My path to Vietnam was that I worked in the health field with the Seventh Day Adventist Church. That's where I had been working here in the states for a number of years. We had a hospital in Vietnam from the early 1930s. We had a hospital in the Saigon for quite a while, primarily for technical services and things like that. And then about the time when 72 when the US forces withdrew, they were looking for someone to contract with their field army, to provide services to all of the American interests in Vietnam and the Army left under contract with the Embassy, our hospital needed replacing, so that gave us by contract and to a place to operate our old hospital or build a new one. So we were providing services under contract, a five year contract, as well as running the same services that we had run for the Vietnamese people.
So in 1975 we were about three years into the contract. I came in the summer of 1974 to the hospital, as a hospital administrator. It had over 300 beds at that time, it was a full service hospital with intensive care and all of the services that a hospital would have right here in the states. It was run by US health care standards.
Most of the students were Vietnamese, but we did have an American ward. We did have a lot of maternity cases there. But it was a full service hospital.
The hospital was on Gia Dinh, the same street that Third Field was on, we owned a parcel of land and that's where we were building our new hospital. It was only partially complete when we had to leave, and it's still there partially completed.
My family was with me at that time and I enjoyed Saigon very much. I look back on that time as a very rewarding and interesting time. Our children were teenagers at that time. And it was good for them. It was our first opportunity to be outside the US and to be in another culture. And I think it broadened all of our points of view. It was a Third World country, a developing country, and we realized that the whole world did not revolve around the United States.
We went there on a Three Year Commitment and we had must barely gotten into it when the whole thing fell apart.
I don't think that I ever felt in personal jeopardy at any time. But I did feel that we would not be able to continue there as Americans, somewhere, the idea started coming around the first of the year, in January.
I think we decided not to stay on if the South fell because our entire operation was American. We had American trained physicians, they wren't all Americans, some were Australians and others, but they were western trained physicians, and we had this contract with the Embassy and we were thought of as an American facility. We hoped that the hospital could continue to operate as a private hospital in the hands of the Vietnamese, and we were prepared to continue it that way. But the problem was that there were very few qualified Vietnamese physicians, after we left, to keep the hospital running. That was the biggest dilemma we had.
There was a series of events that happened, over a matter of months as the country began to fall. It became apparent that probably Saigon was going to fall as well. So we made some preparations to get our families out during that time of crisis. We started sending people out and we were kind of down to a skeleton crew in April. We were actually looking for options to try to keep the hospital running, but it none of those seemed to work out. We couldn't get enough staff, not enough physicians, who were willing to stay. Most of the Americans felt that they didn't want risk that with their families or anything like that, so we really had to come to the conclusion that we couldn't operate any more.
All of the Orphan Airlift children from the C5A crash were brought back to our hospital, all of them, both the dead and the alive.
That was April 4, 5:00 PM, Friday afternoon, Saigon time, I'll never forget that. I was downtown Saigon at the time. I carried a two way radio at the end, to stay in touch with the Mission Warden. And I heard the news start coming over that. There had been an air disaster and they were bringing them to our hospital. So I hurried back home. We were processing them all that night. We got volunteer help at that time. From sources that you wouldn't think would help us. There was a peace keeping commission, with Polish and Hungarians. They volunteered us their medical personnel, and they called us up and sent them over, they were helping us in the hospital, operating in the hospital and everything right along with our own doctors. Really very nice. We processed them all Friday night and all day Saturday and it was actually probably Sunday morning, at 2 or 3 am, that we got the last survivors medivaced out by Air force plane out of Okinawa. That was the greatest disaster when I was there, by far the greatest. Now we had a lot of other things, every so often they would bring casualties in from the Mekong, mostly mercenaries. They were trying to keep the Mekong supply lines open to Cambodia. And every so often they would bring a plane load of them in.
That has been, even in my career in health care now for over 20 some years, that has been the biggest disaster that I've ever handled.
That was still two or three weeks before the end. It started a lot of people thinking, wondering if they could get out of the country. And it was after that that many of our American personnel decided that they didn't want to stay. And it became, it was the very next Sunday, two days later, that a number our physicians came to me and said, "We have to leave." And I was getting pretty desperate to find replacements. Dr. Bruce Branson was one of the few who said, "I'll stick it out as long as you do. We'll just stay here and work," which I appreciated very much. My family was in Singapore at that time, so it took a lot of the pressure off me.
I was just there on a day to day basis at that time. Soon after that they started the evacuation flights with dependent personnel, anybody who you could convince them was some relation or dependent could get put on a list and get out. That process was going. And my plan was kind of just to play it by ear day to day and just catch the last flight out or something like that. But then I would say about ten days I am guessing a little bit on that, a few days before the final evacuation, the Chief Medical officer for the Embassy, Dr., he came to our hospital, and he wanted to be sure that we could provide services right up to the end. Even if that meant bringing a doctor and a couple of other people right over to the Embassy, with the idea being that we would be on the final evacuation list out of the Embassy. So Dr. Branson and a couple of others were prepared to provide those services to them. It turned out that when we got down to Thursday of the last week, he came back to us and said that he felt like they didn't enough personnel left but that he could handle it with his crew, and for us to go ahead and close down if we felt that was the thing to do. So we made our decision almost at the last minute. A lot of it was based on the ability to evacuate national personnel who had been associated with our hospital for quite some time. It was kind of an interesting chain of events that revolved around that C5A crash.
After that we got the attention of Lt. General Homer Smith, and he wrote us a commendation letter, and we kind of used that to go back to him and said, Look we can't keep operating, and if there is something you can do to help us evacuate our Vietnamese personnel and he gave us a authorization to make up a list of the personnel that we could evacuate on the evacuation flights, which we proceeded to do and put that together on that Thursday, and that was when we decided that we would just close the hospital.
It was a very difficult thing, very difficult, deciding who would be on that list and who would not be on it. I personally didn't get involved with it because that was too difficult.I had a Vietnamese assistant administrator and we had a church officer who was in charge of our church work there in Vietnam, and we gave them the task, and they brought in two or three other people into their council, and they actually made up the list and it had to do with those who had been associated with Americans for the longest period of time and might indeed be in jeopardy for whatever reason. The list was made up on that basis.
When these people flew out there was always the memory of the orphan crash. All of the time. When my family left after that, I got a call from them in Singapore, they had flown right over the crash site, and the plane was still there, and it was kind of an emotional thing for them. I actually left in the middle of the night and I couldn't see anything.
Maurice Baughman was left behind. He worked in the lab. He had been in the service, he had two tours of duty, he was a single man and a Christian, and he decided he could help some of the orphans out, and he came back to the country and got a job in our lab as a lab technician. And he opened he rented this house and opened it to the street children and gave them a place to live and he supported it all with what he earned from us. He had been there at least two years at the time that we had to leave. He declared right up front that he had no family and this was his life and his work and he hoped that he could continue it and he intended to stay and try. That being the case, he was the only the American and we had this contract with the American Embassy and we were leaving a few days before that closed down, so I left him in charge of the hospital, keys, bank account and whatever else was left. We had essentially though, terminated most of the Employees, paid them three months wages, transferred or discharged all of the patients, discharged them, so that there wasn't much left. But he intended to stay there at the hospital and tried to maintain it's identity until the communists came in. I never have seen him again. I did hear from him after he left Saigon. He was able to stay a few weeks. They left him there at the hospital a day or two but then they finally came in and said, "This is ours, now." And took him off to a hotel or something. He was not able to continue the hospital operation. We didn't know if he would being danger or not. You don't know what is going to happen in a situation like that. But he didn't seem to be worried. As it turned out, I guess they treated the Americans who stayed behind pretty well.
I left Tansonnhut on a C141. There were several Americans, but it was mostly Vietnamese. There were several Americans there. Most Americans were taking 25-30 Vietnamese with each passport. There were a number of Americans there, too. IN our group we had about eight Americans, and it seemed like there were three or four hundred Vietnamese in the group.
I was disappointed that we had to leave at that time. I hoped to stay there. We had enjoyed the opportunity to be there in Vietnam. We had the chance to travel a lot, while we were there. In fact, we got clear up to Hue just in March and were able to visit up there, and only a few days after we left there, they blew up the bridges and took the whole area. And we got out of that one. But we had come to enjoy the country and the people and it was a sad time for us to leave. The way the planes took off they just took off and circled, until they got altitude, until they got over the city, until they got too far out over the city, and so we didn't see very much. In fact the C141's don't have windows in them anyway. Then I went back to Singapore for reassignment. I was in Guam when I heard that Saigon had fallen.
I remember that. It came out on the headlines on the radio. I knew it was coming, we all did. It wasn't a surprise to anyone. It made me pleased that they had done it in a peaceful way, that there was not a lot of fighting and killing over the city. So I felt good about that, at least.
I knew it was inevitable around February. The reason was that there was, you can pick this up from the newsmen. There was a strategic plan from the Vietcong that got published in the Stars and Stripes, I think, and it gave almost the exact time schedule for their plans, and as you watched it develop from that time on to April, it was almost on schedule, how they were going to do and and so on. It was fascinating, interesting, to follow there plan and as they came toward Saigon.
My children want to go back to Vietnam some day. My daughter did go back to Thailand, and for a year on her own as a student missionary. But she didn't get into Vietnam. I'd love to go back.
I spent another year in the far east. I went to Japan and worked there with our hospital system and then I came back to Florida and worked there with our hospital program there and now I am in California working here, in Loma Linda at our hospital.
It was a very personal private experience. I can talk to people who had been there and we can understand each other very well, both people who were there at the end and a lot of military people. Vietnam was a very controversial subject. When we decided to go, most of our family and friends thought we were crazy to go over therein the first place. And most of them don't even understand what it was all about. So it's kind of difficult to talk about it to strangers, or people who don't have a flavor for it or an understanding. It hit people like us who had very little communication with others, for once someone is telling the story, here is what the guy that was there feels like. That was very important.
There was an American school there, through the 8th grade. And my son was in the 8th grade. My daughter was there a lot of the time, but she was in Singapore going to school most of the time.
We all enjoyed it, enormously. We stay in touch constantly with our Vietnamese friends through groups in California and in Florida. Very close friends friendships were formed that will always be there, no matter what.
The Saigon Adventist Hospital or US Army 3rd Field Hospital was an Adventist hospital in Saigon. It was a private hospital, formerly operated by the United States Army before being given to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The hospital was operated by the Loma Linda University School of Medicine and performed the only open heart surgery operation in Vietnam at the time. The hospital was a former mansion converted to facilitate 38 hospital beds.
More than 410 employees and church workers escaped before the Fall of Saigon. However, thousands of members and many pastors and teachers and other employees remained behind in Vietnam. The remaining members reorganized the work in Vietnam. Some of these members lost their lives while some were forced into re-education camps. Many of the workers could not move or travel from one area to another without permission. Most of the churches were shut down, and all the schools were closed.
Harvey Rudisaile lives today in Maine.
FROM THE ADVENTIST MAGAZINE 'THE MESSENGER' SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1974
The new Saigon Adventist Hospital administra-
tor, Mr. Harvey Rudisaile, started his career as a
music teacher, but also comes with a wide back-
ground of experience in business and administration.
He has worked as a business manager, accountant,
and assistant comptroller of Adventist institutions in
California, and most recently as assistant administra-
tor of the large Hinsdale Sanitarium in Chicago. He
is joined by his wife, Carol, and two children:
Harvey, 13, and Yvonne, 15, a student at Far
We are happy to welcome these new workers
to our Southeast Asia Union family.