. In fact, later on, after I'd Tan Chau there was a plan by the spray guys to go out and take care of the marijuana, spray the hell out of the Hoa Hao area. And some of the IVS people were the ones that put a kabosh on the thing, saying "Look, there they use it in place of tobacco. If you do it, they'll be really unhappy and remember, they're our friends." They didn't grow tobacco there, they grew marijuana. And had been doing it for years. It was always against the law, but the old thing about the power of the emperor stops at the village gates, and especially there where you really didn't want to monkey too much with the Hoa Haos, because "the enemy of my enemies is my friend". This is the way it worked with the Hoa Haos, and you had to treat them with kid gloves. They were very much anti communist, and that was important, and they were tough fighters.
Q. Who was controlling the black market in Tan Chau?
I have no idea. It was coming in by way of Cambodia. There were a whole bunch of guys running the stuff.
Q. There are always stories that the VC financed themselves through black market activities.
You could say that about the Vietnamese government, too. I'll tell you something that's about fourth hand when I heard it. I came home in '72 for my operation, went back in '73. I was talking to our pedio-psychiatrist at our hospital. She was a Belgian gal, name of Olivette Michalejaque, a real Belgian name. He grandfather found a Belgian gal that he liked and moved from Czechoslovakia.
She talked to a friend who talked to one of the big wigs in the Thieu political party and asked him why the Thieu government supported the drug operations, and the guy said, "It's not the government, it's our political party." It was just the Democratic Party of Vietnam. And he says, "We have to do that because USAID isn't supporting our political activities any more, and we've got to get our money somewhere." Again, remember, this is fourth hand and I get it was a personal quote. Maybe it even came out of that book, "Heroin and Politics in Southeast Asia."
Q. Did you buy things on the black market that was from the American PX?
No, there was very little of that. The closest PX was a little dinky thing in Chao Doc. There were Green Berets and MACV there, but it wasn't that big a place. Can Tho now you could do better.
I made a point of not buying on the black market. I just didn't like it. I thought it was disgusting. And I might also add that while IVS was still in the good graces of USAID, we got ten dollars a month in MPC that we could spend at the PX or commissary, which I used to buy film and toothpaste, and after I got to the hospital, I bought Mr Hao, one of the personnel there, Salem cigarettes. He liked Salems and couldn't afford them on the market, black market, so I was doing it legitimately sort of, I went to the PX.
Q. Teaching English -- your Vietnamese wasn't that good. Do they put you in a schoolroom?
Well, it was summertime, so it was a volunteer deal, which of course had its own little problems. They gave me on of the classrooms down at the local high school. A very small place, and when I was there, which was at night time, it was a little dark, because there was one light bulb, and maybe anywhere from thirty to forty-five people there. There might have been five or ten of them that were serious.
Q. Who were these people?
Adults, both high school and adults. As a matter of fact, one poor old guy was a Vietnamese civil servant, probably getting close to retirement. He knew French very well, he wanted to learn English because English was now the second language needed in Vietnam to do anything in the government. And he just couldn't hack it. He was too old. But he tried hard. But most of them were high school students.
If you are male and you flunk your Tu Thai Mot, or Tu Thai Hai, you get to go to the army. That's baccalaureate One and Baccalaureate Two. So English is the one that flunked most of them. And a place like that there is not too many opportunities to learn English. I never met any of the teachers, but there apparently were English classes, every high school had them, but you could assume that they didn't really know spoken English too well. And they were trying to run a class of fifty or sixty kids at a time. It just didn't work too well. So these kids' chances of getting their Tu Tai High were at best about zilch, and Tu Tai Mot wouldn't have been easy either. Some of them were very serious students.
I had one gal, her name was Ngo Phuc who was quite good already, and she got very good, and there were several male students that were very good. But the male students were the ones we had to worry about because if they flunk, unless they can pay off right and either not go to the military at all, or pay off even more and go to the police force, because there you make money, they were going to end up in the infantry or some wonderful place like that. And if you don't have enough money there, you probably end up in a good place like the First Division up in I Corps, which is a pretty deadly area.
Q. Where you went in the military depended on how much money you paid?
In many cases. Some of them, for a while it was possible to join the Regional Forces. As a matter of fact they probably would have joined the regional forces because that was fairly easy. Later on you had the choice. You chose your branch, infantry, or the rangers, or else you paid a lot and got in the police force and made money, or you had a safe position. Most of them were, as I understand it, the assumption was that the police were all corrupt. Not all of them, I'm pretty sure of that. We had one guy we had at the hospital, the latter part, --- you see, we couldn't keep policemen at the hospital, because they complained to their commanding officer, "We can't make any money there." The second to last guy we had, wasn't making any money, but did make a child and left her. A widow of one of the personnel there. And the last guy, the only thing he wanted to do was come and drink Rượu đế all day. There was a lot of people there who liked to drink U Day, so he got along pretty well. He didn't have too many ambitions.
Q You were able to teach English without having that much mastery of Vietnamese?
It was supposed to be English in conversation. We were using this miserable book called English for Today, put out, I think, by McGraw Hill. I hope I'm right on that. I may have the wrong publishing company. It was awful. First of all they were trying to teach pronunciation of things. Which I didn't think was that important. Especially trying to get them to say the TH sound. You don't stick your tongue out in Vietnam. So I was a little lax on that. But they were teaching 'ing endings and all this sort of thing without even teaching much of the basic vocabulary first. Book One and Book Two were awful.
But you'd use the blackboard and try and say -- it was also heavily illustrated, so I didn't have to know that dog was "con chó" because they had a picture of a dog in the book. All I had to do was try and get them to pronounce it right.
Q. You sound like you really enjoyed the experience.
Oh, I didn't enjoy teaching. I'm a lousy teacher. As far as I'm concerned, that's why I didn't want to teach anybody.
Q. What did you do when you weren't teaching?
I got to wander around. That's where I found there was the big black market there. The IVSers in Tan Chau spent a lot of the weekends at Chao Doc, you know, the big city. Usually they'd end up having their meals at a wonderful place like the MACV or the Green Berets and, I kept asking why, because I liked Vietnamese food. We had a cook there, poor gal, she was very limited in her repertoire. During eel season we got curry eel twice a day, every day. It's pretty good stuff, but after a while, you know - --. She was the sister of the MACV cook. He knew his stuff pretty well, but this gal, oh boy.
I'd just wander around with IVS people. Like one time Daryl took me up to the project on the fourth mountain down from Chao Doc where he was trying to set up this water system in this village on a hill, right on the side of this mountain. And these mountains, they were big. Everything's flat for as far as you can see, then these damn mountains just stick up. They're just there. It's very impressive. Why they're there, I don't know. The first mountain had a big Buddhist temple and a little village. Daryl didn't work with them. This fourth mountain, they had a big well about the middle of the village, half way down the slope, and they had a water man and he would charge something like five piasters a five gallon tin, which, most of those tins came from USAID PL 480 stuff, big soybean oil cans. He'd charge five piasters downhill and want ten piasters up hill. Which makes sense. And he was drawing it out by hand. But Daryl was going to set up a pipe system and get water to all these places, to the village. And then he had hopes of training this fellow who was the water man, to run the system so he wouldn't be out of a job.
These people were not well off. And most of these were thatch places. I guess their fields were down below in the valley. I didn't really know that much about what they did, but they didn't look that wealthy.
Q. Did you draw any conclusions about the conflict?
I heard a couple of things, like the time Major Davis came in one day and said, "we had a battle. They had one machine gun and our soldiers just wouldn't attack because of that machine gun. We lost because of one machine gun." I kept thinking, this sounds like you're playing cowboys and Indians and the other guys cheated a little bit. You got the impression that maybe the rough puffs really weren't very good there.
The other thing was that he and a Vietnamese lieutenant were standing by a tree and a mortar round came in so the Vietnamese captain told major Davis, "You know, I don't mind fighting, but I don't know why we should stand out here trying to get killed. Why don't we step behind this tree." Which made good sense.
And then about a month or month and a half after I'd been there, two of these sergeants, one was a new fellow coming in to replace old Frenchy, a sergeant ready to go home, and another sergeant who had been there a while, were down at the beer and play area of the GIs, an area I'd never been to. And I was at the MACV at the time, because I used to go there at night after class so I could do my work, because they had a generator and had lights all the time. Than Chau had lights from about dark for maybe three or four hours after that and they'd shut them down again. And I was working on my lessons or writing a letter home, and I heard this peculiar bang. To me, I guess it was a hollow bang. Major Davis comes running out and said, "That was a grenade. Where is everybody?" So we're missing the two sergeants. One sergeant who had been there a long time, who was showing the new fellow, Sergeant Odem, around, came running in, blood coming down his face, and said, "We got hit by a grenade or something. I had to leave Odem there, I think he's dead."
This was in Than Chau, mind you. So they went over there and he was certainly dead. And they called in the medivac people. Four and a half, five hours later they finally got the chopper there to Than Chau because they had action someplace else. While we were standing there waiting for it to come in, the chopper pad was just at the end of the street where these guys went for their beer and other things, and Major Davis said, "You know, I don't know whether these guys were killed by ARVNs who didn't like them being there because they had more money, or whether it was a terrorist thing by the communists. It was about a week later we found out it was actually a communist deal, because the shrapnel they pulled out of the bodies were not the shape of a grenade. It was a booby trap. And somebody had to pull the string. It wasn't set up for anybody, it was definitely set up for the Americans.
Q. How big was Tan Chau? How many people?
Oh, I don't really know. It was in the thousands. Maybe two or three thousand. That may be an exaggeration. It was hard for me to tell, because some of the areas -- we were in effect on the outskirts of Tan Chau, because right behind us were rice fields. Then you had to go across a bridge on a small canal, and you hit Tan Chau proper and then right there on the point was the market. Then you go down a few streets and found some government buildings. All the government buildings from the French looked alike. They used the same blueprint. All they did was change the size in terms of floor space. Then there was the so-called residential areas. The houses were tight. It was hard to tell where one house started and another one did.
Q. How many Americans in the general area?
Myself and Daryl and Diego and the MACV team of five or six. So it was easy to pick Americans out. One of the results of the bombing deal for me was that for about some of the male students would escort me home. We all worked on the assumption, which may or may not have been true, that the communists knew who everybody was and they would carefully pick their targets. That was Major Davis's assumption too. It must have worked because I still kept going over to the MACV and never had any trouble and I was going late.
Q. And the communists were living right in Tan Chau?
We don't know, how do you know? Unless you pick one up you don't know. They could have come in from the outside.
Q. No company-sized units moving around the outside of the city around the time of the Tet offensive?
I left well before the Tet offensive. I left in late August, early September. There was lots of action close to the Cambodian border. That was the free fire zone, just wild area, and then taking the boat from Tan Chau, which I did once with Major Davis and one of his men, and went into Chao Doc with him, along the Mekong, and there's one point where they move carefully toward the Tan Chau side, because they sometimes picked up sniper fire. And in these wonderful fiberglass boats, open and all that, there ain't a hell of a lot you could do, except try and get out of there.
Q. The MACV didn't set up claymores on the outside of the town?
No. First of all, the MACV was right behind the district office, which is also where the Vietnamese fellow, the captain, lived. And the guarding was very lax. I don't remember them even throwing barbed wire across the driveway into the place. I could be wrong, but I really don't remember it.
Q. After such a short time, leaving, did you get what you were looking for?
No, well I complained loud enough and about midway through that IVS said they'd find me another place to go. So someone says, "Hey, now look, I don't want to do that. It ain't fair. First of all, some of these people actually want to learn English. It isn't fair to drop them like that. Second of all, what can you do in six weeks?" Three months wasn't long enough as it was. You just get a very small taste of it.
I made one trip to Can Tho on my own by Vietnamese bus. That's exciting. The first thing you find out is that Vietnamese are very short and trying to get your legs in there ain't easy. The only thing you can do is hope you grab a bus that has a section for seating over the wheels, so you can take up in effect three seats, plus four standing spaces, so you could ride the damn thing.
These things stop any place anybody flags them down. So it takes quite a while to get into Can Tho. Then we got out in the middle of somewhere, and there was a fairly wide road heading off, I suppose heading down towards the sea, and we stopped there. There's nothing there. You couldn't see houses or anything, but there's all these people selling stuff to eat. Vietnamese don't go from place to place, they eat from place to place.
Q. Was your Vietnamese improving?
Very slightly. It was working a little better. Never did work very well. Being a tonal language, I have a big problem as I tend to be tone deaf. So it makes for some very interesting words.
But here we are in the middle of nowhere, so everybody gets off the bus and some people transfer to another bus, and everybody who needed to did their elimination thing. Both men and women wear these long shirts and pants underneath, so they squat down, pull down their pants, do whatever they have to do. No big deal, folks. Right there. And meantime other people are buying spiced, salted and peppered pineapple, sugar cane to gnaw on, or whatever. These people who were selling, I don't know where they lived, because there was nothing there.
Given the amounts they sold and the price they were selling, they couldn't afford to spend too much on their transportation. These people weren't even the Long Dong marketeers, you know, the ones who have the bamboo poles and two baskets and everything they sold were in the two baskets. Most of these just had trays. I was paying the right fare there, because the IVS guys clued me in on that. I wasn't paying 400 piasters. I was able to understand the prices and they worked it out for me. And a lot of the bus drivers knew the IVS people in Chao Doc and Tan Chau and they weren't trying to rip you off.
Q. You wore no insignia or identifying badge?
No, we were definitely non-uniform. We would go with whatever we had. We were just out there blundering around.
One night in Chao Doc, the communists floated a barge down the Mekong and they mortared MACV and the Green Berets and the provincial offices. Then they came back up and mortared them on the way back up and didn't lose a man. You start to say, "Whoa". You get an idea of what the war was like. You say, what the hell was going on here? These guys were sitting out there, and I would presume you could find them. But nobody fired a shot at them.
The Green Berets lost a couple jeeps because the mortars were just a little long, they hit the garage area, not the living quarters. And the USAID people in Chao Doc, had these typical temporary things like the military and USAID put up all over the country, and luckily one of them wasn't home at the time the mortars came in because one of them landed in front of his door. The shrapnel spread around a bit. But the point is they were able to float down and back up with no problem. Going down I can understand, they had the tide or something going with them, but -- it depended on the state of the tides on the South China Sea as to which way the water was flowing. You are way up there quite a few miles, yet because the land is so flat the way the water flows depends on the tides. And this was the rainy season too, but it still made a difference. As a matter of fact, there in Tan Chau, they didn't start getting the fields ready for rice planting until probably -- I remember it as being the middle of July, which is pretty late in the rainy season, because, you see, they didn't depend upon the rains. They depended upon the flooding of the Mekong.
So these people there didn't plant any of this new improved rice that had been improved eight years ago in Vietnam. They planted stuff that could stand eight foot of water. I don't know how they harvested, because when the water goes down, all that stuff is just a big jumble. I just never found out how. And I once watched the guy behind me fix his field up behind me. He had a plow that cut maybe three quarters of an inch deep and he'd just go wandering around, and then he just went out and threw the seed out. There was none of this business of a seed bed. It was just like they do with airplanes here, just throw the seed out. He was doing it by hand. I guess he probably rolled it a little bit or ran that board across it to put the seed in the ground, and waited for the water to come.
The other thing I noticed in Tan Chau was that the Vietnamese were very good at working with their hands. The house was set off from the main quote road unquote maybe a hundred and fifty feet, and to get out of the house to the road, you had to dodge a big hole in the ground where I think they got mud and stuff for other things, fences. And the hole filled with water in the rainy season and kind of slopped over into the road. Then coming out you had to go by the blacksmith shop and those guys were sand casting pistons for little Briggs and Stratton engines. They were sand casting them right there. They put the sand bed right out there on the road. So you had to work your way around that too. They'd machine them down with very crude equipment, and they worked. That's impressive to me.
Again, this is kind of like to me, the middle of nowhere.
Q. Were you sad to be moved from Tan Chau?
Not for what I was doing. I liked the people there, but I didn't like what I was doing. I had another opportunity to get a slight idea of the agriculture there, because the Taiwanese fellow, Chao, took me around a couple times, because there were four or five Americans and one Taiwanese, he didn't really mesh very well with the rest of the people because he was from a different culture. But he took me out a couple of times and we went around and visited rice fields and hog projects and stuff and that's one place there -- this place was deathly, it was all thatch and wasn't that big a place, and they had chicken soup for lunch. Being the guest of honor I got all the best parts, the head and the feet. The head ain't that bad except the eyeballs are a little hard and you got to get the bones. The feet, I don't know. I just figure they give you the feet so you never come again because there's no taste to them.
To me the Vietnamese never learned how to handle chicken. Most of the time you get it boiled and I just don't appreciate boiled chicken, thank you.
I flew out of there by Air America. They had a small strip there outside of Chao Doc and it was one of these things that has a short takeoff and landing. He took me into Can Tho and then from Can Tho I was flown to Saigon and then we were flown to Ban Me Thuot for a meeting of all the volterns. Well met most of the people the first time in our lives. Ban Me Thuot is up in the highlands. We stayed in the Montangnard school there. We had some people who had been working with the Montangnards for years. As a matter of fact, one of our volterns was a fellow who was trying to get in his summer while finishing his education at Cornell because he wanted to come back and work with the Montangnards. He'd started off in Cambodia and I guess was kicked out of Cambodia in the early or mid 60s because all Americans were just persona non grata in Cambodia. He ended up working with the Montangnards. That was Tracy Atwood. And Lynne Cabbage was up there. These were both men. C-a-b-b-a-g-e
That's where I got a very slight idea of another part of Vietnam.
Q. Was anybody talking about the conflict, the war?
I guess they were, yeah.
(((ENd of SIDE B, TAPE 1)))(((Begin Side A, TAPE 2)))
. . . there were strong feelings about the War. Now the people in Tan Chau, not the same. Diego was definitely anticommunist. He got picked up in the Bay of Pigs. And Daryl was definitely not, and I got the impression both Betty and Mary weren't either. The Taiwanese fellow, who knew? This was strictly an American problem, you see. But the closer you got to Saigon and among the hierarchy in IVS, the stronger the feelings became against the American presence. But I was somewhat insulated from that. Although one of the reasons I went over there to Vietnam was to get an idea of what the heck was going on because I wasn't really sure how I felt about it.
Q. Did you actually leave the country then, in '67?
Yeah I went to the Philippines.
Q. But you had decided to stay with IVS then?
Yeah, as a matter of fact, we went to the thing in Ban Me Thuot, which I found rather interesting. As I say, we met the Montagnards and visited the markets there, and stuff. Those people make their own iron. The market was definitely different from anything you found in Tan Chao. Ban Me Thuot was essentially a Montagnard town. There was a big army base right across the street from the market that was all ARVN and there were a few Vietnamese civil servants around, and people on the rubber plantations which were around there, but most of the people there were Montagnard. And of course they had the Montagnard school which is where the IVS people were working and was where we stayed. I think part of the Montagnard school was the old summer palace of the Bao Dai Emperor. He built a big place that looked like an oversize Montagnard house, all for one person. See the Montagnard houses, these long steep pitched things that look like out of Switzerland except they're thatched and bamboo. They run anywhere from five to eight families in those places.
One day we went to one of those places and we had a party. And we ate whatever it was we ate, but I definitely remember I was drinking the Montagnard wine, which was rice wine that is just sitting in water and changes the alcohol. It wasn't distilled. It's sour but you can still get sloshed on it. I don't know how. It tasted so bad as far as I was concerned. Everybody drank out of a straw in these big pots.
All the volterns went there, you see.
Q. Why did you re-sign. What did it do to your draft status?
I had to get an exemption. I forget what it was, but every year I had to send a thing saying, "Yes, I'm still in Vietnam and here's proof." We had APO mail privileges, but I had to send this damn thing back every year.
Got back to Saigon and I told Don Luce that I'd like to sign on because I'd like to get a better understanding of what was going on in Vietnam. And he said, "If you really want that you should probably go back to the states, but I'll sign you on."
So they signed me on. I could have gone home, but I said, what's the point? I'd already dropped the bomb on my parents so I figured it's better to be far away than close.
They flew me over to Manila and I spent a couple days in Manila waiting for the next group of IVSers to come in. IVS had this contract with Los Banos agricultural university which is quite a ways outside of Manila. And also Irri International Rights Research Institute which was right next door that was set up by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations So we went there and spent some time finding out about things about community development. All you do is get an idea of these things, because nothing really directly applies to any place you go.
And we went over to the Irri and talked to people there. I-R-R-I ?? International Rights Research Institute, set up by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations in conjunction or maybe just one of the two. I met there, somewhat to my embarrassment, a fellow who had been my graduate adviser at Davis, because I was not really a sterling student at that time. But he was over there working and they were just getting ready to start promoting the big IR 8 and IR 10s and that stuff.
And we got behind a water buffalo and tried to run a plow through a rice paddie. Tough work, folks. You're sloshing in this stuff that comes halfway up to your knees or more and it's clay muck. It isn't easy walking. And you're trying to run this plow as you're weaving all over this field.
Los Banos was maybe a couple miles from where we were staying. We were overlooking this humongous lake right in the middle of this area. Had a house there. And then again, because I had been in Vietnam for a while, after this was over, the new volunteers fresh from the states went straight to Saigon. During this time we got the word that Don Luce had resigned and several other people had resigned. And we actually didn't know whether IVS still existed at that point, in Vietnam. It took about a week and a half and finally got word that yeah, IVS is still there.
Q. Did Luce come through the Philippines?
No, he didn't. I had no idea he was going to be resigning and that was like two or three weeks before that when I told him I wanted to stay on and he says, Fine.
Because I had been in Vietnam for a while and supposedly had some understanding of the Vietnamese language, I was able to finagle a trip over to Taiwan. I had a friend from Davis there who worked for the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute. I visited there for a while, and traveled around Taiwan. Got back to Saigon and here's where I found how they really greet volunteers. I got there with a pretty good size suitcase and of course there's nobody there. And saw an IVS jeep going down the road, even the right way. Didn't stop. But it's shorter walking than driving because you cut through the experimental station.
I was just a new volunteer. This was about probably September '67. I think I left Tan Chau in late August and went over to Ban Me Thuot and then went over to the Philippines. Probably September something like that, maybe early October. I spent a couple days in Saigon while they were trying to get me down to Long An which is not that far from Saigon. We were going to drive down. I can't remember his name right now, but I can see him, he was the head of the agriculture section there at the time, -- so I guess I was agriculture. But there was a problem they had to make sure the roads were secure. Finally they said we can go now, we got in I think it was a Dodge Scout. Another thing you could tell who the embassy and CIA people were there because they all drove Ford Broncos and all the USAID people drove Dodge scouts. A real secret operation.
We were on out way down to Tan An and maybe a mile outside of Tan An we went by this armored whatever-it-was -- it wasn't a very big one -- and they had a couple APCs that were blown up on the side of the road. They had had an attack the night before by the communists. Then just before you went over the bridge to get into Tan An proper, there was a Hoi Chanh returnee camp which to me didn't look like had much protection. Those people would have been dead meat if they'd been attacked, because there wasn't much to protect them. They had barbed wire around them. I don't know if it was to keep them in or to keep others out, or both.
I heard rumors -- I don't know how true this was -- that the Hoi Chanh camps were also places where the communists took their R & R. They became returnees and went to the camps and rested and had their rest and recreation and got well fed and stuff and then went back out to join their units. I don't know if its true, but who knows? Again most of the information you got there was rumor. Even some of the official stuff was probably rumor.
The house that we were at was right next to this little river or canal on that end of Tan Chau, and they had a couple -- we were lucky because I had just hired Vietnamese to teach us the language, but up to that time they had a couple old northerners who had pretty good French, awful English, and had very definite ideas as to the way you learn the language, which was pure memorization and not really the important vocabulary. We were very fortunate IVS had just gotten hold of a couple of friends who had been in contact with IVS previous to that time and gotten to the states. These were graduate students who had just returned from the states, and they taught us the Vietnamese. And the one fellow was, I think, an electrical engineer, and he told me, "You know, I come back, the only thing I can do is be taken into the military." Every male joined the military. He says, "They'll probably assign me someplace, but I'll always be on call." And as a matter of fact, at the mental hospital, the doctors were in effect at the beck and call of the military. It didn't happen very often, but there was always that possibility.
They tried to get some of this stuff in our heads, like trying to pronounce the "K-h" sound, and getting the accents down. And that just drove them up the wall with me. Then we'd study in the morning and in the afternoon-- half a day study, half a day wander, and we'd check out the town of Tan Chau. ((He means Long An, or Tan An through here he corrects.) One of the things I noticed is that they do a lot of things with ducks there. One time I looked out across the by-that-time harvested rice field. It was kind of like this white stationary moving wave. Thousands of ducks over there and they're all crossing the ridge for the rice fields. They were gleaning the fields and this was a big operation there. And then in Tan An proper there was this -- shop, a story and a half place about the size of this room, and they sold ducklings. They hatched the ducklings by putting the eggs in boxes, wetting them down, and putting them under the tin roof upstairs. And that was their hatchery operation. Go up every day, turn the eggs. I don't know what percentage hatching they got, but it was good enough for them.
There was also MACV people there. We saw a couple lousy movies there. And I think we got to My Tho once. I don't remember why we went there but to get to My Tho from Tan An you had to cross the river. By the way, this was an important part of the overthrow of Diem, because the guy who was in charge of all the troops in My Tho was a friend of Diem's so they somehow finagled so they got all the landing craft on the Saigon side of the river so the guy couldn't send his troops up.
I don't remember why we went to My Tho, but we stayed at the IVS house. There was an IVSer there and most of the IVS people if they weren't in education needed more room for holding these informal classes and stuff, had these little places, and this guy, as I recall, it was an upstairs room where we got three of us in there. What I vividly remember about that was waking up the next morning and here we are in the middle of town, to the sound of chickens and hogs in the middle of town. Not quite like San Francisco or even Sacramento!
I was assigned to the mental hospital. I was lucky on that. The only reason that happened was that we had a couple of Americans at the mental hospital, Dr. Steinmetz, and Nick Reed, and somehow they heard about IVS and they sent in word that they'd like to get somebody out there to work on the farm. And I was in effect picked at random for that. It was at Bien Hoa, Bien Hoa Mental Hospital. That's what we call it in English. It was a Vietnamese operation under the Ministry of Health. It was the only Vietnamese civilian mental hospital in the whole country.
Q. I interviewed the Minister of Health for Vietnam and his daughter. Her name was Helen Tran. His name was Dr. Tran Minh Ton. He was minister of health in '75.
The second to last or the third to last was friendly about the psychiatric stuff, where the rest of them, the mental hospital was kind of a poor sister and didn't get any support from the official American programs. Most of our support came from the Region 3 USAID health advisers, the big wigs who in effect shuffled stuff off to us. Or like the Long Binh people you'd get to meet the right people. There was a psychiatric unit at Long Binh, the big American base there, and they worked to try to help get stuff for us and they also let us bring people over to get EEGs.
Q. You said you were selected to work in agriculture?
On the farm. At this point in time IVS had gotten this big buildup there and IVS was a part of this. It got more money from USAID to increase the number of people of there because after all everything was becoming safer there. There was room for a lot more people. So IVS was trying to go for something like 80 people to two hundred and ten. So in effect if it hadn't been for that I probably wouldn't have been able to go at all, because I really didn't have the qualifications. I'd been in agriculture here, but I'd never done formal studies. Besides which I was told by the head of IVS from Washington, I was their forty thousand dollar bonus baby from the voltern program. I was the one who stayed. And I was there.
On the politics of IVS, -- we got back to Saigon from the Philippines, or at least I did, and the other guys did too, but things were in somewhat of a hullaballoo because of Don Luce. As far as I was concerned, Don Luce was IVS Vietnam. He'd been there it seemed like forever. And all of a sudden he drops this bomb. But he did it better than some of these people later on. He resigned from IVS, carefully, and then like a couple days later he says, I'm going back to work in America to protest the war. He did use IVS as a means of doing that, but --
I got back to Saigon and there we had a couple members of the big board from the United States, one was head of the world Catholic conference, or whatever it's called, and the big cheese himself, who's head of IVS everywhere, I can't remember his name, but I looked at that guy and said to myself, "What's Dr. Trimble Hedges doing here?" He was an exact duplicate of a professor at U.C. Davis. He was probably in his late 60s early 70s by then, he might be dead by now. I almost greeted him as Dr. Hedges, but it had been pointed out to me that Arthur -- Arthur Gardiner was his name -- was a former USAID man. As a matter of fact he had been part of the USAID deal in Vietnam prior, in the early 60s.
I don't know if it's true or not, and I'd be very careful about this, but the rumor is that the head of USAID Vietnam at the time that the freeway from Saigon to Bien Hoa was built made good money off of it. And Arthur Gardner was the head at that time. That's not for publication.
Q. Did he have a lifestyle to which --
He was a former USAID man. The rumor was that the head of USAID Vietnam, at the time the freeway from Saigon to Bien Hoa was built made very good money out of it. And Gardiner was the head at that time. I have no idea because I never met the man until he came to Saigon. Most of the new volunteers spent maybe a month outside of Washington getting ready -- at Harpers Ferry. I never went through that because Volterns only did three months or so and went straight from school to Vietnam. We were real ready folks. And most of the volterns did even less than I did. There's not much you can do in three months. One guy went out with Herb Bruce in Binh Duong and helped build this humongous church in a North Vietnamese Catholic refugee village in Binh Duong. And this cracks me up because Herb Bruce was the guy who showed us around Saigon that time to see all the darker spots, like the black GI bar and stuff like that, and at that time he was dead set against doing anything to help the Catholics in Vietnam. But he was personally responsible for rounding up the materials to build this church.
And on of the guys worked out there, helped get the material, and helped in the mucky muck type work.
Anyway, old Arthur Gardiner was there and he was a big supporter of USAID and most of the people in Saigon -- because not very many of them resigned -- didn't like having IVS with USAID. In fact about that time I think was the beginning of the movement to try and separate IVS from USAID, which led to our being kicked out in '71. He was trying to preach this business and people weren't listening -- the business of why it's so good for IVS to subcontract to USAID and thereby -- we could pretty much do as we damn well pleased, but there were requirements that the heads of each region had to go in for the weekly meetings and all this sort of stuff, which those were held in Bien Hoa. I remember Carly Hollander coming out every week to visit with me because she had to go to the meeting in Bien Hoa anyway. So things were a little topsy turvy there.
But when we came back from Tan An, I got to drive the old Land Rover. One problem with the Land Rover, several problems, transmission wasn't that good, didn't have too good brakes either. And you had to come through Cholon and come down and catch Le Van Duyet down where it started by the railroad station and then work your way up. Well there were several North Vietnamese Catholic refugee villages in that area and they had their markets right out there on the street, Le Van Duyet, a main road. Here we are trying to get through this with lousy brakes, honking the horn and not being paid attention to. I dinged one gal's basket. She was carrying it. Not hurt, but I didn't know what to do.
Even while I was still in Tan An the head of IVS agriculture mentioned the mental hospital and I says, "Why not? Sounds good to me." And when we got to Saigon he took me out to the hospital. It struck me as a dismal place. Actually it's not that bad a looking place in that there were these big long wards that were set up, brick walled, plastered, with a tiled roof, clay tile. But all the trees were dead. All the pathways had been lined with rubber trees, and all but one had been killed by the herbicide. The herbicide planes, some of them, took off from Bien Hoa airbase which is less than half a click away, and they didn't always have their valves too tight. They killed most of the vegetation within I suppose a half mile or more around the air base, just because they went off with these damn leaky valves. They weren't dropping it. They were leaking and the wind was carrying it over. We lost these two beautiful trees, with these pod they used -- they call them flame trees in Vietnamese. I don't know what they're called in English.
The hospital was set up -- you had the main gate, the only way into the hospital, supposedly with fencing all the way around the hospital and barbed wire. It was all very -- it was easy to leave. You could walk through any part of the fence. It was nice. You come in this main gate and off to the left hand side as you came in was the place for the people who were supposed to open and close the gates and record who came and left and the gal who was running the telephones sat there. Behind that there was a little patients' store where you get drinks and tobacco and stuff like that. Then there was a pathway going back down towards Bien Hoa, inside the hospital, which led to the school for the personnel's children, and a bridge that went across to the personnel housing. And then you went straight in and off to the right was the main office of the director and all the people who had to do all the mountains of paperwork. And all on this really thin paper. If you made a mistake you couldn't erase, you just threw it away. And everything was in quadruplicate or more.
Then right behind that, this extended along the road let's say thirty feet and it was probably twenty feet deep. And again it was a French design, but this one had a porch which was kind of nice with columns, and all tile. Then right across from that, I don't know what kind of tree, but it had a fruit that looked like dried pumpkin. Had thorns on the bark. The only ones they had in the hospital that didn't get killed by the herbicide. And then right -- there was a little hedge there of bouganvillea -- they call it "paper flower", which I think is a good name. Then behind that was a little sandy area. The ground there was not the red clay, it was what they call -- begins with "g", but anyway it's a very sandy gray, acidic soil. If you dig down you hit spots that are yellow which are even more acid.
There was this little corner area which varied. One time I lived in this little corner area and another time it became part of the social services office. Another time it was housing for some of the single female nurses. Then right next to that, going down this building -- this was going east west, whereas the office went south, there was a little female ward, Ward Fifteen, that had maybe thirty patients. This was not typical of all the wards. This was a very dinky thing. They had this little yard which was probably about at big as this table, because it backed right up on Blood Creek. Blood Creek legend being that the French lost a lot of people and the water turned red, but I think it was because during the rainy season it pulls a lot of that red stuff off further up and it comes down and looks red.
In the same building still, right next to that ward was the pharmacy where they had all the medicines, mostly psychiatric medicine. They also had antibiotics and stuff like that. Then you take that path between the office and that ward and you go down right behind the office was the director's house which had a humongous yard, green and had all kinds -- even a conifer tree, a fir, and of course a few palms. The herbicides didn't kill those. The director had more floor space than the wards. This hospital was built I think between 1915 and 1918, by the French.
Then you go down -- the two story building was the director's house. Then later on under Dr. Hiep and Dr. Lan, the living room area, which was the whole bottom floor, or most of it became the personnel medical office where you go in and get the doctor to check you over and . . .
(End of Side A, TAPE 2) ((Begin Side B, Tape 2))
The hospital was named D-u-o-n-g T-r-i V-i-e-n with a hat on the e. And then Tan Tao, something about heart and spirit and then it became Tam Chi. It changed names several times. It was named after the director of the hospital who came in somewhere around '58. Nguyen Van H-o-a-i, He was the first Vietnamese director of the hospital after the French left, according to some of the personnel there he was a very old man when he came there and spent most of his time just sleeping.
Q. What were you to do?
I'm getting to that. I had just gotten there and I'm giving you an idea of the layout.
Behind the director's house was another house which was originally there, I think, for the business manager, Dr. An who was then the director, had brought in three or four nuns, because he had met them and he had studied psychiatric medicine in France at the mental hospitals in France and noticed these nuns who did a very good job and -- he was Buddhist or whatever, but he was so impressed by this that he became Catholic then he went and got these nuns from Hong Ai. They were so bad he just quit the religion. He was looking upon it as a social thing, and they were awful. There was one and she was an out and out thief. And Hong Ai was one of the centers of the PL 480 black markets. Hong Ai was a North Vietnamese camp refugee village founded in 56 or 57. It's a so-called village, runs probably, about eight miles along Highway One. There must be thirty or forty hamlets in it. Each hamlet was centered around a area of North Vietnam that these people come from with their priests and each had their own little church or big church, because there was a big edifice complex business going on. They had to build bigger and better than their neighbors. I'm a Catholic myself, and still am, but this to me was not appropriate because a lot of these people in Hong Ai and also in like Phu Cai, which is where I went to the market and stuff -- there were a lot of orphanages, run by religious orders. They got this PL 480 stuff. There's two things about PL 480 stuff. [note: President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954, commonly known as PL–480 or Food for Peace. Prior to that, the United States had extended food aid to countries experiencing natural disasters and provided aid in times of war, but no permanent program existed within the United States Government for the coordination and distribution of commodities. Public Law 480, administered at that time by the Departments of State and Agriculture and the International Cooperation Administration, permitted the president to authorize the shipment of surplus commodities to “friendly” nations, either on concessional or grant terms. It also allowed the federal government to donate stocks to religious and voluntary organizations for use in their overseas humanitarian programs. Public Law 480 established a broad basis for U.S. distribution of foreign food aid, although reduction of agricultural surpluses remained the key objective for the duration of the Eisenhower administration. Eisenhower remained sensitive to the foreign policy implications of a permanent program, as did Department of State officials who expressed concerns that PL–480 would disrupt the export markets of several allies, including Great Britain and Canada.
As with his overall efforts to streamline foreign assistance, Kennedy also intended to reinvigorate the Food for Peace program and redirect it away from surplus liquidation. Shortly after his inauguration, Kennedy issued Executive Order 10915, which affirmed the foreign policy dimension of PL–480. Kennedy also appointed George McGovern as his Food for Peace Director—a position located within the Executive Office of the President—and tasked him with supervising and coordinating the functions of the various agencies administering the program, including AID, the Department of State, and the Department of Agriculture. Kennedy directed McGovern to orient the program toward the use of “agricultural abundance” in combating malnutrition. Kennedy insisted that the United States must “narrow the gap between abundance here at home and near starvation abroad.”]
They had things like the Bulgar wheat, CSM, which was corn, soybean and milk dry, all this dry stuff, soybean oil, and of course the bread, the big bread which DOU baked and USAID supplied bread to one or two big humongous bakeries in Saigon. Under contract they'd bake these loaves and send them up. We got it at the hospital too. The rumor is that a lot of it went out to their regular business. One of things that this meant, whenever bread was brought into the hospital, it came in like three or four times a week, they had to weigh it. Know how many loaves there were and weigh it and find if it had as many grams per loaf as it was supposed to.
Apparently a lot of places didn't do that so there could be shenanigans. Again, I don't know this is true, but everybody assumed this. It's a misty world there.
Anyway there was this place where the nuns stayed, and they converted one area to a small chapel, and then behind on the porch area towards Highway One is where Mr. Hao and his family lived. Mr. Hao and his wife and five or six kids, they cobbled up stuff to make it a little bigger and took up most of the yard there. Then the kitchen was about maybe fifteen feet away in this tin shed with a couple burners. And this was for eight people. Mr. Hao was one of the better personnel there.
Across this little path there was Ward 18, one of the ones originally put in by the French when they first built the hospital. It wasn't the normal -- most of the wards across the creek had this little central office area which is probably fifteen by fifteen feet and off both sides are these long wards, each wing probably fifty or more feet long. And probably fifteen wide. The wards were set up, they had these concrete pads that went all the way down against both walls and were about six foot each long. Then there was a central walkway three or four feet, so you are talking sixteen or eighteen feet wide.
Well ward fifteen didn't have this. They kind of had these concrete pads scattered around. It was kind of square shaped, a little dinky maybe eight foot by eight foot area for the office, and each male ward had six attendants in it. And the attendants, most of them, were former military people and they only took the job because it was available, not because they gave it to them. No, the male wards had three attendants, the female had six, because they had to have night duty once every three days. That meant when you had night duty you got the following day off, so you had two male attendants in the male wards. The female wards had six attendants because you can't have women out there alone, you had to have them in pairs. I think for safety and I think some kind of thing about a woman being alone is just no acceptable in that society.
Q. How many patients?
It varied anywhere from sixteen hundred and fifty to around two thousand and there was actually room for maybe fourteen hundred. But see with these long concrete pads you just squeeze more in. That's all they could do.
Q. What kind of patient cases?
Q. Any military related?
Dr. An said there weren't too many directly related to the war, but for instance one of the big problems with the males fourteen through seventeen was they had to pass their Tu Tai Mots and Tu Tai Hais. They would literally study themselves mad, because they had no choice. If they flunked that they were in the military. And of course education and learning is very important in that society. Most of them came in with the same symptoms. I don't remember what it is now. But we also had mentally retarded, just anything that was considered psychiatric or had to do with the mind came there.
Q. Referred by another physician?
Some of them were physicians, like in Saigon and Can Tho and Hue and maybe Nha Trang in Region 2, I don't know about that. The central hospitals had these little psychiatric wards where they bring the people in and if they were really bad they'd send them to us. The problem with this whole thing was -- that was just the holding area, especially getting people down from Hue, they were in pretty bad shape. The problem with this whole system was that by the time most of them came to the mental hospital, especially from far away, they were very serious mentally, had very serious mental problems. We had manic depressives, we had ones very excitable, we had schizophrenics, apparently everything.
Q. Like a mental hospital anywhere.
I suppose. I've never worked in any others.
Right behind where the nuns' house was and this ward there was another area that was barbed wired off and it was a little military camp. But when I got there I think it was just a supply area for a little trucking thing. Actually this had belonged to the mental hospital and was taken over by the French military and we finally got it back in about '72.
Then you go across the Sui Mao and off to the left was the observation wing where everybody started. The doctors tended to concentrate mainly on the observation ward, because eighty per cent or more of the people who came in there were able to go home from there and come back regularly for treatments and more medicine and stuff. The chronic wards, which is another twenty wards, which made up the bulk of the population of patients, those people didn't have much of a chance. They just didn't have the people to do anything with them. Especially on a long term like this.
You go down past the male and female wards that were probably built in the 40s. These were big old long wards, male on one side, female on the other side. Ward Six and Five were for the first and second class patients. They paid money. Most of the patients there didn't pay anything. The second class patients were supposed to get more attention from the doctors and usually often did. I suppose they got better food. The food the third class patients got was awful.
Then you went past Six, Eight, Ten, and beside Ward Ten was the kitchen. A big place where they fixed the food. And to the west of that was the main agricultural area, which was -- at one time they planted rice and stuff there. It was really dragging at the heels. That was the cropping area. And then behind and a little to the east of the kitchen was the hog barns. They had enough room to raise probably a hundred and twenty or so feeder hogs. The time I got there there were maybe twenty.
And then you go clear over to the east, there was the male farm ward, which was the only one there. These consisted of about ten individual houses with about ten patients each per house. These patients weren't locked in. They could come and go as they pleased. And they'd come up to the office area and there was a dining area where they'd pick up medicine and stuff like that. Whereas all the other patients, from about 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon until around 7:00, 7:30 the following day were locked in the wards. Not good at all, because these were overcrowded.
The farm ward people were supposedly ones who were working around the hospital. They worked for pay, some of them worked on the farm project itself. A number of them worked at the occupational therapy ward, which was actually the maintenance ward. When I got there there was a blacksmith who was a patient. He died of drink about three months after that. There was a place where one of the nuns was running a little weaving area, two looms and three or four patterns for making straw hats. And there was another longer room where they made the straw mats. And there was an artist shop of which there were maybe one or two patients in there.
There was a little kitchen area where there were one or two patients working, and that's where the patients who worked at the Hu Dao Tuc got fed. They got better food by quite a ways.
Over on the southeast side there was the laundry room, which did the laundry of the aprons and stuff like that. There weren't too many sheets of course. There was one patient and one female personnel working there. No sheets because they lay on straw mats on those pads. That was their bedding.
Coming back down towards the southwest side was the office where Ong Hai My who was the head of the maintenance program and Ong Bai Ban who was head of supplies in terms of things for maintenance had their offices. Next to that was the carpenter shop, which had no patients. There were two or three hired carpenters. Then the last place down was usually the barber shop. Not always, depending on what they had. This was all in a big courtyard sort of thing. The middle was all sand.
To the far northeast section of the hospital was the farm ward and these houses with about ten patients per house and ten houses, took up probably around eight or ten hectares. The houses and the area around for planting and stuff, but there was very little planting done. There were sections assigned for various wards. They could bring patients out there to work. And only one ward, Ward 18 did anything. And that's only because the head of the ward, Ong Bai Lu worked at it. He had a big pumpkin patch in there. And I eventually had him become head of the farm project.
Q. Were you worried about the herbicides getting into the soil?
Yeah, but what could you do about it?
Q. Were you successful in growing?
I'll get to that. When I first got there it was a pretty dismal looking place. Gray sandy area and dead trees. And I remember meeting Dr. Steinmetz between a couple of female wards on the path and he was this tall, long, gawky old fellow, mostly bald, kind of stooped over. He had left Germany when Hitler came in because he was opposed to Hitler. He crossed into Austria under great duress and storms, and had a lot of trouble with the British trying to get settled in Africa, because at that time Britain was still favorable to Hitler, so he hated the Brits with a passion. He ended up in the back woods of Columbia in one of the former rubber towns, that had at one time been a thriving metropolis. They hired people from Indian tribes there to go out and cut down the rubber, floated it down the river and then ambush them on the way in so they could collect the rubber without paying them. It was in this area. He finally got stateside and then worked in mental hospitals in the southeastern United States.
He had come over with a program kind of like the voltern program, medical, not with IVS, with a whole different organization. Spent a couple of months in the mental hospitals and decided he'd like to spend a long term there. So he was there probably two or three years. I met this fellow and he struck me as not a very nice guy, but that was actually his mannerisms. But then he introduced me to the Vietnamese director, Dr. An, and Dr. An was very enthused about getting somebody to work there. The directors of the hospital, all except the last one were very good people who did what they could, as best they could, given the very limited resources they had. And also given the bad personnel that tended to be there. Old Dr. An was very enthused about me coming out, so I went back to Saigon for a week or two, and then I was brought out and effectively dumped there.
Dr. Steinmetz also sent me over to see Nick Reed who was another American there. He'd come over with another organization and he had one leg. He had studied Chinese and was going to practice it by being on a Taiwanese tanker, or Taiwanese freighter, or something like that, and it went aground off of Hawaii. They had cables on it to pull it off, and one of the cables snapped. Luckily he was under an overhang or it would have cut him in half. As it was it cut off his leg right below the knee. This was some years before. He was over at the Australian doctors' complex.
The Bien Hoa provincial hospital had a team of Australian doctors there and nurses, and I met Nick -- they had a square building with a flat roof, which is very ridiculous for a tropical climate, for a monsoon time the water can't drain. We had that problem at the hospital. But it was a good place to drink beer and the Aussies liked that. I met him and made arrangements to stay at the Fan Blau Apartments. That's not what I called it, that's where all the USAID people stayed. At that point I called it the Fan Blau Whorehouse. Because a lot of the -- there were a lot of live-in wives of a temporary nature. They were long-term girlfriends of the guys who went back to the states and since they had more money than GIs, the gals lived better. Not all of them. Dr. Steinmetz lived there, and he was as straight as an arrow. Mr. Sauerbree who was the ag adviser for Bien Hoa, very good man, former farm adviser for someplace in Kansas, must have been Kansas, he always promoted sorghum. And there was a number of others, but a lot of them there just good times and mommie isn't around and neither is wifey. One of them I remember especially, but I can't remember his name, thank God. He was one of these playboy types and he wore a big star of David outside of his shirt so you could see he was Jewish. And that wasn't my conception of Jews.
I stayed there probably a couple or three weeks while looking for a house in Bien Hoa. The basic problem with Bien Hoa in '67, as far as I was concerned, all the part of Bien Hoa from where Highway One and Highway Fifteen met, was all open season for GIs from Long Binh, and the place was crawling with them. Especially at night. And I said to myself, I ain't going to rent a house in this part of town, because first of all, the assumption is that all Americans are rich, second of all I think the attitudes of the Vietnamese here would not be the kind I would like, so I made it a point to look for housing away from that area. So I went clear over to the part of Bien Hoa almost on the Dong Nai River and a little north of the main part of town and down a couple dirt roads off the main road. And I found a place that had just been built, a duplex. I only wanted one half of the duplex. No water, no electricity. You get the water from the hospital in big tubs and stuff. And I used kerosene lamps. But I got it for 8,000 piasters a month, which I was told by IVS people was one of the best deals anybody had ever wrung out and I didn't know what the hell I was doing when I did it. But I guess I found the right part of town. It was about six or eight miles from the hospital.
Q. How did you get back and forth?
I had a IVS three-wheeled Vespa. It had a t-plate, and had a big cabinet to go on the back. Motorcycle. Rode into town slowly. But I wanted to get as far away from the concentrations of the Americans and I didn't want to be down near the police station area because down the road going to Hiep Hoa, because the USAID offices were all down in that area. So I went to the far areas out there and I don't know how I stumbled across this. It was on a dirt road within a dirt road.
Q. Who lived in the other part of the duplex?
A family moved in about a week after I got there. Vietnamese. I was the only American in the area. That was the whole point. I didn't want to be where Americans were. I had this certain jaundiced view about this. One of the things you figured over there was if you went to the market to buy anything, and you asked the price, and you looked like an American they would name a price about four times higher they would give a Vietnamese so the could figure they could get three times the money out of you if you were smart enough to bargain. Although I had 8,000 piasters a month for living allowance there and IVS paid for the house. And they also paid for the gas for the vehicle, and for food clothing and all that good stuff. Plus the ten dollars a month the MPC for the commissary and PX.
I wanted to get away from where the Americans went, because first of all, I didn't like the attitudes of the people there on both sides, and second of all, I couldn't have afforded it even if I'd wanted to. I found that of 8,000 piasters in '67, I could get by with 4,000 piasters a month, because of my food and stuff. I wasn't even eating at the hospital yet, because I hadn't been hit by the truck yet. I found this little restaurant down in Phu Cai village, right across from the market. The only way you could tell it was a place that might serve something, you look into this big open thing with one column in the center and a bunch of tables in there and chopsticks and jars of Nuoc Mam. Once I saw people eating there and were all my class of people, people who were doing the grunt work at the market, because it was cheap. I was eating there for gumbo, rice, soup, and meat or fish or vegetable, for fifty piasters. Gum Dia, which was Suon Nuong, which was fried porkchop for forty-five piasters. Which was cheap living.
I was dinking around there, helping Nick with a lot of stuff, helping get supplies and stuff. I didn't get started in the agriculture very fast, trying to map out the place. Mr. Sauerbree was trying to give me a hand. He also took me around to some of his stuff. He was a good man, unlike a lot of the USAID people, he was good, very dedicated. He had trouble getting the sorghum across and convincing the farmers out in the back -- he would even go out to Tan Nguyen, which was a no-no area, because that was supposedly communist. At the south end of Tan Nguyen district, right along the road, he had some farmers who he was trying to convince to plant sorghum. And he was trying out probably a dozen or fifteen different varieties of sorghum. But he was having a hard time convincing them until his interpreter who was a North Vietnamese fellow who came down in '56 who had worked for the ministry of agriculture. Mr. Sauerbree was saying you can grow it during dry season, it doesn't take much water. You can use it for livestock feed so you don't have to buy stuff, and they weren't buying it until Mr. Phuc, his interpreter said, "And you can also make alcohol out of it." Big deal. Easy to get it planted then. You've got your rice wine and your sorghum wine. Good deal folks.
In the meantime, at the hospital, I measured off the area, paced it off, and started a small garden area just to see what could grow in there. And Dr. An, I found out later, gave me some of the better patients of Ward 8 to work with me. These were guys who were part of the working patient operation there, but they didn't work all the time. They were just on call. These were the guys who would help unload the rice trucks, which means they would put these hundred kilo bags on their shoulders and take them into the warehouse. I tried that once. Damn, I don't know how they did it, because I weighed more. It's hard to move with those big humongous things, about two hundred twenty pounds on your shoulder and you got to be able to get it in there and drop it without dropping yourself. And these guys did this two or three times a month. The hospital used around a thousand kilos of rice a day.
Ong Sen was one of the patients, and I became pretty good friends with him. And we'd plant various and sundry vegetables there, and I also planted an experimental patch of sorghum for Mr. Sauerbree . . .
(((End of side B, Tape 2)))
Go to file HORTON2 to continue with tapes 3 & 4.
HORTON2, begin side A, Tape 3.
. . . he was like Trimble Hedges, the guy at Davis and they thought that this was one of the solutions to the problem. Unfortunately it didn't always work that way. Depending on how much you paid to get your land. The stamp that Thieu had put out, the big parchment like thing that says "Land Reform Program" and had a stamp like a postage stamp. I got one for my sister.
Q. How did your garden grow?
It did fairly well actually. I was using mostly a lot of the -- at that time they were still burning rubber for the fires for cooking the rice and stuff and I'd use the ashes from that. You could also dip out of the privys. The sanitary arrangements were in the back of each of the wings there would be little area that had about six holes. You'd drop the stuff and use water to wash it out into these big pipe things with a cement bottom which they'd pump out once or twice a year. But you could also drop buckets in and pick up all this nice safe stuff.
Q. And mix it with anything? Or put in on raw.
Raw, because it was combination of liquid and solid and it wasn't that strong.
Q. What about the pig fertilizer?
I used some of that too. But pig isn't as good. Harder to get too.
Q. Did you worry about picking up any diseases yourself?
Oh, I figured it would probably happen. Once in a while I'd have to go get all this "livestock" out of me. In fact when I left Nam in '76, I'd been in prison four months, I got on a plane with about fifteen or twenty other Americans and three Filipinos, and two or three of the Americans had their Vietnamese wife and kids, that were actually legitimately married. We landed at Bangkok, and one of the guys on the plane who had been working as a lab tech at the Seventh Day Adventist hospital and deliberately stayed behind to see if he could be of any assistance to the new government. He looked at me, and I was fresh out of jail and hadn't seen a mirror in months, and he says, "You're anemic." And I says, "Nahh." I didn't know what anemic meant. But I got there and I was fine until I stepped off the plane in Bangkok. And I thought it was muggy in Saigon, but it was nothing to do with Bangkok. I just wilted. I was good for about half a day at a time there and I'd just have to go to sleep. Finally this lab tech convinced the people at the embassy, we had one gal who had to muck around with all of us.
I came out without a passport. My passport was still in the safe at the hospital. I didn't know I was leaving the country. Other people had expired passports, and wives and stuff they had to handle. Finally, I guess, he talked with the Thai assistant of the gal who was working with us and working herself to death, while the guy who was in charge of the program at the embassy which was about five miles away, I got the impression he didn't do a lot. I never knew him. This lab tech talked, I think, to the assistant of the woman who was working with us. She in turn talked with a friend of hers who was a doctor at the Thai military hospital, for Thai soldiers. So they sent me in to the cheap ward there, because I didn't have any money on me, I came out with zilch. And they found out that I had the lowest red blood cell count they had ever seen. I had something like fourteen or sixteen, when the average is around fifty or sixty. I had too much livestock. All kinds of parasites and stuff.
So you get that kind of thing. My footwear there was those flip-flops, those rubber jobbers, and I have a rather big foot, size fifteen. I had taken boots over for the summer program, but I found them most uncomfortable. Your feet sweat and you get all kinds of good stuff in there, that doesn't feel good, athletes foot. And that's why I changed over to these things. Unfortunately unless you went to an urban center like Bien Hoa market or Saigon, the biggest of these sandals you could get was size ten and a half. So I flopped out on all sides. So I picked up a lot of stuff that way.
Q. Tet '68, Bien Hoa was hit, was it hard?
I'll tell you how it happened to me there. They tell you, Tet, every thing changes, the whole shuts down and there's all kinds of celebrations and loud noises.
The first day of Tet I went to Saigon to visit some of my Vietnamese friends, one of whom ran the laboratory at the hospital. And I got back that night, went to bed, and heard all this banging and booming over at the air base and I figured, well, they're having a good time with Tet. There were flashes of light and stuff like that. Next morning I decided I'd go over to the mental hospital and visit people there. That's what you do at Tet. But on the way to the hospital from where I was living I was within about an eighth of a mile of the USAID office so I thought I'd check my mail. So I walked in there to pick up my mail, and this guy is at the desk and looks up and says, "What in the goddamn hell are you doing here? Don't you know there's a war?" I says, "What are you talking about?" He says,"The communists attacked the air base last night. They attacked Long Binh, they attacked Region 3 military headquarters," which I might add you had to go by to get to Binh Hoa mental hospital. He says, "You get yourself over to the Franzblau Apartments and you stay there."
So I went over there. Which was a good deal, you got to the Franzblau Apartments and right to the north and down maybe an eighth of a mile or less was the main gate into Region 3 military headquarters, and the Congs were just across the street from that in the built up section firing across. (Franzblau was a USAID man who had been killed over there in Region 3) Franzblau apartments where I had spent time before that at Nick's place, they had something like three carbines and four grenades.
Q. Was it attacked at all?
If we had been it would have been a walk in. I kid you not. They were less than an eighth of a mile. We were here, and they were in effect down parallel to us and firing across Highway One. I didn't see anything, I heard. Thank you. The Franzblau people had taken their meals over at the train compound, which was a little MACV place down Highway 15 maybe a half mile and then in maybe an eighth of a mile along the railroad tracks. So we decided to take our meals there. And at this point in time, the Vietnamese female population had increased a bit. Including some of the people I knew. Nick had his own live in wife at that time. I felt like kind of an outsider. So we spent out nights standing up on the flat roof looking out over to see the action over the air base and Region One. One of the things I remember vividly was a burning chopper. They burned beautifully, yellow flames with the outline of the chopper. Pretty impressive.
Then they decided -- found out they could use help at the provincial hospital, so I went down there and worked as a stretcher bearer and stuff like that. Then sometime, I don't remember the exact chronology of this, they brought in the tanks from way up by the Cambodian border. They ran them down the road as fast as they could to drive out all of these communists that were firing on the Region 3 military headquarters. Which, by the way, made a lot of these people who were supposed to be protected a little unhappy because they found out that what really mattered was protecting the urban centers. They came charging down there and used cannon and machine gun fire and must have wiped out about fifty houses. I think they found twenty-five bodies of communists. There probably were more people than that, but -- one of the, a colonel or Lieutenant colonel, U.S. type that was living at the Franzblau because he was connected with Region 3 as a military advisor, said, "Those goddamn fools, they'll never learn. For infantry the best way is to go into an area that hasn't been destroyed, because you know where all the corners are. When you knock down there could be people and things anywhere." He was really unhappy about that.
Sometime, -- we had lookouts on the hotel. I don't know what we were looking out for. As I say, we only had three grenades and four carbines. One of the guys, I think he was probably connected with the Phoenix program. I'm never sure about this. He was there at the time, and says, "Shit, you guys are crazy, I'm going to the training compound." And he left. There was no protection there. If the communists had wanted to come in there would have been -- I don't know why they didn't, because, granted it's a pretty big parking lot, but four carbines and three grenades ain't going to do a hell of a lot. Beside they could have come in on the outside there.
Q. Were you changing your mind about the war yourself?
I was trying not to, but I was, yes. Up in Tan Chau they were very much -- the IVS people -- were very much in favor of what was going on. Although, again, the elections -- Major Davis couldn't find any corruption at the polls. But I don't know how the hell they could tell. In effect what was happening, a lot of people who may have been good at something were doing things that they couldn't handle. This struck me as what was happening with the American program. For the most part it was absurd. I'm talking about civilian too.
The other thing I noticed is that they had the same sort of deal the military had, except they had to spend two years there in the position. So they spent their two years and try something. First of all, you can't get a hell of a lot done in two years. A minimum of five in needed to get something established. They spend their two years there and then go back to the states or someplace else and they bring in somebody else, and he'd go and do his own thing. Maybe two or three or four guys later, come in and try and do the same thing the guy tried to do ten years before, but nobody ever read what had happened before, -- they were just bringing in bodies as far as I was concerned. Something like IVS was doing.
Q. You were becoming more and more opposed to the American presence.
Q. More so after Tet? Did Tet had a psychological impact on you?
Yeah, I think it did. Because I saw the people coming into the hospital there. The early people came in, they were lightly wounded stuff. Then after the choppers and big American reaction came in, there were a lot more serious wounded. There were one or two that might have been Viet Cong, but they were just getting blasted by choppers and artillery, because that's the way you reply. The same thing as when they brought those tanks down. They were leaving these areas open and protecting their butts in the urban areas. Unfortunately that country is not an urban country.
Of course I was also being influenced by all the hullabaloo in IVS. Which was also going on at this time. I was changing my mind there. I wasn't nearly as rabid about it as some of the other people in IVS. Some of them later ran the organization and ran it out of the country.
Q. You talked about getting hit by a truck.
That was May of '71.
Q. You had been working at the hospital from '67 to '71 without returning to the United States?
I returned for Christmas in '69.
Q. Did you find back here that you parents wanted you to stay home?
Yeah. It was much different than you read about in Time Magazine. This ain't Time magazine country here. The things they report in news magazines and papers is not the same. It was especially different. This family, not worried about going out an protesting the war, or inflation, or a big gas crunch. You don't get the same feeling when you are in these areas as you do when you are reading all the horror stories in the news magazines. It's just not the same. It's a much quieter thing.
It was quite a bit different coming home. There were still five or six kids in the house at that time. Tom hadn't gone to West Point yet. It's a family rather than a nation you are working with in your home.
Q. Did you find them in favor of what you were doing?
Let's put it this way. My dad has always figured once you get your education you can make your own mistakes. He didn't say one way or the other.
Q. But you did go back without any reluctance?
Oh yeah, especially since my last night here during Christmas, my youngest sister who was in Kindergarten had gotten the great honor of bringing home a mouse to hold for Christmas and the damn thing got out the last night I was here and was in my bed. I didn't sleep much that night.
Q. Getting hit by the truck ---
I was going out to dinner. I was leaving the hospital to go to dinner and it was just the beginning of the rainy season and the corps of engineers GS type that had been repaving Highway One because it was part of moving supplies and stuff all around, the last coating they had put on I guess was a sealant, somehow they kind of mixed up their buckets, because when it got wet it got as slick as glass. And I slipped on it walking across the road. Unfortunately I was just about where the hospital school was on Highway One, and apparently this Air Cav wrecker, one of these ones that's supposed to be able to pick up a deuce and a half and tow it in, slipped across the road and hit the jeep right in front of the steering wheel, right about the firewall. I don't remember the accident, thank god. They tell me that this guy was a hit and run, and I don't know what the difference is between gossip and shop talk, or men talk, because I was assured by one of the male personnel there that the guy who hit me --
Q. SO you were walking?
No, I was in the jeep. This was a government jeep. This thing hit me right in front of the steering wheel. The engine was still good and the front end was pretty good, but the back end of the frame was busted in a couple three places. And the tires were gone whooper whopper. And they tell me that I walked back to the hospital. I don't remember it. And they buckled me into the hospital ambulance, took me down to the provincial hospital, guys there apparently took one look at me and filled out the papers to send me to the Long Binh Twenty-fourth Medivac Hospital. I remember leaving the hospital, leaving the mental hospital and going out the gate, because I'd asked the social worker if she needed a ride home and she told me no. I remember going out the gate, and the next thing I know, I wake up in this bed with all these needles stuck in my right arm. They couldn't use my left arm which was screwed up from the accident and still is. I have about seven days I know nothing about.
Apparently I had bleeding on the brain. They had to open up my head here and pump the blood off. Apparently I was very coherent and all that stuff until about halfway to Long Binh when I started vomiting, they tell me, and turning different shades of colors. They got me to Long Binh and the first set of doctors were damn good. They opened my head up and got the blood off. I had deep cut here which has since been fixed by plastic surgery, and my eye was damaged, the nerve was cut which was all fixed by plastic surgery. And I lost my bicep here, multiple fractures in the radial and ulna bones here, and damage to the radial nerve where the thumb and first two fingers don't work too well. They get cold very easily.
I was told by one of the male nurses there that the guy in the truck had a female Vietnamese with him. There was a U.S. military jeep behind him and he caught up with him down around the next hamlet, and by the time he caught up with him the gal was gone. And the MPs wrote it up as being the other guy's fault. I say it was the fault of the engineers.
Q. How long were you in the hospital?
About a month and a half. After that I went back to the mental hospital, but I had to make a run in the beginning about three times a week. I was using a bicycle, take the bicycle over to Long Binh for checkups and stuff. And then later on I went in for another operation, two or three months later, with a new set of doctors there, and that was the major that bungled up the arm, giving me osteomyelitis and did the operation wrong anyway.
He was trying to -- these two bones float at both ends. I don't quite know what that means, but apparently they're not connected to anything important. They cut off the end, I think up here on the one bone. So by destroying the ratio between the two bones, so I still couldn't get any twist, any supination. That's why this thing doesn't work. They told me never try to use a screwdriver with your left hand, because you can't. It doesn't do the work. And he also left bone chips in cutting the growth between the radial and the ulna, cut out the bone growth but left a lot of chips in and that's what gave me the osteomyelitis.
Q. Military doctor?
Yeah, oh yeah. A major.
Q. Now two other events on the way to '75. One you said IVS got kicked out of the country in September, October '71?
Yeah, well it was apparently, IVS was definitely, most or a lot of the people especially in Saigon, not necessarily out in the countryside, were making lots of noises about they thought the American policy was wrong, and they didn't like it, and how they wanted to go independent. And IVS Washington was opposing this. Arthur Gardiner had since retired and had somebody else in there, but even so. We'd been through two people in the IVS leadership in Saigon at that time. Dan Whitfield was left. He was a good leader. He and his wife and kid came over. He was a former IVS Vietnam guy. He ran a pretty tight shop and kept it going. Then they got this other guy, John something, I don't remember his last name. And he listened too much to the people who were anti, and he didn't know what to do, because he was between a rock and a hard place. Both of them were actually, but it got really strong when John came in. There had been Tet of '69 since then, and a few other things.
Then John had left and a couple of guys who were in-country sorts took over IVS Vietnam and they were really noisy and obnoxious about it. And it was either the ministry of Interior or Ministry of Foreign Affairs that said, "Good-bye, you have a couple months to leave."
Q. What happened to you?
I got sponsorship from the hospital and stayed on.
I became an employee of the Ministry of Public Health of South Vietnam.
Q. Then when the rest of the Americans pulled out, in '73 --
Oh, there was no problem. The only problem there was before that time I was able to get lots of stuff from the PDO, Public Disposal Operations, the military junkyard at Long Binh. Unopened paint, huge piles of busted up choppers and jeeps and stuff. We'd get a lot of stuff for the hospital there. And the colonel or lt. colonel in charge of the psychiatric operation in Vietnam was in Long Binh, was trying to send an EEG machine over to the hospital. But because this was becoming an official policy, they gave all this stuff over in an official manner to the government of Vietnam elements, Interior, Public Health, somebody in military decided they wanted an EEG machine so we couldn't get it and we couldn't get stuff out of the PDO any more.
We'd go through and fill out our papers -- I'd fill out the papers usually, take it down to the Region 3 USAID Public Health man and they would sign them off for us. It was very informal. It was legal but wasn't really official. They gave us carte blanche because the guys in Region 3 knew the directors of the hospital were honest people. And they were. Ong Hai Nghi and Ong Bai Ban who was in charge of supplies were both fairly honest. I think Hai Nghi was very honest. I never found evidence to the contrary.
Q. Your Vietnamese was improving at this time?
Oh, yeah. One of the reasons that I got to the hospital was that I told the people in Saigon I want to go someplace where there are no other Americans working with me, other IVSers, because all I'll do is speak English. That was a deliberate thing on my part, because I take the easy way out on these deals.
Q. In '73 when the military left did you see the beginning of the end? Or when did you?
I think after that. Remember, all the news we got about these things, and I didn't have a radio, so I couldn't listen to BBC or VOA, was what you saw in the papers and what you heard from people. I never expected them to be able to pull it off, the South Vietnamese government. One of the former patients of the hospital had opened up a coffee shop across the street and squatted over a ditch alongside Highway One, just down the road from the hospital and he had good coffee so I went there all the time. Nice man. His son had flunked his Tu Tai Hai and so he had to join the military, because there was no money in the family he got to go up to the First Division up there in I Corps. And he came home on leave once and was talking about how it worked up there. He said we're fighting all the time and what we're doing in effect is running in a circle. Because we clear an area and turn it over to the regional forces, they lose it while we're over someplace else and we just keep going round and round just taking casualties. It wasn't doing any good. And he eventually was killed up there by artillery.
The other thing I knew from other people there, you had to pay to get a good position, and if you couldn't pay, you got stuck on all the nasty things like infantry, and by that point they were getting a little stricter on giving exemptions even to the rich bitches people from the military, because the fellow who was running Region 3 -- there was a general who died in a chopper crash, he was especially with the marines or the rangers. He was a crook of the first water. I had a little trouble reconciling this, because he was also a brilliant man. He'd fly his chopper right in the middle of the damn battlefield to see how the troops were getting along. He died finally, because the rumor is that during the Vietnamization program, one of the Vietnamese mechanics on the chopper forgot to put in a fifty cent washer someplace and it brought the chopper down. This is the way they talked about it. It was something stupid like that and he died in a chopper crash.
I figured you would probably consider him a mercenary, because he was a good soldier but he was also making damn sure he was getting paid for it, legally and otherwise, mostly otherwise. Another thing about him, I remember once I was at the supply area for USAID and all that stuff, and Pete Peterson who ran this was talking about the time they had a bunch of cement up in Binh Duong and the province chief had just taken it over when it was supposed to be for something else. So he got a little unhappy about this and talked to the Region 3 chief and he laid the word on the guy at Binh Duong that he better return the cement. I figure he was treading the line carefully, a good mercenary who was doing his duty as a soldier and making sure he got paid for it, and also trying to keep things in line so there wasn't too much of an uproar.
Q. By '75, the fall of Ban Me Thuot --
Oh, it was definitely the end. I knew that.
Q. Was somebody contacting you then to talk about going out?
Yeah. Dr. Micheljacque came to the hospital. She was working at the facility in Saigon, psychiatric. She came to the hospital two or three times a week. She came that day and says I heard on the radio this morning that all Americans are supposed to report to the consulate in the area. They've got something to tell you. This was probably about a month before the final end of it all.
I says, "Oh, shit. Where's the consulate?" And they said it's that place down there on the Donai River which everybody in Bien Hoa assumed belonged to the CIA, because after all they had the Ford Broncos, all these strangely dressed troops there, and they guarded it like an important place. It may have been the consulate. I still think CIA were working out of there.
I went down there and met this young fellow, suit and tie, nice guy. And he says, "Thank God you're here, or else I'd have to come out and see you." And I said, "What's the deal? It's no problem going out there." I don't remember how I got there because I didn't have a vehicle and I think all my bicycles had been stolen by then. He said, "We're trying to get all the people to leave the outer area." I find out there are other Americans in Bien Hoa that I didn't know about. A lot of these apparently were people who had gotten temporary leave from the army and joined --
((End of SIDE A, TAPE #3)))
(((Begin SIDE B, TAPE #3)))
. . . GTE or somebody like that. Doing a lot of the communications work there, both for the military and the government. And there were a lot of these people still scattered around Bien Hoa that I didn't know existed. I don't know where they went, because when I went around I never saw them. I didn't look for them either.
They said, things are getting serious here and we want to get the Americans out of Vietnam. And I said, "Well, look, I'm planning to stay." He says, "Okay, if you want to stay, sign this off and say that we're not responsible for you and you can stay. I don't agree with you but that's your decision." Very nice guys. There was no pressure. But as far as I was concerned, that was CIA headquarters, the first time and the last time I ever went there.
I went back to the hospital and I was there working. I knew things were getting -- Xuan Loc wasn't far from where I was. And by that time -- before that the air base had been getting rocketed since '68 at least. And we got some in the hospital on occasion and lost a few people. But by that time the rockets weren't coming from the north. They were coming from the east, down around behind Ho Nai. And during Xuan Loc time they were coming from the general direction of Xuan Loc which was southeast. So you knew things were getting a little tight.
I was working on the assumption that what I was doing in Vietnam was not anything that the communists would object to. I was working on faith, mind you.
Q. You saw the other Americans going down the road, leaving, the vehicles taking them out, day after day?
No, I didn't, as a matter of fact. Because the Bien Hoa Mental Hospital was away from that center area. I found out about it because I went down to the consulate. And as I say, I didn't know there were that many Americans in Bien Hoa. USAID had shut down already and all moved to Saigon.
Q. The communists came into Bien Hoa when?
I wasn't there at the time. It was a Thursday, I don't know if it was the Thursday before -- (interruption for coffee))
It was pretty obvious to me, especially when you hear about Region 2 and the mess at Ban Me Thuot, and then all the Region 2 troops being wiped out or captured. And I didn't know how bad that was, because apparently Chinh Luan newspaper had a reporter who reported this stuff in great detail. The big movement trying to go from Pleiku to Nha Trang through the mountains. That's tough going and they were taking an old logging road. I read about this -- it was strange. I don't think Chinh Luan got outside of Saigon at that time. I'm not sure. That's two words. I didn't get the Saigon Post either. First of all you couldn't have gotten it out in Bien Hoa anyway, and second of all, I was trying to learn how to read Vietnamese too.
Up until that time Chinh Luan was a boring newspaper. I heard that Region 2 troops had fallen and Ban Me Thuot was gone -- I didn't know the extent of it. I knew things were coming to an end. After all, they start hitting Xuan Loc, which is maybe less than ten miles from the hospital, the last big battle of the war, you know that things are a little serious, folks.
Q. You could hear the battle?
No, we couldn't hear the battle, but as I say, they started sending in their rockets and stuff from that direction and you could certainly hear those going overhead. And I never did like rockets. They sometimes missed the air base.
Q. No increased air traffic, helicopters, overhead?
There's always that kind of stuff. It's hard to say. It was always noisy there at the Bien Hoa air base.
I was still at the hospital. I remember the second time in my life I heard a bomb dump being hit at Bien Hoa air base. The first time was the first night I was staying at the hospital in '68 and just got some students in as part of an IVS program to get Vietnamese agriculture students out in IVS projects and give them an idea of what sort of things were going on out in the country. So they sent a couple to the hospital. And Dr. An said, "Since they are here, you will be here." So I gave up my house.
That first night there, we had a fairly good-sized room. They put me wherever they could find a spot. In this case it was a big room because there were two Vietnamese students too. The first night there I heard, "Kaboom, Kaboom," and they said, "What's that?" I figured should know, they'd spent their time in Saigon, but they didn't recognize it. I said, "Just rockets," very casually in Vietnamese. Then all of a sudden there was the loudest damn noise I'd ever heard, blew open the shutters, blew open our doors, and it was a little upsetting. We didn't know what the hell was going on. There were like four walls or more between us and the air base over there, but you could see flash of light by the window, and the next morning we went out and there was heavy clay tile in a sign wave pattern, three or four, six tiles up and about maybe twelve, fifteen feet wide where the shock wave had hit. It broke every window in the Franzblau Apartments on that side.
A part of the bomb dump had blown, got hit by the rocket. The second time I heard that was when they came in from Xuan Loc during the night. During the daytime it's not nearly as loud. I heard one come in and land but not nearly as loud. It was obvious what it was, but as I say, coming from Xuan Loc they went right over the hospital.
To me it was fairly obvious. I didn't have any faith in the ARVNs. I got the impression most of the ARVNs didn't have much faith in themselves. In talking to their families, I got the impression most of the people there, all they wanted was peace. Without any qualifications. They didn't quite know what that was, just get the war over with.
I don't remember if it was the Thursday before, or the one before that, we had a contractor working at the hospital, Vietnamese contractor, knocking out the walls on a room I'd previously been in. They were trying to expand it and make it into something else. He decided he'd like to get out of the country. He talked to Ong Hai Nhi and Ong Hai Nhi talked to me and asked me if I could take him in and see if I could do anything about getting him out of the country. I figured the U.S. and he deserved each other. Again, you presume, probably justifiably that the contractor was doing a bit of under-the-table stuff. As a matter of fact, the building office, of the government of Vietnam was just assumed to be corrupt offices. And that was probably true. More times than not. Ong Hai Nhi means that he was the first child of the second wife of somebody. Hei is two and Nhi is second. His name was Le Van Ban, I think.
Anyway, the took me into Saigon and went to his house, which was one of these squared off top places, three stories, tile floors, garish patterns, flowers and bright colors. And what especially struck me was the liquor cabinet which had about six bottles in, but was mirrored on all sides so it looked like he had twice or three times as much stuff there. The walls had, to me, garish decorations, nouveau riche. Went there and had something to eat and tried to find out what to do to get these people out of the country. I had no idea. I figured the best place to start was the embassy.
It was pretty crowded at the embassy with Vietnamese, but since I was an American it was fairly easy for me to get in. The first time I had ever been to the embassy and the last time. I went in and they said, "Gee, to take care of this you got to go down to Tan Son Nhut." Again the ARVNs were pretty careful about watching the gate. But American man, no sweat, went right through. I had these people with me.
So I started at one place, and "Gee, for this problem you got to go to that office," and for that problem you got to go to -- I ended up in Pentagon East, a humongous pink building, with about a hundred and fifty thousand offices inside. And they finally sent me to a place and the guy there said the only way these people can get out is if they have an American husband or wife in the family. I says, "Okay, what the hell." I'd be willing for this just to get these people out of there. Does the American have to go? They said, "Yes." I said, "No way, I'm not leaving." I figured I could do a temporary paper marriage just to get them out of the country. I wasn't planning to leave. And I wasn't planning to take the advantages of this stuff. So that ended their chances of leaving.
But I was in Saigon then. Dr. Micheljacque had a good friend, Onesta Compare, head of the International Social Services in Saigon, and I stayed at her place all the time. I'd sleep in the living room, they'd sleep in the bedroom. I always slept on the floor anyway, no matter where I was, so it was very easy. I didn't like mattresses. So I went there. Onesta got me hooked up with Jacques who was a member of the Little Brothers of the Gospel, whom Dr. Micheljacque had introduced me to several years before, and Jacques mentioned he was helping out at one of the convents helping pack up food for the refugees who escaped the Xuan Loc business and were living at this refugee camp south of Long Binh. That place has a history of its own and I don't want to get into it here.
So I figured okay. We'll get this stuff packed up and we'll go out to the refugee camp on Sunday. This would be three days before the fall of Saigon. I said fine, I'll help you pack it up and I'll go out and distribute and you drop me off there or you take me back to the hospital. So he had this truck full of these packages of stuff, soap, rice, toothpaste and all that kind of stuff, oil and things, and we got down the freeway to the -- I think it's Fifteen that runs right alongside Long Binh on the west side, made the turn, got down maybe an eighth of a mile. This ARVN captain, was out in the road, and he said in effect to me -- there were a couple of nuns in the car -- "Where are you going? This road's closed. The communists are coming." I said, "We're just going out to the refugee camp to give them this stuff." He says, "Well, the refugee camp was overrun this morning." We stood milling around there for about five minutes and we looked down the road. This refugee camp was probably eight miles or so down the road, and suddenly we saw this mass of people in the distance coming up the road and these were the refugees. So all we did was turn around, right there. There I was within two miles of the hospital, all I had to do was hop off that truck and walk through these villages -- I've done it -- to get back to the hospital, and ARVN said "Nope. Nobody can go in there." I went back to Saigon.
Q. You were in Saigon on the 29th of April then?
And the 30th! Part of the time I spent my spare time at this convent which was one or two blocks above the president's place, but farther down Kong Ly, of course. I helped with the packaging of the stuff, but you could tell things were going. We also heard the time one of their planes came and bombed or hit the Thieu's place. We didn't know what it was. We assumed it was either the communists had taken over all those planes that they'd left in Nha Trang ready to go, or else it could have been a Vietnamese ARVN-type, VNAF guy who was mad. You hear all this artillery and all this firing in the air. Again I didn't worry about it because nothing was coming my way. And that's the way I worked at the hospital too.
Q. Was there panic in the city then?
No, it was kind of resignation, as far as I know. I mean it depends where you go, of course. For instance the day of the pull-out all of the sudden we got the word it was time for everybody to go. Part of that day I was just walking the streets and Jesus if I'd had a truck from the hospital I would have gotten a lot of good stuff to take to the hospital. Furniture, refrigerators, all that stuff. I don't know who did it, but they were just putting all this stuff out on the sidewalk with all the Americans leaving. I could see big choppers going in. They had double rotors. To me I didn't see any panic. Of course I stayed away from places like the embassy anyway and I never went to Tan Son Nhut.
It was either that night or the night before, Onesta and Dr. Micheljacque and I tried to think of what the hell the flag was they used in the north of the Viet Cong. Here we are, been there all this time and couldn't remember what the flag was. I remembered from a Life Magazine report, 10/68, on the cover, there were some Viet Cong with a Viet Cong flag. I knew it was red and blue with a yellow star, except I couldn't remember which way the red and blue went. We made it backwards.
Q. Oh, you made a flag.
Oh, yeah. Everybody did that. When they came in, everybody was flying either a flag of the North, or the Viet Cong, or a version thereof. Let's say there was a lot of them around, making sure there wasn't any of the Republic of Vietnam flags around.
Q. After about midnight when the Americans had gone on the 29th, was it quiet in the city?
As far as I was concerned it was. Again, it depends on where you are. I was in an area where it was quiet. I can't say about the whole city, because I don't know.
This house was down a hem and then down a lower hem, so we were off the road, so it was hard to tell. But on the 30th I walked over to the -- the Monday before that I had gone down to the Ministry of Health down on Hong Tap Tu Street by Le Van Duyet, which is a fairly long walk, and I walked in there and said, I'm an American who works at the Bien Hoa mental hospital and I want to know if there is any problem with my staying. And the guy there says, "How are we supposed to know? This government's gone and people who could possibly give you an answer have already left the country."
On the 30th I went back down to the convent, and I don't know what time, but in the morning we started to hear machine gun fire, loud rumbles of heavy vehicles, I assume they were tanks, going down the road. We stopped and listened. We didn't hear anything going overhead and didn't hear anything hitting the buildings. "Don't worry about it. "
So we continued packing. By this time, Tuesday, they tried to take stuff out to Tu Duc which they were able to do on Monday, and Tuesday they couldn't get to Tu Duc. So it was pretty obvious this was all, folks.
We continued working there. I was the only European. About four o'clock, or whatever it was, these people all looked, "What's he doing here?" So I said, "Okay, guess it's about time for me to go home." So I made my departure, said, "I'd better go home now." Where Onesta was staying was right off the same road, that comes into Saigon from the freeway there, but down toward the river and the bridge. So I figured it would be really dumb to walk down the main streets. It doesn't make sense, because you don't know what the hell is going on. So I went out the other side, which was a much smaller street, down a couple roads, but then, of course, I came to Cong Ly, which is a main street. There ain't much you can do about that. I looked across the street, and damn there were about four or five North Vietnamese soldiers and maybe a half dozen or more South Vietnamese civilians, I guess, talking about things North and South. So I said, "Well, time to get this over with."
So I walked over there and the guy kind of looked at me surprised. I was wearing civilian clothes, shirt pants with my undersize sandals, unshaven because I didn't have any razor blades. I walked up to him and says in Vietnamese, "Excuse me, but I'm an American, and work at the Bien Hoa mental hospital. I was wondering if there was any problem with my staying?"
And there was a basic problem. Those North Vietnamese soldiers couldn't understand a thing I said, but the Saigonese could. And so the Saigonese gave it to them in a version they could understand, and they replied, and I had a big problem. I couldn't understand anything they said either. I had heard North Vietnamese dialects before, because a lot of the personnel in the hospital were North Vietnamese from '54, and of course, Hong Nhai, which is all North Vietnamese refugees. Some of these things, the languages get modified with contact with the southerners, but these were real country boys. I couldn't understand a thing they said. And the Saigonese translated in effect "We don't know. Don't worry about it."
So I says, "Thank you." And I went down another side road. I tried to stay away from the main streets, so I was going down these little roads that were between there and then I went down a hems from one and decided I didn't want to go down Hai Ba Trung. .. because, again, that was another main road. I went down a couple little hems and came out on Hai Ba Trung about a quarter block from Phan-whatever the heck it is. And on the side towards the freeway is the cemetery wall. They could have started another god damn war there. The ARVNs had come in, they'd parked their trucks and their ATCs and just dropped everything, small arms, machine guns, uniforms --- every one of those guys must have had civilian clothes with them. The whole street was just littered with hand grenades. I didn't stop and pick up or look, I just glanced and kept going. I figured, again, I just did like a Vietnamese. About a quarter block down was where Onesta's place was, went in, and we had our flag flying with the wrong colors. That's where the phrase Cat Man Van Nui came up. See, it was the thirtieth of April it fell. Cat Man Van Nui were people who joined the revolution, Tak Ma??? on April 30th. So there were a lot of Cat Ma Van Nuis in Saigon.
A Vietnamese priest came by and talked to you, Onesta and Dr. Micheljacque were both catholic. Olivette Michelajacque -- I never did know how to spell her last name. This priest came around and said there's a lot of Cat Man Van Nui around so be careful. He said that being an American I had better stay in the house, at least tomorrow, which was Labor Day, May First. This was all symbolic in communism. So on May First, I stayed in the house, boring, couldn't do a damn thing. Couldn't read or anything because the Cat Man Van Nui were all around. I guess that was the day they opened up the Presidential Palace.
I figured I'd better find out where I stand. I contacted the people's committee of Public Health -- it wasn't the Ministry of Health any more. I walked back down there and got there.
Q. Weren't people on the street looking at you?
They'd been doing that for years. I didn't care. I walked down there and went in and I swear to God I saw the same guy I had talked to the previous Monday, and I told him, I'm an American working at Bien Hoa mental hospital, any problem in me going back? He said, "Let me get somebody a little higher up to talk to." And came out and he asked me and I told him the same thing. And he said, "Well, they let you stay, we'll let you stay." That was the official word from the higher highers.
So I walked back to the little house there, and Dr. Micheljacque came in and said, "Tomorrow they are having a meeting at the hospital of all the personnel. It ought to be a good time to get back there." As long as the roads are open, why not? So the next morning, rather than having to go to the regular bus station on which is way the hell close to Cho Loc, they had a special thing set up. There was this big blank brick wall belonging to a government office building somewhere on the Saigon side of the ministry of Agriculture, which is between that place and the bridge. That's where they were picking up people and taking them out to Bien Hoa and other places.
Well, I found the bus I recognized, the damn French buses were about as long as they were tall. I hated riding those damn things because l had to find a place right in the back over the wheel well where you have knee space. No problem today, folks. Things were so crowded, I got to ride on the roof. Best ride I ever had, most comfortable. There were about five other guys up there with me. I guess they were North Vietnamese soldiers. No Problem, just hop aboard. They didn't say anything.
So I was kind of enjoying it. It was a kind of nice ride. We got near the big curve just west of the cement plant that leads into Saigon. One of the few signs of the war I found, there was an APC over there and there were three bodies, ARVN types, laying out in the street. They were bloated. No blood or anything, and all the tank traps we had dodged through coming into Saigon were all shoved off to the side. All they were were fifty-five gallon drums filled with rock and stuff like that. They wouldn't stop a lot of tanks.
I got back to Bien Hoa. The reason I liked this particular bus -- it still stopped at the Esso station where Highway One and Highway Fifteen intersected, which is close to the hospital. And the other bus system which the people weren't as nice on it anyway, -- so I hopped off the bus and walked back to the hospital, past the old Region 3 military headquarters, past the old political prison, Tan Hiep, which is right down the street from the hospital, and walked into the hospital there just in time for the meeting.
The communist personnel there, two or three guys who were the administration and a guy who was a barber, and a gal who was a nurse, and they said, "Who are you?" And the other Vietnamese who had been there a while said, "He's been here for years." I said, "In Saigon they told me if you'll let me stay, they'll let me stay." And they said, "Okay, why not." Because the personnel there said I was part of the operation.
The time when the communists took over Long Binh, they started shelling the air base at Long Binh, a number of the shells passed right over the hospital. This made some people rather nervous, so quite a number of personnel left the hospital. You can't blame them, if it's a short shell -- We lost a gal, a patient in Ward Three when she was standing by the door when one landed short, real short, in the yard. So a lot of people left the hospital. Not everybody. Some people, I assume they were people from the hospital and even outsiders, decided maybe they could profit from the situation, so they went around and broke into as many empty places as they could and stole what they could. These could have been family, personnel or people from the outside. We don't know. These people broke into my room. They didn't get what they probably thought they would, because I didn't have any refrigerator, or radio, or tv. The bastards stole all my reference books in agriculture which gronked the hell out of me, and all my razor blades.
That was important, because I'd brought over a three year supply of razor blades. Vietnamese razor blades are made in India and made for people that don't have much beard, and I tried using those once and you don't even get half the stroke before all you want to do is shave about the neck and just cut off your head. It's so damn painful.
So after this meeting they told us sure as long as we behaved ourselves, they were going to make this a better place to live, and all this sort of thing. They were pretty good people, I thought. I had no problem with them. I said maybe for the first time I better work on the black market, go down to Phuc Cai and see if I can find razor blades. So I walked down to Phuc Cai, past the military prison . . .
((End of Side B, Tape 3.)))((Begin side A, TAPE 4)))
. . . . by that time Phu Cai had quite a bit of good stuff like that. A lot of these people had worked at Long Binh and at the air base for Americans and they had all kinds of sidetracks of PX stuff, and there's always been a fair to middling black market area. The only thing I had ever bought down there was my tobacco and a few things, and my sandals, and stuff like that.
Well there was nothing. So I started walking back to the hospital and got halfway back and this young fellow, I would presume he was late high school, early university type, pulls up to me on a Vespa motor scooter which immediately caught my interest, because the word for motorbike over there is "Honda". Everybody has a Honda, whether it's a Suzuki or not, they call it a "Honda" as a generic term.
He pulls up and says, "Excuse me, who are you?" And I said, "I'm an American that works at the Bien Hoa mental hospital. I've been given permission to stay." He says, "Well, I'm a cadre for the village. Why don't you stay here while I go check it out." So I stood there for a half hour, forty-five minutes and the guy comes back and he says, "Gee, I'm sorry but I'll have to take you to the village headquarters." Which was clear out by the freeway.
Back in there they got hold of a more important cadre, --must have been, he was dressed in black.
Q. Was this conversation in English?
No, all Vietnamese. None of these people spoke English.
And he finally said, Well, I guess you'll have to go to the provincial headquarters, provincial office. This was on a Saturday afternoon. So I went to the provincial office. The guy took me down on the back of the motor bike. We went to provincial hall which was right along the Dong Hai River. He says, "You wait out here, and I'll go in and check it out." Again, Post Office right down there, and I'd been to the post office before. There were a few Vietnamese soldiers standing around, but again, nobody seemed to care as I La De Dah'ed around there.
The guy comes out and says, "Gee I'm very sorry, but I've got to take you to the police station." Okay more paperwork. I get to go to the police station. Handcuffs. They put me in this cell with about twenty-five or thirty other people who were all Vietnamese or whatever, who didn't have the proper papers on them. So I found out it's hard to eat with handcuffs. It's hard to bathe too.
Q. All of you in one cell?
Q. For how long?
Only three days or so. I got out Tuesday afternoon. They threw me in this cell and later -- it's this deal, I guess he was the head of the police sitting over there in the chair with two of the soldiers with M16s or AK47s and I'm sitting over here with six or eight feet between us. He says," What are you doing here? Why are you here?" I said, "I worked at the Bien Hoa mental hospital" -- one time I crossed my legs, without even thinking about it and the guy said "Don't do that".
But I ate pretty well, and so I was in that cell. One of the guys there was a Hong Kong sailor who, I don't know what got into his head, but he said the way he saw the world was he'd get on a boat and take a ship out and when he got to a port, he'd leave the ship and travel around the country. Why the hell he was doing this at this point in time, I don't know. He claimed he had been up somewhere up in the highlands area -- I don't believe anyway. He was coming back to Bien Hoa and he'd been stopped. No papers. So he was put in prison.
I don't know why a lot of these other people were there. These were all local Vietnamese. The guy who was the trustee there, Chinese fellow who'd been a Viet. Cong up around the Vung Tau area. He says, "You know, I liked fighting the Americans. They'd go out on a sweep and everybody follows, nobody separates. The Australians -- he didn't like the Australians because if they'd see a trail branching off they'd send a unit here and a unit there and they could catch us easier."
I found it was hard to eat and go to the bathroom, and bathe, in handcuffs. They never took them off. The fairly late Tuesday, it was getting a little dark, they loaded me in a jeep with about four policemen and took me back to the hospital. They said, "You stay here until you get your card." Sure. Who am I to argue at this point?
Q. You didn't have your passport with you at the time?
I never carried my passport. That was in the office, because it was too easy to lose a passport. I had my IVS card.
Q. The police treated you well? There was no mistreatment?
No. I never had any. The second time I didn't either.
I got back there and in a week or two, I guess, we all got out new ID cards. I was the only American outside of Saigon in the whole country apparently. I mean I was real special.
Q. Did they come and check on you periodically?
Hell no. They can't do it, because the new administrators at the hospital were communists. We had two or three guys there, the barber who was a communist, and --
A bit later on I finally ran out of razor blades completely, even after Mong Hoang who was one of the personnel there gave me ones his wife picked up when she worked at Long Binh. I was shaving once a week whether I needed to or not. I just couldn't take any more of these blades. I figured time to hit the barbershop. So I went over and as I say, I hated getting shaved, same problem with barbershops there. When you get a haircut they also trim the sideburns and damn those razors hurt. That's what I dreaded. So I walked in there. There was a patient, and this fellow who was a communist, had been a soldier, and the barber said to the patient, I'll take him.
Boy, he sharpened that blade nice. It felt good. So he was shaving me and he said, "You know, the barbers played a very important role with the Viet Minh against the French. During the early days of the war the French would call them in to shave them and they would cut their throats. And he stuck the razor right at my throat. But I wasn't really worried too much because he'd been so friendly. But I didn't hiccup either.
Q. Did you comment on his story at all?
Oh, I agreed. He was just having fun. He was cheerful all the time. It wasn't like it was anything serious, but still that razor there, you just pause momentarily. I went there every week for my shave.
After a week and a half or two weeks we got our ID cards so I went wandering around Bien Hoa without too much trouble. I never went outside the town itself. I didn't quite know what my limitations were. I could take the train into Saigon. I liked the train better than the buses anyway. For the same fare you could load your bicycle and yourself into one of the freight cars and ride to wherever you wanted to go. All you had to do was avoid the water spinach people who had big baskets of water spinach. You had to work your way around them.
I remember there was a couple times I had a little trouble with the cadre. And the other thing -- one of the things of the new regime, the People's Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam, were trying to decentralize. Before if you wanted to breathe at the mental hospital you had to get permission from Saigon. Well, they tried to get more responsibility locally, so one of the things that happened was that the village and hamlet chiefs and officials, most of whom were new, I think, had more power to grant paper and stuff like that.
They had new economic zones and new life settlements. There was a fellow who was related to somebody at the hospital who came around. I talked with him. He says, "I really want to go to one of the new economic zones. The hamlet officials are so slow with the paperwork." At this time, you see, the new economic zones were looked upon with favor. The university students in Saigon would go out there and set up the housing and the plumbing and try and get the field ready. They were really making an effort to try and make it a livable thing. And the government was providing them with the food and seed they needed until they got their crops out.
Q. It became a place to punish people eventually.
At this time it wasn't that. Another problem was, one of the reasons it became that was that not enough people wanted to leave the cities.
One of these times I was walking over to see Father Giao who had been at the Ton Hiep church right down the road, and he had moved to the main church in Hon Nai. Over the years when he had been chaplain at the political prison and the Viet Cong prison camp and the provincial prison he'd come to find out these people who were protesting the Thieu government were pretty good people. So when the communists were shelling the air base from Long Binh, all the people at the political prison, the guards and stuff, had fled. And all these people were sitting there. If anything hit, they were dead. One time a rocket his the wards there and killed about twenty people. It was kind of like at the hospital only wider and could fit more people in because they didn't have beds. They had to lay on the floor.
So he went in there and got all these people out and led them up to Ho Nai for safety. All these jailed commies. I'm sure the people in Ho Nai lost their eyeballs when they saw this. A Roman Catholic priest, northerner at that, leading all these people accused of being communists up to Ho Nai for safety. Well the bishop in Saigon up until maybe three to six months before that it was getting clear he was being more and more outspoken and critical of the Thieu government. And one of the things he did as soon as the communists came in to Saigon, said, "Look, we'll turn over all the schools to you. You do with them what you will. We'll try and be cooperative." And the bishop specifically assigned Father Giao to the big church there in Ho Nai, right there on the corner of Highway One and the freeway, to try and bring around some of the recalcitrant people in Ho Nai, especially among the clergy. And by God there were a lot of them.
I was walking up there. I never went by the roads. It was too long. You take Highway Fifteen down to whatever and get there, you're going around Robin Hood's barn a couple times, so I was cutting fields. And I started to pass through this hamlet which I'd done before, and I met this woman cadre, and it was like, "What are you doing here?" And I said, "I'm working at Bien Hoa hospital," and showed her my ID. She was nice about it, didn't make any trouble.
I went down there and saw what things looked like in Ho Nai a little bit, saw Father Giao. The other time I was down at the central Bien Hoa market. I was fairly well known there and I worked hard at establishing my image as being -- I always took the name of Gaio which is cheap or miserly. If you use the wrong accent means candy and I wanted to make sure they understood this.
I was there just seeing what was going on in the market, and a lot of these gals knew that I had been coming there for years, off and on, and all of a sudden this male cadre type in the green khaki, different from the Americans', started talking at me kind of roughly, and a couple of these gals spoke up and said, leave him alone, he works at Bien Hoa mental hospital and has been here for years. He's no problem. What are you giving him a hard time for? --about six or eight of these gals. And the guy walked away. So I figured I didn't have much to worry about.
Q. Did you tell the women thank you?
Oh, sure. Always did.
Q. What happened to the women who lived with the American men in the apartments?
I have no idea. I didn't know most of them anyway. The only one I knew was the one who was living with Nick, because I happened to be there when she was there. And Nick had left quite a while before. That was the sort of thing I kept away from.
Q. So these people helped you out in the market.
Oh, they just talked to him and the cadre walked away.
Q. Were the cadres armed, did they identify themselves?
Oh, you could always tell them by the uniforms. And this guy had a pistol. This guy was probably one of the police cadres.
Q. Did they grab you ?
Oh no, nothing like that. He was just talking to me rather roughly.
Q. Did you see anybody being rounded up and sent off to re-education camp?
No. The only thing I know about the re-education camps that I found out personally -- we were important people at the hospital. We had three days reeducation at the hospital each. We were real important civil servants, except the director, who had been in charge of the psychiatric ward at the military hospital in Saigon and who much against his will had been appointed director of the mental hospital. It was a cushy job in Saigon and that's where he lived. He had a big boat out in channel. As a director of the hospital he did his three days like all of us. He spent half a day in the classroom and half a day out there in the area where the military had. We got it back shortly before the communists took over, and there was a mass of weeds and garbage and stuff, so one of the big things among the communists was to plant trees. Because the countryside had been destroyed by herbicides, by cutting trees, and by the logging which was a scandal in itself. So we spent half a day in the classroom and half a day out clearing that land. We found things like fifty caliber machine gun bullets, and smaller armaments, and grenades that had the explosive parts taken out. I collected these shells so I could open them up and use them to burn the paper after I'd been to the toilet, because you didn't drop the stuff into the toilet itself because you would clog the lines.
So we spent time doing that. Dr. Lei was out there with us and maybe a month later he was spending all day for about a month down at the Nong Nguyen High School, where all the higher civilian officials in the province got to go for re-education. And he came back for maybe two or three weeks and then he disappeared for about six months. He was at a re-education camp out in the middle of the jungle somewhere. He'd taken pride in his fair skin and soft hands. When he came back he was dark brown with hard hands and he knew how to work. It surprised the hell out of me. He helped us out there and he actually worked.
That's all I know about the re-education. He'd been a captain in the military as a psychiatrist, he'd been at the hospital too short a time for it not to count any more. Whereas Dr. Lan was a reserve major and Dr. Lei was just a captain. Dr. Lan didn't have to do any of that stuff because he'd been at the hospital, I don't know how long before me.
Q. How about the re-education speeches and lectures they gave?
Most of them were about how bad the Americans had been. And then a little bit about what they were planning to do. They had the people of Vietnam divided up into the proletariat, or the working people, then you had the business people, who were called "nationalistic", they weren't working for the military or the government of Vietnam. Then they had the business people who'd been working for the mostly the military, which they called "imperialistic capitalists". The others were just "nationalistic capitalists". The Nationalists and capitalists were all right. It was the people that worked for the military who were the bad guys. Because America was the head of the new imperialistic policy of the world, in which you didn't have colonies, but you in effect conquered an area economically.
Talking about how they were going to set up new economic development centers in area out in the country so that people could re-farm and have them set up so they could have as many of the amenities of urban life as possible. But they're actually out there working on the land. How they were going to restructure the country and get all these refugees out of the cities.
A lot of these people like Bien Hoa, heck fire. Of course Ho Nai was legit. settled in '56. But all of the area along Highway 15 from Highway One down to Long Binh, which is probably three or four miles, had all been settled by refugees, the most part from the war. It was a pretty shabby area and crowded and most of the people had nothing to do since the Americans had left, so it was pretty depressed. And even at the hospital it had been a problem because a lot of the male personnel's wives had been working at the bases and were bringing extra income. The personnel weren't getting paid enough to live. They might have enough food but they didn't have enough for clothes and certainly not enough for books for the kids to go to school. So it was tough. And they were working while these other people weren't really working too much either.
Well, they wanted to get these people back out to where they came from, or to one of these new economic development zones.
I found out from other sources that students from Saigon University and other places had been going out to help set these up. I might add, the Friday after the takeover I was going down Hung Tac Tu street, means "Red Cross Street", and the college students were directing the traffic. Later on I saw some people I knew to be policemen, but unimportant, weren't the rough guys who beat up on people. Later on some of these people who hadn't been doing anything that was detrimental to the communists were allowed to go back to what they were doing. Just like at the mental hospital. They only lost one person, I think, at the mental hospital, and that was Ba Biu, who was running the medical laboratory there, because her family was a north Vietnamese Buddhist family, had been a mandarin family up there, and her grandfather was killed by the communists in '46 or '47. So they were violently anticommunist, so they left. He husband had died in an airplane crash which she claims was partly caused by Nguyen Cao Ky. And her brother was an intelligence man. And her youngest brother somehow managed to dodge the military and ran a beauty parlor downstairs there. The father was there. They left the country at the end and went to France. But I think that was the only one they lost at the hospital. The rest stayed there.
Q. No re-examination of the patients by the new regime?
No, as far as I know. The only thing that happened, we got some new patients, who were southerners who cracked up under the bombs and shit like that. Most of those went into the observation ward or to Ward Six or Five which were the first or second class patient wards. The First and Second Class designation was banned. When they first got there I was living right between these wards. IT was hard to sleep. People would be screaming all night long. Eventually they calmed down.
When we were working out there cleaning up this new area, they turned that area into a new observation ward too. I met one of these guys who had been there, in his green uniform, so he was getting ready to leave. And I asked him why he joined the liberation fighters. You don't say Viet Cong anymore.
He said, "I joined because I wanted the Americans out." This is what the barber said too.
Q. How old were these liberation fighters?
I have a hard time judging ages. I would say they might have been in their early twenties. I'm not sure. I never could judge that.
Q. Any suicides among those in the hospital?
Not that I know of.
Q. Was it shell shock?
I would presume that's what it was. I was given that impression, but I really don't know. And of course they got pretty special treatment. After all, they had been doing something.
Q. Did they all come out of it?
As far as I know. I never saw anybody there after about the first eight months.
A few times I went into Saigon by train. I walked down to the station, got on the train, in the passenger compartments for the first time, since I didn't have a bicycle. There were some of the guard types in there with their AK-47s, and we talked, no big problem. One time I remember we were going through Tu Duc and all of a sudden there were guns going off. One of the Combos says, don't worry about it, just somebody trying to get on the train, or off the train early, without paying or waiting until we get to the station. We're trying to control that. I think they were firing in the air.
Q. Were they northerners?
No, by this time, there were northerners around but all the ones I met, including the guys who had me in prison both times were all southerners. And the people at the hospital were all southerners, although you could tell the older ones had been north for a while, because their southern accents had become more northern.
Q. In downtown Saigon, did you see any Russians or Chinese?
No. Never did. They probably were there, but I never saw them.
The Belgian and Italians were still there, and they still had their friends there.
Q. You were the round eye on the streets?
As far as I know. I didn't pay much attention and I always tried to avoid any others who were round-eyes because if they were Americans -- if there were any Americans left there they probably missed the evacuation, and as I say, from the beginning I tried to keep away from that as much as possible.
Q. People must have looked at you strangely.
Not really. They were used to foreigners there. Most of the time I went places where I was fairly well known anyway. As a matter of fact, where Onesta was living, we knew a chief of the Hem, was a retired Vietnamese civil servant who had been appointed by the communists just to keep an eye on things there.
Q. No major changes except the war ending? No dramatic change in your life at all?
Not really except the personnel at the hospital were a little standoffish and you can't blame them. It got a little more lonely. They were afraid of what might become of me. I could talk better with the barber than I could with most of the other people there. He had nothing to worry about. And there were a couple of other people there who didn't, like Ong Hao and Ong Hai Nghi were okay. Although Mr. Hao's wife was worried about me coming over to the house. I can understand that. But it made it pretty lonely.
Q. You still lived at your duplex?
No, I'd been at the hospital since June of '68 when the students came in. I was only at the house about six months, I guess. Because when the students came in Dr. An says, "Live with them." And why argue with him? I'd been out of the duplex for a long time.
Q. When did they decide that you couldn't stay any longer?
Early April, the first Tuesday, I think it was April 6, but I could be wrong.
(((End of Side A, Tape 4.))) ((Begin side B, Tape 4))).
. . . administrator at the hospital mentioned to me that I should stay fairly close to the hospital from now on. I said, "Fine". I figured Phu Cai was close, easy walking distance. So I was going down to look for a newspaper. Catholic and Democratic was the only newspaper printed in the country and it got out there. I was going down and was going by the political prison and a guy came running out, obviously a Cam Bo, because he had his uniform and his AK, and I recognized him from when I'd been in the prison before. He'd been in Bien Hoa jail area as a cadre. He didn't say anything, took his gun and motioned with it. It was pointed down, not pointed at me, so I crossed over and went into the prison. They put me in this room and locked the door.
I had a real small cell, about eight meters by twenty-five or thirty meters. All by my lonesome. It was a whole frigging cell block. And I had a bed. It consisted of the frame, with a piece of plywood and one of those straw mats, no pillow, no mosquito net. On the end toward the door side toward the central part of the compound, there was a light, just a bare bulb which was going. It disturbed my sleep so I went to turn it off and the guys told me to leave it on. Who am I to argue? I left it on.
I was there maybe two or three days. At one point in time there one of the fellows, I guess the guy who ran the thing or one of his assistants, said, "Tell us what you are doing here, you're life history." So I said, "Well, in order to do that I'll need a Vietnamese-English Dictionary." So they got me one, so I wrote it out in Vietnamese.
Sometime after that, one night, they came and got me and took me to this room, one bulb, long desk, this guy in civilian clothes with a pistol, and two of the Cam Bo sitting over there with their AKs. I sat down and the guy says, "We know you're CIA. Admit it, you're okay. Don't admit it, you're in big trouble." I said, "I'm not CIA." He kept going through all this stuff I'd written down and he'd expand on this or that. And I said, "Do it in English this time." So I did it in English.
One time there, it wasn't every night, it was maybe -- I don't know, I didn't keep track of time. I figured it was one of these screwups and I'd be out in a couple of days. One time he said something about if I didn't admit I was CIA, da da ruppp . And I said, "What does da da ruppp mean?" And he says, "Let me show you." And he pulls out his pistol, checks it, lays it on the table and says, "You will get this." I says, "I'm sorry, but I'm not CIA." So he finally decided I was being used by the CIA. Which was fine. I'd rather be a damn fool and be used, rather than be, because I weren't. I didn't like them. Especially since I had been kind of the liaison between the hospital and the Region 3 health people and whoever else, because the directors of the hospital didn't feel comfortable in using English, so they'd use me. I'd go down and see the fellow who was in charge of getting the orphans out of Vietnam. He was in charge of Region 3 and he was out at Bien Hoa. Dr. Steinmetz had introduced me to Dr. Harrington and when he left he introduced me to the new man.
I'd go down there and find out things for Dr. An, or Dr. Hiep, or Dr. Lam. So they figured that these people, because they worked for USAID which was under MAAC Cords which was run by the CIA, they were all either CIA or being used by the CIA. And since I was way down there being used by the CIA and I never did figure out why they thought the CIA would have anybody in a mental hospital. I never asked either.
I was in this big room, a cell block, nice too, had my own toilet facilities, a place about twelve foot long I could use and a shower I could do any time I want -- you get your can and drop it on you -- better than what I had at the hospital. I didn't have to draw my own water. After a while they took me to a slightly smaller place, about eight by ten feet. It was in another cell block and was just one little room. Unfortunately it had just one window facing on the north side and didn't catch much breeze.
The fellow who took me there came in one night and said, "Gather up all your stuff. We're moving you." So I gathered up everything and got over there and had forgotten my mat. So I got to go back and get my mat. He wasn't happy about it, but he let me go. So I was there and went through the same thing. Sometime during all this my questioners changed.
I was no longer going in at night once in a while to meet this guy who was talking very roughly with me and was convinced I was CIA, but I went day time to a couple much younger fellows. I figured this first interrogator was probably in his forties and these other guys looked like they were just out of the university or a little older. They were very nice. They even spoke English. We talked and they'd check out things. What about this about IVS, or what about that. I even leaked out that my brother was at West Point and it didn't bother them a bit, but they certainly didn't like IVS having been contracted with USAID, because that made it CIA.
While I was there I was just in a little room and the rest of the cell block was a big open place and they brought in, I think it was two other guys who stayed out in the outside. We'd whisper through the doors a little bit. They'd been picked up for theft. They were Vietnamese. I know why they were picked up for theft, because when I went to the john to clean up -- I got to go clean up once a day, and one of the times I was gone, they took forty-five of the fifty piasters I had. They had tobacco bought and they gave me about ten piasters worth, I guess.
Then one day they came in and said we're going to have to go someplace else. Again, far be it from me to say anything against it. One of the things that happened when I went to the Vietnamese barber at the hospital, he said I should have a moustache. Well, I find out why they are called soup strainers and stuff. Because after a time in there I could taste my meals for hours after. I ate better in jail there than I did at the hospital. Whoever was the cook there did a real good job. I could suck that soup for hours.
Well, they shaved me with a razor, like a Gillette, but it had a good blade and didn't hurt. They had an American blade, it was obvious. It certainly was not a Vietnamese blade. Shaved off the moustache and all that.
Then they put me in one of those Utra City Taxis, those sedan things with big platforms. And said, "Guess we better blindfold him." "Guess we better." So they said what will we cover them with and one guy says how about using these glasses and the other guy says, No everybody will be able to see. So they put dark glasses on me. They weren't real good at this blindfolding. I could see outside, I wasn't that well blindfolded, but I said let's play this game right. I didn't know where the hell I was. I wasn't supposed to know.
Once the car stopped and we went in and I was brought in this area, a big room about twenty by twenty feet, and had a bed, again a piece of plywood with a mat and mosquito net. I liked that because I had been eaten for a long time up to that point because I didn't have it at the other place. I saw this sign that said something about, "medical room" and it had one bare lightbulb with one bare wire sticking in the socket. There was a little wooden door shut down. It was very holy, but unblessed, and I could look through and there were Vietnamese in there in cells, and I was dinking around with the wire and blew the bulb. They took me out and took me around and put me in this little storeroom with the door open and a guy standing there while they had the electrician go through. The Vietnamese wiring is always incredible to me. Whatever works will kind of do.
They brought me back in and I was there maybe two or three days, I don't know how long. Again the food wasn't as good there but it was adequate. Regular greens and rice, fairly simple fish and stuff like that. And I was let out once a day to go over to the john to do my washing up and stuff. Except, and I don't know why, once in a while nobody'd show up for this. I'd be in there all day and it would get a little uncomfortable after a while there. I had a chamber pot, but I tried not to use that.
By this time the rainy season was well started and again this was a new addition to the area with a flat roof, and boy the water poured through. So it gave me something to do whenever it rained. I'd sweep out the place. There was an old broom sitting there and I'd sweep it out the door. And I had a place at one of the windows looking out I'd use as a clothesline, except whenever anybody else came by who was another prisoner, they'd come through and shut all the windows. But I'd sweep this place out and one day I was sweeping and the guy opened the door and I got him right on the top of the shoes. I didn't know he was coming.
One of the things I tried to do in all these places was do a lot of walking. Nothing else to do. I had a new questioner and once in a while I'd have to write out in greater detail on all this stuff. He spoke English too.
One time he told me that "We know that one of your people was CIA", and named off these people and asked "which one do you think it is?" How the hell do you answer a question like that? I said, "I don't know." One of them was Danny Whitfield. Somebody says something like that you can always find something that might make this person CIA. They named Rich Fuller which was a fellow who'd been IVS and then joined VNCS, Vietnam Christians. And he'd been in Nha Trang for a while and he'd been up in the highlands around Bao Loc? and I knew him fairly well. I just couldn't believe it. He said he was on this special committee in Nha Trang, investigation committee and he couldn't ask details, because they didn't have too many anyway, but the suspicion is there, and I could see where they get this sort of problem. And I could see why they looked at me that way. I later found out from Rich Fuller -- when I came back he was over at U.C.D., he's no longer there, he's in Bangladesh now. I talked to him and he said he was really upset about this, because he said all that was was a committee to investigate the protestant ministers in Nha Trang who were getting stuff from VNCS and were suspected of selling it on the black market. But they found this paper, "Special investigatory committee" and Rich Fuller's name was on it.
But Danny Whitfield, you know, it can't be -- but it could be Danny because he was head of IVS and he certainly tried to keep us from going private and getting away from USAID. But it just doesn't seem like Danny. It's one of those things. Here they had proof that there was an IVSer that had been CIA. What could I say? I said maybe we had some people like that but I didn't know it.
Anyway we went through the same stuff, the same business. I did a lot of sleeping. I guess probably I was anemic and didn't know it. They say I didn't have to many nerves to look at. And one day towards what turned out to be the end, they had two guys there. This fellow who had been questioning me a long time, and another fellow and this other fellow going through the same stuff.
By the way, one of these times I was being led back to my cell after questioning -- I was taken for questioning up to this two story building -- I looked out the window and son-of-a-bitch, I knew exactly where I was, main police headquarters, Saigon, because I could tell by the statues and the circle there. These guys had carefully blindfolded me, nobody was supposed to know, and yet there was no sweat to find out where you are -- I tell you there were signals crossed somewhere. But one of these times I was being led back from interrogation and they had these sound deadening tiles and doors that shut tight and stuff and I was led past this other room where the door was open and there was this guy, very pale heavy guy, obviously another of the inmates there, and he kind of stared at me, so obviously they had blown their deal. The guys in the other place knew there was an American there and I could hear them talking about me on occasion.
This one time or maybe a couple times my main interrogator brought in this other fellow and one point in time this fellow asked me "Are you sure you didn't belong to the CIA?" And I blew up. I said, "Now look, I'm not CIA, I've never been CIA, I don't like CIA." And they actually sat back, and finally the main interrogator said to me, "You know you shouldn't talk like that to your elders and your superiors." And I says, "Yes, but I'm not CIA." And he says, "Maybe you should apologize." So I said, "I'm sorry, but it just got me, because I'm not CIA." And they accepted that as a kind of apology. There is certain protocol with these people that you have to follow. One is, you don't get mad at these people and not apologize, and another is you don't cross your legs.
Sometime shortly thereafter my main interrogator told me, "Tomorrow you are going someplace else. What would you like for a special meal?" Well, god, this was out of the blue. I couldn't think of anything. Afterwards I could think of lots of things I would like to have, all these good Vietnamese dishes. Finally he said, "How about roast duck?" And I said, "Sure, why not." So he gave me roast duck and two bottles of beer, and they gave me a shave. It was the first time I'd been shaved since I left the other place. And the next morning and the guy says, "We're going to Tan Son Nhut, you're leaving the country."
And before this he'd checked with me, "Is there anything you've forgotten at the hospital?" And I said no, everything's in my room, not thinking at all about my passport. They had brought everything over and I don't know where a couple pieces of cloth came from. So here I am at Tan Son Nhut and leaving the country. I walked into this place, and there were about twenty-five other Americans there and some other people standing around, which I never knew about, and he was very nice about it. He gave me a package of Nong Yiep cigarettes. We sat at a table by ourselves and had a couple beers and he gave me the name and address so I could write to him. We sat around there maybe and hour or two. I didn't have a watch. I was able to finagle a couple of pages of Vietnamese newspaper because I hadn't seen one for a while, then I found our flight was in. It was Air France.
They talk about the British stewardesses and the food on Air France, well our stewards had moustaches, and the food consisted of bologna sandwich and cheese sandwich and that's two pieces of bread with the respective products in between. But they had these little bottles of wine and I praised them so highly one of them gave me a couple more which made it worth it.
Then we ended up in Bangkok. Here we were.
Q. We were the other Americans?
One of them had been a lab technician at the Seventh Day Adventist hospital who deliberately stayed to see if he could work with the new government helping them out. He wanted to stay. All the others had missed the evacuation. And some of them were really p.o.'d about it. There were two or three Filipinos on there too. They weren't at all unhappy. They had no problem in Vietnam. The Filipinos had a very bad reputation among the communists. A number of those people worked in the Phoenix program, which is not a very good thing. They were very cheerful and said they had no problems and all this sort of thing.
There was one guy from Phu Bai, they called him Phu Bai Charlie. He was living a dissolute life and proud of it. And one older guy I remember missed the evacuation and was really pissed off about it. He had a motorcycle, a big one in the basement of one of the hotels, the big one next to the assembly building, not the Continental, but the one across the street. Anyway he was living there and in the hotel there were a lot of the higher officials of the new government and he would deliberately go down to the basement where his bike was parked and he start it up and rev it up as high as he could to see if he could disturb them. He'd say you got to keep these things running or they won't be any good. But did it just to be obnoxious.
Then there was the guy who on the Monday before the final evacuation of Saigon had gone to the embassy and said, I want to go down to the Delta and visit my wife's people, is there any problem? And they said, "Sure, go ahead. No problem." He got in the middle of the Delta and found out they had to be out of the country in six hours. Missed the flight. He had to spend the whole time with his wife and relatives' house in Saigon doing nothing.
Q. Any American military personnel?
Oh, no. These were people who mostly had been working for private firms there.
Q. Anybody ever mention MIAs? or heard stories?
They did in Bangkok. Afterwards I was here at home already and in the last couple or three years I got phone calls from the Defense Intelligence Agency asking me about this. And they talked about one guy they heard about in Bien Hoa who might be an American. It wasn't me. I think I straightened them out. There was one guy there, I think he was a part of the rangers, very pale, blond, very red skin. He may have been somewhat albino, but he's definitely Vietnamese and I think that's who they were talking about and I think I straightened them out on that. The Defense Intelligence Agency called me several times over the number of years to find out about this stuff. But in Saigon I never heard about it.
Q. Did the Americans talk to each other on the way out on the plane?
Well, I talked mainly with the lab tech. I just wasn't that comfortable with the other guys. We were all taken to the same hotel in Bangkok, which was a former R & R hotel, and it was not -- it was kind of centrally located between the embassy and consulate, the two places are about five or six miles apart.
Q. Was the press waiting for you in Bangkok?
Yeah, some press and also embassy people waiting for us. They asked people some questions and said, "Can't stand those god damned communists . . " and I said I had no problems with them.
There were too many of us coming through. They were just trying to get us out of there. They asked a few questions, that was all there was to it as far as I could tell. There might have been questions about MIAs but I told them I had been in jail for a while so I didn't know anyway. There was no big deal made out of it.
Q. You lost contact with your parents after '75?
I don't know how long afterwards Dr. Micheljacque told me their mail was going international, so I thought I'd better write home. I talked about how things were there in a non-critical way, and -- well, I wrote two letters, one of my sisters as far as I knew was still at the American embassy in Guinea Africa. Sent one there, and I wrote another one and sent it here. Well, I think it was the one from Guinea finally got here after, I understand, a very roundabout journey, about three or four months later. The other one never showed. I figured they were going to read the mail, the Thieu government was doing that too. It didn't bother me.
One of the reasons they thought I was CIA, was my background, being Catholic, going to a Catholic college, and three being IVS. As far as they were concerned all the U.S. Christian religious denominations were violently anti-communist. And I tried to explain to them that I'd met people in VNCS, Vietnam Christian Service, some of the higher people there because of things I was doing for the hospital, who were not necessarily pro communist, but certainly weren't anti-communist. And they certainly were anti-Thieu. But this was a matter of faith with them. The only American denomination they would let back in the country to work were the Quakers. Because the Quakers had always carefully kept themselves separated from the American business. I don't know what kind of tie-in VNCS had with USAID, but undoubtedly there was some. But this made them persona non grata in the eyes of the communists. And since I'd gone to the Catholic Christian Brothers college, I was a bad guy almost for sure.
Q. From Bangkok where did you go?
One of the results of my auto accident I finally got some money from the Department of Labor or whatever it was, and I also had a lawsuit going which never went anywhere, with a lawyer in Saigon an American who finally dropped the case. But anyway, I got this settlement money and I put it in the chartered bank in Saigon. It was about twelve thousand, I guess, and they told me since this is a foreign currency account it will be in Singapore. So once you got to Bangkok you had to get your own way home. Or else borrow money from the U.S. government to get home and then pay it back with interest.
They contacted my parents and said, "Your son is out, please send him about five hundred bucks." I figured I ain't leaving without trying to get my money out of the bank. I had one little piece of paper from the Charter Bank mentioning my account, but nothing very official. There was a Charter Bank in Bangkok and I went in there and the gal said, very nicely -- by the way, the reason I went with the Charter Bank, I had nothing but trouble with the American banks over there, including Bank of America. I started a savings account with Bank of America when I first got there so when I went home for a visit I wanted to have some money to spend on the way home. I went into B of A in '69 to get my money out and they go, "Gee, I'm sorry, nobody can take the money out of the Saigon office. We've had too much trouble with people doing sneaky things with it." Well they never told me that, damn it. I was kind of annoyed. But they said they'd give me a note and I could get it out of the B of A in Taiwan which was where I was heading.
So I went back and told them at IVS and they sent me down to the Charter Bank with a check. So I gave up on B of A. A friend of mine with the Pearl Buck Foundation after IVS got kicked out, had trouble with Chase Manhattan too. Not very polite people. Charter Bank you'd go in, all grubby from riding my bicycle or walking because my bicycle had been stolen, and I'd go in there and this very prim and proper young Englishman, suit and tie -- they didn't have air conditioning, they had those ceiling fans, which I thought were better anyway. And he'd be very nice and accommodating about all this. So I put my money in there. He told me it was going to Singapore.
So I figured rather than go home, I'd go to Singapore and get my money and just keep going west. So I flew down to Singapore and found a room in a cheap hotel in the Chinese market section, one of the older parts of Singapore. And I finally made it down to the Charter Bank with this little piece of paper, and they checked it out, very nice about it, and gave me all my money and travelers checks.
I spent some time in Singapore and went to Malaysia, traveled around Malaysia a bit. Went over to India, went around mostly the east coast of India, and that area a little bit, and flew to Switzerland. I wanted to check up on the Little Brothers of the Gospel that had been in Vietnam. There was one Vietnamese fellow I knew quite well who was running it there, plus one South African, one Frenchman and one Italian.
Q. You weren't in any hurry to get back to the states?
Why should I be?
Q. You didn't feel an attachment to get back here.
No, I figured this would be one of my few chances to travel and I'd take advantage of it. I was looking for a job. I almost found one in India, but it fell through, I'm not sure why.
Q. Was it strange being back in the world, being out of Vietnam?
No. A place like Bangkok is almost as bad, because you have a lot of slums next to the rich areas and all that in Bangkok. Then Singapore is not as bad, it's a little more even. Malaysia again -- I think I worked into it gradually until I hit Calcutta. It was kind of a gradual return. It was kind of strange, but not that strange.
Q. When did you get back home here?
I got home in time for my dad's sixty-fifth birthday in November of '77. I came out of Vietnam August 1, '76.
Q. You traveled all that time.
Yeah. Got to Europe, Switzerland, France, Italy, and then back to France visiting my mom's relatives. Her parents came from France. Then England, Belgium - - -
(((End of tape 4.)))