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Published: June 13th 2011
Dalat School was beginning a major transformation. A new boys’ dorm was constructed to the left of the old boys’ dorm which was now the administrative building with an expanded dining hall. The lower piece of property to the left of the girls’ dorm was bulldozed for a track and playing fields.
U.S. Army advisors were assigned to teach at the Vietnamese Military Academy, and they brought their families with them. U.S. Army dependants from Saigon also came to Dalat School for their education. We had children whose parents were with foreign embassies and foreign aid organizations; including a boy from Egypt. So the student population was becoming quite cosmopolitan. My dorm parents for this five year period were Uncle John and Aunt Esther.
Until about 1960, driving from Saigon to Dalat was safe, but after that the Viet Cong made it too dangerous. By the early 1960’s we no longer flew in DC-3’s or 4’s. These prop planes were replaced by the first commercial jets, the French Sud Aviation SE 210 Caravelle.
Dalat remained relatively safe as both sides in the war used it as a rest and recreation center while the rest of South Vietnam became
a war zone. Soon, the U.S. military advisors were joined by U.S. combat troops. Army chaplains would hold religious retreats at our school. They would assemble large tents where we kids would sleep, and the soldiers would use our dorm rooms.
My parents made friends with GI's stationed in Korat, Thailand. Two of them we C-9 Caribou pilots. This transport aircraft was used for short land strips. One time they flew to Dalat, and brought me boxes of chocolate bars. I might have had a couple as I shared the rest of the boxes with my dorm mates.
The military advisors would still bring movies for us to see on Friday Late Nights. By then our bed times were a bit later and we had learned to keep quiet after lights out; so didn’t get paddled or miss late nights so often. Our favorite movies were mostly Disney; “Swiss Family Robinson,” “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” “Pollyanna,” “In Search of the Castaways,” “Zorro,” etc.
As the years passed war got closer to Dalat. We could hear artillery in the distance, and sometimes not so distant. I remember having nightmares of being captured by the Viet Cong.
Many of my fellow students ended up with PTSD as a result of the war getting closer.
After school activities included piano lessons for a couple years, until I rebelled in favor of softball. I also ran track, and played soccer. We had more contact with Vietnamese kids our age as we played sports against their school teams. At the beginning of each game we would exchange school pennants.
My Dad’s father sent the school some money to buy me a bike. On weekends Aunt Esther would take many of us for extended bike trips in the Dalat area, particularly around the Xuan Huong Lake in the center of town. One of our stops was a nuclear reactor used for research, part of President Kennedy’s “Atoms for Peace” program. That was also a good area to look for tektites, and the recent construction had removed the topsoil. Black objects were easier to spot in red clay soil.
We also would hike to Pren and Buttermilk waterfalls. Another favorite destination was “the Peaks,” a tall mountain north of town. We raced to see who could get to the top the first. Another weekend we had breakfast at an old
molybdenum open pit mine about 8 kilometers from the school. After breakfast we all ran back to the school without stopping.
In 1961, my youngest sister Judy entered first grade, so joined Sue and me at Dalat. In December 1962, I gained a new youngest sister, Carol Jean. However, she wouldn’t go to Dalat School until I had already graduated. She and my parents did visit Sue, Judy and me at Dalat in the spring of 1963. My Dad wanted to visit the tribal people, and attend a service. I remember going with him in a Jeep to their village. On the way we were shot at. After this experience I didn't stray far from town.
They only visited Dalat School three times, 1958, 1963 and for my graduation in 1968. I guess this speaks more about the difficulty and cost of travel in those days. Instead we had to stay in touch in letters. Every Sunday afternoon was siesta time during which we wrote letters home. Mine always started with “Dear Mom and Dad, I am fine. How are you?” My Mom told me that whenever I was homesick, just look at the moon. We would both
be looking at the same thing at the same time; so the moon was our connection.
In the summer of 1964, we took a furlough to the States. On Easter Sunday 1965, the American Embassy sent four C-123's to move the entire school to Bangkok, Thailand. I missed this event. The next time I would see Dalat was in October 1973, after the peace treaty was signed...but that' another story.
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