A VIETNAM EXPERIENCE
The initial basis for sharing my experience in Vietnam was providing a written interview for a young woman's college history class in November of 2009. As I shared the details, I realized how God was blessing me when I was only a nominal Christian many years before I knew Him personally. The frame work of the interview is utilized but I have added a few more details realizing God was at work in my life before I was trying to live the way He wanted me to live. During this time God not only saved my life at least twice but He also enriched my life in many ways in Nam and prepared me for the future.
Q:What is your name?
My name is Ed Lindgren
Q: Where did you live during the 1960 and 1970's
First in Austin, TX and when I was 3 hours into my Senior year at the University of Texas, I moved to Seattle, WA for the Worlds Fair and got a job in management at large Department store. After Vietnam, which was 1964-1965, I finished school in Austin (9 months) and then I got a job in Dallas, TX.
Q: About how old were you when you joined the army?
Q: Was this voluntary or draft?
I was drafted at age 22 but my company in Seattle intervened and got it delayed for 4 months, so I was 23 when I went in. The VP of my company in Seattle complained because of it being a Texas draft board. He said if it had been the Washington State draft board he could have got me out of the draft completely. Being drafted was a form of short-term, legalized slavery, although some slaves have more freedom at times and are given more spending money (most of the time I received less than a $100 a month). For the many people who were drafted and died in Vietnam, it was legalized slavery for the rest of their lives. Most of the Privates were 18 or 19, so I was older, with college and some successful business experience. On a positive note being drafted has resulted in being eligible for superior medical care though the VA in subsequent years and is definitely a blessing from God as people at the VA are generally caring and concerned about helping a person medically without any monetary motives.
When I was in basic, the Sergeants talked about there was going to be a war in Vietnam. Most of us had never heard of Vietnam. Seven months later I was in Nam. After the 2 months of basic, I spent 5 months at Ft Lewis, WA in a 3rd echelon Direct Support Aircraft forming company. A forming company was a company being formed from the beginning. Our purpose and mission was a secret that no one was supposed to know or talk about. However, over 2/3 of our company were airplane mechanics (both fixed wing and rotary) who had been to Vietnam before and were looking forward to returning. This time at Ft Lewis was sort of a good time for me as we worked from 8-5 and were off most weekends. I was able to get my car that I had left in Seattle and spent many weekends in Seattle. I remember one Saturday I spent with a former business friend who lived in Tacoma, water skiing with Jerry and his family (from Ft. Lewis you drive through Tacoma on the way to Seattle).
As a Private there were duties like KP (kitchen police), PT (physical training), marching in parades (as a forming company we had to do every parade at Ft Lewis and I was never good at keeping in step), inspections in the barracks, and personal inspections (like shined boots) and shoveling coal from a wheel barrow to keep the barracks warm, etc. I would not have to put up with any of these duties with in Nam. In Nam they had KP workers and houseboys that shined our boots, etc. (I still had to pull guard duty). We were very cognizant that Nam was coming even though it was a "secret". Like one day they marched us (Privates) to the JA's office (lawyers) to fill out a will (made you feel like they were not planning on us coming back alive). We had major dentist visits where they pulled some wisdom teeth, just in case I ended up somewhere with limited dental care. Finally we convoyed all of our equipment and vehicles for several miles to the docks (to be shipped somewhere) and were given a 1 months leave because we would not be given time off for a long time in the future. Probably the reason it was such a secret was there were only two 3rd echelon aircraft support companies in Vietnam and a third one (us) would indicate a significant intention to expand our military leaders 's war efforts in Nam many months before our military leaders told our political leaders and the people in the US. When we left from an Air Force base near Ft Lewis they had no one there except a military band playing, as we boarded the plane. There were 20,000 Americans in Vietnam when I arrived and over 150,000 with more coming when I left. The Government and the news media told everyone in the states that everyone in Vietnam was a volunteer advisor. I never volunteered to be in the military or to go to Vietnam. Quickly people learn in the military that our government is not always truthful.
We were supposed to be in Nam for 12 months but they had a rule, if you had less than 3 months in the Army when you left they would discharge you, rather than reassign you. I stayed 2 extra months so when I left Nam I would be discharged from the Army. Vietnam was better life than the Army in the states for a low ranking person like me. When we arrived in Nam we went to Bien Hoa, north of Saigon, which was to be the new base for our company. It was a large base shared with the Air Force. In the distance on the edge of the runway, we could see a very secure compound where the Air Force had a U2 plane (a high flying jet spy plane). In the introduction process (or indoctrination) one of our speakers was a General who claimed that in the woods at the edge of the runway were the Viet Cong (the enemy) and he said we were lucky because they didn't have any mortars. Generals reminded me of the Sergeants in basic, you couldn't tell when they were telling the truth. This time he was right. They sent 1/3 of our company to the north to Da Nang and 1/3 to Vung Tau, where I went, so that we would not all rotate out of Nam at the same time, in the same company. A few days after I left Bien Hoa they had the first mortar attack of the war at Bien Hoa and a nice young, blond haired cook who would give us extra food in the mess hall during the night was killed.
Q: What was your rank and duties during the Vietnam War?
Most of my time in Nam I was a PFC (Private First Class) (E3) and by the end of my tour I was a Spec 4 (E4) (they gave an automatic rank increase to people who were in Vietnam, as long as you didn't get in trouble). Because of my education background, work experience and good test scores I was assigned as an aircraft parts supply specialist. We supplied aircraft parts for many aircraft companies in Vietnam (south of Saigon), including our own Company and a Mohawk Company (fast, treetop flying, 2 prop spy planes) and a 4th echelon support company (both were the only ones in Nam) in our battalion on our base. In those days the Army had more planes than the Air Force. That started changing about a year and a half after I left Nam. One of the first to be transferred to the Air Force was the Caribou that I traveled in very frequently. If repairs required 5th echelon maintenance, the part like an engine or transmission went to the Philippines or back to the states. Although I was trained initially to kill people in basic, fortunately I never had to kill anyone. Today I know that God can forgive people for killing.
Q: Did you make any friends of another nationality while you were there?
Of course I had many Vietnamese friends and many others. Several times, I drove my supply Captain to the beach (you had to be in uniform to drive the jeep) with a friend of his. The friend was an Officer from Poland and was considered a UN observer. We also had a medical company from Korea and a Caribou company from Australia (they called their planes Kangaroos) in Vung Tau so they could pretend it was a UN effort. Frequently, I would spend the whole day at the beach on Sunday and usually my shoulders would peal on Tuesday. I mentioned this once to the Officer from Poland, who told me a home remedy using rubbing alcohol to stop the pealing and it worked. There was only one Sunday they wouldn't let us go to the beach because they were filming news shots of the marines hitting the beach to show the people back in the states and didn't want us walking around in swim trunks in their war propaganda movies. From discussions during those short rides to the beach, Captain Fletcher arranged for me to go on a trip to Bangkok with him for a few days in one of our company's planes (they were going to buy stuff for our PX). At the last minute, Captain Fletcher couldn't go because some General friend was coming to visit from Saigon but told me to go ahead. I was the only passenger on the Caribou besides eight Lt Col. and Bird Col. from Saigon (a Bird Col. is just below a 1 star General). This was the only time I flew in a Caribou when it was pressurized. The walls were even insulated.
The French also called Vung Tau, Cape St Jacques, and it was considered by many as the beach resort for Saigon. It was located about 60 miles South East of Saigon. At that time Saigon had a population of about 3 million and Vung Tau was about 40,000. Vung Tau's beautiful beach was only a short drive from town. I always went to the same place on the beach (food, drinks, restroom, etc.) every Sunday and I became friends with French and Vietnamese people over the months of hanging out there.
Early in my tour, I met a girl one Sunday who was half French. She and her parent invited me to come visit their home in Saigon for New Years. I flew to Saigon on a Caribou. Usually we hauled cargo like helicopter engines, transmissions, etc. on the Caribou. This particular trip to Saigon I hitched a ride on a Caribou that was full of Vietnamese soldiers (we were all sitting along the two sides of the plane on web seats). I was supposed to carry my rifle on the plane but I never did because it was too much hassle to get it out at my company's armory and then in Saigon to find a company that would keep it for me until I returned, and then get it back for the trip home. We never allowed Vietnamese soldiers to carry their weapons on our planes. The concern was that some might hijack the plane. As usual I was asleep on the plane and right before we arrived in Saigon I was woke up by the sound of a 30 caliber automatic assault rifle firing on our plane. It felt like the plane was going straight up and all I could see out the back was thick jungle (usually we kept the top of the back loading section open). I didn't know where we were but it was scary (the only time I wished I had my rifle with me). Later I found out that one bullet went through a window in the cockpit only a few inches from the pilot's head. The Vietnamese Soldier next to me had gotten a bullet up his neck into his head. (I was the only non-Vietnamese on the plane besides the 3-crew members). One of the Vietnamese soldiers reached over, unbuckled his seat belt and push the guy off the seats on to the floor. I admit that I was shocked that no one even checked to see if he was dead, they just treated his body like garbage. Finally the plane leveled off and started in for a landing again. I looked out the back and there were dozens of US helicopter gun ships swarming around our plane, looking for the shooter and escorting us in. It was definitely a good sight. The people on the ground already knew about the shooting. It was the only time anyone ever met me at the plane. I was too new in the country to realize that was a big deal for a Vietnamese to be on our airstrip, where the plane landed. The girl's mother was kind enough to wash my uniform pants I was wearing and get a few spots of blood out. Which I was very appreciative because I was unsure if the people who washed our uniforms for us via the house boys could get the blood out. Later, I would always wear civilian clothes on trips to Saigon. Years later, when I came to know God personally, I realized that God had saved my life and helped me in many ways have experiences in Vietnam that were better than most soldiers of my rank. God was looking after me long before I knew Him and preparing me to serve Him, also I had a praying mother back in the states that prayed for me daily and wrote me every day. Some times I would get 4 or 5 of her letters at once. (the mail took 2-3 weeks)
Another friend I made at the beach was Michele and his wife. He was a French citizen and a Vietnamese citizen. He invited me to stay in his apartment of the 4th floor of his office building whenever I came to Saigon (his office was on the second floor and his Vietnamese wife didn't know about the apartment). I stayed there many times. After a few months he gave me a key to the door on the street and the front door of the apartment. It was a 3-bedroom 2-bath apartment that had more space than some 3/2 houses in the US. It was air-conditioned (rare in Nam at the time) and had a live in, old Chinese woman who cooked great French food. She only spoke Chinese, Vietnamese and French. One time I came in late at night and when I woke up in the morning, she had gone down to the street market for food earlier and back up (I think she had some back stairs) and had fixed me a delicious fresh breakfast. Michele only used the apartment for breakfast some mornings and lunch everyday and the nap. (from 12 noon to 3pm most Vietnamese in Saigon took off for lunch and a nap - I liked following that Vietnamese custom when I was in Saigon), I was still a Private but I lived better than most Generals, thanks to Michele (and God).
Another friend I made at the beach was a man from France who was a bachelor like me and probably under 35. I don't remember his name but he was the President of a French company called BGI. His company had all the franchise rights to all the pop and beer in Vietnam. He gave me his name and phone number to call him when I was in Saigon. One afternoon I called him and he said he had dinner scheduled and why don't I join them. I agreed and they picked me up in front of Michele's office. He only spoke French and English but his secretary was with him, who spoke English, Vietnamese, French and Chinese. I was quickly learning that the big thing was to have a male secretary. In the US we would probably call the secretary an executive assistant. Two large Chinese men who controlled the trucking in Vietnam took us to dinner. The sectary would tell my friend what the Chinese men, who only spoke Chinese, said in French and then explain it to me in English. I was a little embarrassed that I kept getting explanations in English like I was someone important. My French friend had already told me that the purpose of the dinner was that they wanted to raise the trucking rates. Apparently, the Viet Cong (the enemy) controlled the roads and they wanted more money to let the trucks go through. It was a delicious Chinese meal (at that time the best restaurants in Nam were Chinese and then 2nd best were French and local cafes were Vietnamese) and the trucking rates did go up. To understand this, it meant that any American who drank a coke or an American beer anywhere in Vietnam was sending profit money to France through BGI and to the trucking industry (the Chinese had the most financial control in Nam at that time) and to the Viet Cong (this was one of the ways we funded our enemy).
Another friend I met at the beach was a young woman my age who became my girlfriend. She was a secretary in Saigon and her office was near Michele's office and several times she had lunch with Michele and I. Frequently she would visit me on weekends in Vung Tau.
I developed many friends in Vung Tau. I remember one man who enjoyed pointing out heritage. He pointed out people who were half French and one woman who was half Japanese from the days of occupation by Japan. In the beginning of the school I started when I was a teacher, there was a girl in her late teens who stated one time in class, "My country has three parts, North Vietnam, Central Vietnam and South Vietnam". At the time I was surprised because we considered the North an enemy but later it fit as I realized we were involved in a civil war. One time a different girl missed a class and I would usually ask the person who missed to tells us why in English. She was ready for me and handed me a note in English. "I go Saigon. My boyfriend go to Buddha. I very happy for him". I remember I was shocked that these people worshiping a false God had a better attitude about death than us Christians.
Later in my stay after we had a board of directors for the school, one of the men was on the board because he was the "richest man" in town. He didn't speak English but he invited me to a special dinner at his house, with about 50 people, mostly men and they had a live band playing. It was very crowded with large tables everywhere. Fortunately they included the man who frequently interpreted for me at my table as I was the only non-Vietnamese there. It was an eight course meal; with waiters in uniform everywhere constantly bringing the next course. Several of the courses included rice. I remember that many of the courses were noteworthy but the only details I remember were something special from the central highlands of Vietnam and he had imported delicious duck eggs from Taiwan. We had to eat fast because the next course was coming. When we left I was satisfied but I was surprised I did not feel stuffed. It may have been a big social event for Vung Tau.
Q: Are there any moments you would like to share that you may never forget that happen during your station in Vietnam?
On base I spent from 6am to 6pm Monday through Saturday working. The head General for Nam, who spoke to us on our base the first Thanksgiving, insisted we were in a war (he eventually got his way) and so we had to work those long hours whether we were busy or not. One period of a few months, I was in the warehouse with 4 other privates and 2 Vietnamese laborers and one Spec 4 who was in charge of us. When we took supplies to a plane or went to get supplies from a plane the Vietnamese and I did all the work while the other 5 stood around and smoked and talked. The other 5 were all of a different race, so I got a good taste of racial prejudice on the receiving end.
I managed to get myself in charge of all the unserviceable parts that were to go back to the Philippines. We had a whole yard full that we couldn't send anywhere because those other companies didn't send the proper paper work with them. I convinced Captain Fletcher that I should go with the plane and make sure we had the paper work before we would take back a part. This got me out of the warehouse and some major flying time. I had enough hours to qualify for an air medal but never got it. One time I found myself spending the night on one of the bases in the delta. I could see why they didn't have all their paper work done because they stayed up all night drinking and playing cards. This I could understand since I had trouble sleeping, as you could hear bullets being fired at you all night. Made me appreciate Vung Tau.
As a private I had to pull guard duty every few weeks (which was not all bad as usually we were on 4 hours shifts and we could sleep some during the other 8 hours and the next day we were off for the day and I could go to Siagon or the beach). Once we heard a rumor that the Army decided to stop paying the Viet Cong to ship our fuel by truck and so we had huge bladders (when full almost 5 feet high and maybe 20 by 30 feet) full of airplane fuel. We would fly in the fuel and pump it to the bladders. This went on for several weeks. During that time we started bombing North Vietnam. Our intelligence was so poor that we didn't know if they could attack us back by air or not. So we made bomb shelters with sand bags (a private's job) and we cleaned up old 50 caliber machine guns (probably from WW2) and put the poles that they fit on in 55 gallon drums of concrete to make them into anti aircraft guns. Then I, along with others, was qualified on the weapons. It was more fun than filling sand bags. Every 5th shell was phosphorous which turned red when you fired it so you could literally see where your bullets were going. They stationed these around the base. One of these was stationed in the middle of the bladders full of aircraft fuel (typical Army intelligence). One night I did guard duty with that 50 caliber machine gun along with 2 other GI's in the middle of the fuel bladders. What goes up has to come down and if a plane did attack us, the chances were good that a tracer bullet would come down on one of the bladders and we would be barbeque. Fortunately, after a few days they figured out that North Vietnam could not bomb us back, so the machine guns went back into storage. Several weeks later there was a rumor that the Army and given up flying in fuel and decided to pay the Viet Cong to use the road. That night I was on guard duty in an elevated post by the road leading to Saigon. When the sun came up that Sunday morning there were 6 Shell oil trucks coming down the road from Saigon, unescorted. The rumor was true. Another example how American taxpayers were funding the enemy.
Near the end of my tour, I was on guard duty driving an old Jeep down the runway, it was about 2 to 3am. It was very dark and the hangers looked tiny in the distance. The runway was made from giant iron sections with round holes in them hooked together and sprayed with Agent Orange to kill the weeds. These iron sections made the marshy ground firm enough to drive on or land a plane on but were so noisy to drive on in an open Jeep that a person 10 feet away could not be heard without stopping. As I was driving along in the noisy, open jeep, I heard a loud command, "STOP", from a voice behind my head. As soldier trained to be obedient, I instinctively pulled my jeep over to the side of the runway immediately and turned to look around to see who gave the command. As I was realizing there was no one close enough to be heard, a Mohawk spy plane landed right where my Jeep would have been. The planes frequently made night flights into North Vietnam and I knew one of the features besides flying low was that they could be past you before you could hear them, because I had seen them on practice flights over our town. I kept looking around for who commanded me to "STOP" and saved my life. There was no explanation and for years I never shared about the experience but I remembered it. About 9 years later after I had known God personally for a few years, I heard God speak to me audibly for the 2nd and only other time in my life and I recognized that it was the same voice I had heard in Vietnam. This was only other time that I know God saved my life in Nam but knowing God, there may have been times I was unaware of.
When I arrived in Nam I was in a nice comfortable military passenger jet with a planeload of people from our Company that I knew. When I left, I was processed through a center in Saigon that had a few dozen people leaving and many hundreds of young soldiers with no suntans coming in. They had us stand in line to have our shot records checked with a giant sign up front with descriptions of what shots we must have to be able to leave Nam. The only thing we all had in common was that we all wanted to leave Nam and be home by Christmas. We could all read the requirements and so we filled in the shots that were missing and signed Doctor's signatures on each other's shot cards and then it appeared we all had the shots required. When I left Nam on a commercial passenger jet we stopped in Japan (my first time to be in Japan) and they took the plane away from us in order to take more new soldiers back to Nam. I was stuck in Japan for 2 days dragging around a duffel bag with my clothes, uncertain how I was going to get back to the states. Finally I hitched a ride on a 4 engine propeller Air Force plane along with 3 marine sergeants who had over 30 years of service, each. It was so cold we took our shoes off and sat on the person's feet across from you to keep from getting frostbite. The moisture in the air froze on every exposed metal rivet and when we landed in Midway and again in San Francisco it would melt and it was like being rained on. It was a fitting way to end my military servitude.
Q; Were you welcome while stationed there to go anywhere or were there places you could or did not go alone?
Yes, there were roads that were controlled by the Viet Cong, like the 60 miles to Saigon. Once I took a taxi about 10 miles down that road to a small town looking for some school related items. There was no one to prevent me from traveling on it and it was safe at that moment. When I say the word taxi in Vung Tau they were 3 wheel Lambrettas that had a seat cage on the back that could hold 4 Americans or 6 to 8 Vietnamese with luggage and livestock.
At times we had "alerts" where we were not allowed to be off our military base. If I was already off base, I basically ignored them. One time I was in Saigon for a couple of days and noticed that I didn't see any Americans all weekend but I didn't know we were having an alert until I got back to my base in Vung Tau. I never felt under any danger partly because of my appearance and I was usually in civilian clothes when off base. They had newspapermen who walked the streets of Saigon with Vietnamese Papers, French papers and English papers. They always tried to sell me a French newspaper. So I guess that bad people might not be sure I was an American.
Q: What helped you personally make it through the War?
My non-military activities were a big help. I know now that God helped me even though I really didn't know Him at the time.
Q: How were you treated when you came back from the War?
Okay I guess. The news about how unpopular the war was, made me cautious on how I publicized that I was a Vietnam Vet. Of course as a person drafted I was used to being treated second class as the people who volunteered had different serial numbers than us draftees. This is the first time I have shared this much about Nam.
I realize now that I brought home a lot of "baggage". One day in Nam, I received a letter from my bank in Seattle saying that my account was overdrawn. That had never happened to me before or since. I could not call them and I didn't know what to do. A week or so later, I received a letter from my girlfriend in Seattle with whom I left my car and some personal belongings, including my checkbook. She apologized that she had found my checkbook and had written a check on it. She said that she had replaced the money. When I got back to Seattle, I closed the account and didn't open another checking account for over 5 years. Not normal behavior for me.
In the 9 months while I finished my degree in Austin, I lived in an apartment in the woods near lake Austin and hunted rabbits with my 12 gage shotgun for food, fortunately I could eat breakfast at the Mental Hospital where I worked. I had a job from 11pm to 7am and the GI bill giving a little assistance didn't include Nam vets until my last 2 months in school. I had no phone and as I started to get back to normal, I would have to drive 10 minutes to a pay phone to make a date with a girl. Although I have enjoyed meeting others who were in Nam and asking them where they were stationed and when they were there, as you may be able to tell from my experiences, I do not have much in common with my fellow veterans. One possible indication of "baggage" is that I can remember with such details that time in my life, after over 4 decades.
Q; Did going to The Vietnam War better who you are today?
God uses everything to help me. A few years after I got back, my company in Dallas sent me to Japan for 2 weeks on business. In the late 80's I was in Korea, for ministry and education for 3 months while I was getting my Master's Degree. Both times I benefited from my oriental background experiences in Vietnam. Also over 60% of the people in the world live in Asia. God has helped me in relations with people who are born in different cultures.
Q: Your personal opinion of the take on Vietnam from your war experience of being there first hand.
I'm not sure one country should interfere with a civil war in another country. Imagine if France had interfered with our civil war to help the South win. I certainly don't understand financing your enemy, either. I tried to help people in Nam but after our Government ran away, I'm sure many Vietnamese suffered from being friends with Americans. Knowing God as I do now, I am sure He took care of my friends.
Q: Would you share what your operations team accomplished during the War?
We helped keep the planes repaired and flying.
Q: Are there any achievements or awards earned while in the War?
Q: Were you able to go above and beyond what you were there to do to help someone?
Early in my tour I met a civilian connected with some religious group who was teaching English to the Vietnamese. I learn how to teach English that way from him and started helping teach a class. Then there was a bad flood in central Vietnam, and he left suddenly to help refugees there and never came back.
After a few weeks, I started to teach a class again and then I got a couple of other Americans to help teach. The number of classes grew larger and I finally stopped teaching and focused on developing the school, which I named the Vietnamese American Cultural Center ( a couple of times I borrowed American movies from our base and showed them in the town square to promote our school). In addition to our battalion with a Lt Col in charge, there was a group of Green Berets in town with a Lt Col over them. These guys help me once with some translations and they arranged for me to publicize our classes over their propaganda loud speakers, which were all over town.
Once I asked for some help from my battalion, which I think just involved wanting access to their copy machine and maybe some school related supplies. For weeks I heard no response and then one day I was called to my company commander's office (he was a Major) and the head Chaplain for our battalion was there who was also a Major. I don't remember his name so I will call him Major Chaplain. He told me he was replying to my request for help from the battalion and that the request was being denied. That wasn't that big of a deal since I hadn't asked for much but then he went on to say the reason it was being denied and said some very hurtful and untrue things about me personally. I remembered leaving the office and I went to a place alone and literally cried. I was very hurt that they would say things untrue about me but you couldn't argue with a Major. This experience helped desensitize me later in life when I began serving God full time. Some of the most hurtful experiences can come from people who are fellow Christians.
Meanwhile the school kept growing. The way we taught was similar to a program the American Government funded in Saigon. We used the same teachers book and initially I was concerned how I would get books for the students. Thanks to the black market they sold cheap copies of the book printed in Vietnam that included a Vietnamese translation of the English, in stores in Vung Tau. I charged tuition that was about 1/3 of what the US Government group in Saigon charged. I paid the teachers only enough money to cover their taxi fare into town and back. I paid myself no money.
As we grew, I hired a secretary who was pregnant to register the students for the school. She did a great job, as she could speak Vietnamese. Also I was real proud of finding her a typewriter in Saigon that would type both English and Vietnamese. Her husband (a Lieutenant) was head of the local National Guard training center and became my friend and was my volunteer interpreter, when I needed to talk to any Vietnamese in Vung Tau. Shortly after, with her help our enrollment grew to 300 students.
One day, an old American contractor was giving me a ride from town in his pickup and I told him about the school. He started asking me about what would happen to it when I went back to the states and then advised me on how to set up a board. With my interpreter's help I sent invitations to the Catholic leader (who I knew as we were using for free the Catholic High School for classes and their office for our secretary to register students), the Buddhist leader, the leading Doctor, the Mayor, the leading educator (the principal of the High School, across the street), the head of the city council, the richest man in town, the oldest man in town (a Vietnamese thing) and the American civilian and the ranking Lt Col, Col Sheffield. By then a new battalion had moved on to our base and Col Sheffield out ranked the other two Lt Col in the area (information provided by my civilian contractor friend). No one responded to our invitations. With my interpreter, we visited the Doctor and my interpreter said hesitantly we might need to talk to the mayor. My friend was a low ranking Lt and the Mayor was a Lt Col. (the highest ranking Vietnamese in the area) I was not scared, so we went to Col Quan's house. We had a nice visit and apparently I answered all the questions to his satisfaction and he agreed to be on our board. Almost immediately all the other Vietnamese accepted our invitation to join. Then Col Sheffield said he had wanted a chance to meet the mayor, so he joined.
At the first board meeting, the Mayor, Col Quan, was elected head of the board. At the second meeting, I expressed concern that we were running out of space for classes, as I looked at the High School principal. He very strongly refused to allow us to have classes at the High School. Then Col Quan said something to him in Vietnamese and all the Vietnamese laughed and then the principal changed his mind and graciously agreed to let us use the High School. Later I asked my interpreter friend what he said and he told me that Col Quan reminded the principal that he was still of draft age (probably meaning he was under fifty) and that Col Quan could put him in the Army. That was why the principal change his mind so quick. Then Col Sheffield asked what could he do to help. I told him one of the hardest jobs I had was talking people into teaching. Immediately Col Sheffield said he would take over recruiting teachers and after that I had a lot of officers teaching, also. Then I mentioned one other concern and that was alerts. When an alert was declared (which may have come from Saigon), I had trouble getting my teachers off base to teach. Immediately Col Sheffield understood and responded that when there was an alert he would arrange for a military bus to bring the teachers to town to the school.
A few days later I was called to my company commanders office and the Major Chaplain was there again. He asked me if that was the school in town that I had started and I said yes. He then apologized for what he had said before and blamed it on a former assistant (who was no longer in Nam but had taught one class for us on one day) who he said was jealous of me. Major Chaplain went on to say that he had checked everything out and found it to all be untrue. He than said that Col Sheffield had asked him to teach for us and asked if he could help teach, to which I said "sure" (I was conditioned to never turn down a live teacher or to say no to a Major). By then our enrollment had grown to 600.
Then I focused on hiring my replacement. Col Quan gave me a name of a person but I didn't look at it. I ran an ad in the English Saigon paper and had 4 responses. I personally interviewed each one by going to their homes in a taxi. The applicant that looked the best was working as the President of a company manufacturing batteries in Bien Hoa and had a degree from the University of Hanoi (before the North - South division, it was the best University in Nam) and had a degree from an American university and had been in the past an ambassador to Indonesia for Vietnam (which is a huge job for that part of the world). Then I checked out the name Col Quan gave me and it was the same person. I told him he was hired and he came to Vung Tau with his own male secretary. (my secretary was getting close to having her baby by then and was happy to resign) Our last enrollment reached 1200 students with 33 teachers (including 3 classes teaching Vietnamese to Americans - I wish I had taken one of them)
The Vietnamese arranged a going away party by using the local theater that held 800 people and having a Vietnamese style variety show, which included American teachers helped entertain the Vietnamese. They gave me several gift and Col Quan gave me a certificate honoring me which I still have. I then made a speech and I was so nervous that I just rushed through it and no one could understand what I said (maybe not even the Americans). My interpreter, to whom I had given a copy of the speech ahead of time, got all the laughs and the applause for me. (a couple of months later when I went back to the University, one of the first classes I signed up for was a speech class - which helped me years later when I started serving God full time in ministry). A couple of days later I was called to the Company Commanders office for the last time and Major Chaplain, who had been at the party, asked me if the Army was honoring me in any way and I said no. He then said that he was going to arrange for me to get an Army Commendation Medal. About a year later, I was called to an Army office in Dallas and some officer gave me the medal. This taste of success with the school was an enjoyable ego trip at the time and later as I grew closer to God I realized how much God had helped me, a private who didn't speak Vietnamese, with the school. When I begin to understand what Jesus meant when He said we need to "DENY" (Lk 9:23) ourselves this was an experience I realized I can praise God for, because just like when God saved my life, I really could take no credit.
Email to Ed@jesuscenter.net