I graduated from college in June 1972, then worked in Norfolk VA for five months while arrangements were made to move to Thailand. During this time I got engaged, was married to my college sweetheart Linda, and spent our honeymoon getting shots and applying for passports and visas.
On February 1, 1973 we flew from Pittsburgh to San Francisco, and took a bus to Travis AFB where we caught a Military Airlift Command chartered flight to Bangkok. Our first stop was Hickham AFB, Hawaii, and then on to Anderson AFB, Guam. We were supposed to be there long enough to offload passengers and cargo, but the forklift punctured the side of the aircraft, which took about 8 hours to patch. Then we were off to Clark AFB, the Philippines, and on to Ton Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon, Vietnam. As we approached Saigon, the landscape I knew from 1964 had totally changed, with rows of craters from B-52 bombing runs and defoliation from Agent Orange. Although a peace treaty had just been signed the week before, the pilot was taking no chances as he maneuvered a steep dive to land. After a brief stop, and equally steep climb into
the sky, we continued to Bangkok, where my family waited to receive us.
As we left the plane and descended the steps to cross the tarmac towards the Don Muang airport terminal, the hot air hit us like a blast furnace. My Mom and Dad were there to greet us, along with Darryl and Marilyn, friends I knew in Bangkok in 1966/67, and who now lived in Germany. They were on vacation with their baby daughter Melissa. My sisters Judy and Carol were already back at Dalat School. Sue was back in the States in college.
My sponsor from the office was also there, but when he saw that I was coming home, he realized his job as a sponsor was ended. I was now working for the Officer in Charge of Construction/Thailand, with whom I worked as a summer hire in 1968. But now I was an engineer. As a trainee I would be rotating between the various divisions: project management for four months and design for eight months in Bangkok; and then construction management on Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand about 100 kilometers southeast of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
We initially lived
at the mission guest home that my Mom managed while looking for a house to rent. After a couple weeks we found a one bedroom Thai style house on the family compound of a very important Thai family just across from the Sam Sen railroad station. The grandfather had been Prime Minister of Thailand just after WWII. Our landlord built the Thai house on the compound for his son, Woody, who had just graduated from the University of Texas. However, Woody wanted to live in the main house, so his house was available for us. Woody's sister, Pan, had graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris, and lived in a converted trolley next to our house.
Our house was a 5 minute drive from the guest home, and a half hour drive from my office at the 26 story Chok Chai Building on Soi 26 Sukhumvit Rd. I often took a taxi to work so Linda could drive our 1972 Gran Torino, the only one in Thailand, to visit with my parents. Mom and Linda loved to go out together to buy groceries and other stuff for the guest home. One day, my Dad told her to park under a
building on stilts. She managed to hang the car up against one of the posts. My Dad was so flustered. From then on she took the taxi. She was a ferocious bargainer with cab drivers and shop keepers. My Mom tried to teach her Thai on these shopping trips. The Thai were fascinated with her fair skin and would touch her face and pinch her arm. My Mom told her to say “Ya yung!” which means “don’t bother me.” However, she got it mixed up with “Ya yut!” which means “don’t stop.”
Mom let us have one of the guest home cooks for the year. Her name was Dim. During the year she married Gitisuk. They lived in our servants’ quarters. Dim cooked, washed clothes by hand, ironed, and cleaned the house. Linda was becoming spoiled!
On the monthly anniversaries of our wedding we would have dinner at the Swiss Inn at Siam Square, and I would give her a ring, bracelet, or broach. She didn’t want flowers because they could be bought on any street corner for pennies, so didn’t reflect much thought. By now she was spoiled rotten!
We attended to Evangelical Church of Bangkok,
which my Dad had started. While I was away at college he had bought the land and hired and architect and builder for the church. The congregation was about 300 representing 34 nationalities.
We visited every corner of Bangkok. One of our first stops was the weekend market which was on the Sanam Luang (Gold Field) in front of the Grand Palace grounds. We bought a wild leopard cat, probably endangered, but we didn’t know about such things then. It got used to us, but not Dim or the landlords servants. It was a nocturnal animal. If we left any dirty shirts out at night, it would eat the collars.
One of the many times that we went to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, it happened to be the day the King came to change the Buddha’s clothes. Everyone bowed as he passed, but we just bent down and got pictures.
Shortly after we arrived we took a trip to Kanchnatburi, where the Bridge over the River Kwai is located. We took a boat up the river and then returned by train on the rickety tracks the prisoners of war had laid during World War II.
Another close by attraction was Ayutthya, the former capital of Siam that had been ransacked by the Burmese in the 1700's. We walked all around the ruins of temples and palaces.
We went to the beach at Hua Hin quite often with my parents and friends. One day we rented a fishing boat to go to one of the islands. By about 2 pm the fisherman told us that we needed to go back because “Lom ja ma”or“wind will come.” We didn’t understand why this was a problem so delayed a bit. By the time we returned to the mainland, the wind was driving large waves, and the boat couldn’t approach the shore. We had to jump into deep water and swim and then wade through bands of jellyfish to get to the shore.
We also went to the beach at the U.S. Army R&R Center at Pattaya with another young couple from the office. I knew he would make admiral someday, and he did. We tried sailing with no great success, but did better waterskiing.
We also went to Khao Yai National Park for weekends to get away from Bangkok heat. I remember driving back
Linda holds Kitty for the first time
Kitty was a Leopard Cat...a wild animal, but we didn't know about endangered species back then.
to Bangkok with my parents in their old VW bus. The door was loose and rattling. So my Dad stopped the car right near where a farm girl was walking along the road. I got out to slam the door shut, but it came off in my hand. I just put the door in the back, got in and we drove off. The look on the farm girl’s face was of astonishment.
For work I drove to Korat Air Base to obtain data to design the restoration of their NCO Club. Their entertainment was a group of topless dancers, which was the first time I had encountered such a thing. I was able to collect my data. I also went to Sattahip Naval Base to design a perimeter road around the ammunition depot. Without a perimeter fence and security road, Thai squatters would encroach on the ammunition depot within the explosive safety quantity distance. I also made it to the Marine Corps base at Ramasan to design a drainage system to prevent their perimeter fence from being washed out. I also visited the Nakhorn Phanom Air Base on the Mekong River across from Laos, where U.S. air forces had
relocated after leaving Vietnam. I designed air conditioning for their "hootches." NKP had the highest concentration of generals of any U.S air base, with fours stars on down, for a total of 33 stars when added up.
In May 1973 I took a week off of work to go to my sister Judy graduation from Dalat School, Penang, Malaysia . We took the overnight train to Haadyai, and then a taxi to Penang. We got there early so that we had time to take a taxi to the Cameron Highlands, where the school had been located from 1966 to 1970, and where I had graduated. We stayed at the Eastern Hotel, in my old dorm room. Spit wads were still on the ceiling where I had left them. We hiked to Parrot Falls and then to the Smoke House for a steak dinner. It was dark be the time we were done, so rather than take a taxi back, we decided to walk the three kilometers. About half way back I told Linda that these jungles were inhabited with tigers and spitting cobras, which was the truth. She ran the rest of the way back to our hotel, and
I had a difficult time keeping up with her. We returned to Penang in time for graduation, and then escorted the Thailand MKs back to Bangkok on the train. Somehow I lost my shot record card, so by putting all 30 or so passports together with the shot record cards, the immigration officials didn’t notice that one was missing.
In September 1973, I had the opportunity to work in Saigon, and visit the original Dalat School over a long weekend. Fortunately, I was able to take Linda along (see Work in Saigon and vacation in Dalat
). While we were in Saigon, students held mass demonstrations in Bangkok for democracy. Soon the Army was shooting students. The King intervened and the Thai generals who ordered the shooting were exiled. We returned on November 9, 1973 to a different Thailand. For one, our leopard cat had run away. So the following weekend, it was back to the weekend market to buy a replacement. This time we bought two cats, a brown Burmese and a grey Korat cat.
As Christmas of 1973 approached, I was told that I might have to lead a survey team to the island of Diego Garcia, where the U.S. was building a
Navy and Air Force base to support operations in the Persian Gulf. Normally, one of our contractors would have taken a Thai crew, but the British, who owned the island, were resisting granting visas. I was going to have to miss my first anniversary and Christmas. As it turned out, the visas were granted, and I stayed home. Christmas was sad because my Dad came down with malaria, and couldn’t join the celebrations.
On January 11, 1974 we arranged a surprise 25th Anniversary party for my parents. Uncle Wayne and Aunt Minnie and my cousins arranged the entertainment. We had quite a crowd from the church and from the business community, so it was a success.
About this time, our Burmese kitten died. Our Korat cat, Zane Grey, was very lonely. We mentioned our loss to friends, who then mentioned that there was a kitten loose in the storage room in their apartment building. We went to check it out. Linda held out a peice of shrimp as bait, and soon a white flash grabbed the shrimp and bit her finger. We figured we had to adopt the kitten just to make sure it didn't have rabies. We
View of our home from the street
My Gran Torino parked on the street
named the kitten Little Orphan Annie, or Annie for short. She didn't get along with Zaney at all.
Our time in Bangkok had come to an end. I was assigned to northern Thailand to oversee construction on Doi Inthanon.
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