Category: Vietnam

September 23, 1963

Theater Bombing

Fifty-two years ago on September 23, 1963, I sat in the Capital Kinh-Do Theater with 200 Americans to see the Disney cartoon film, The Lady and the Tramp.

We were in one of the two American theaters in Saigon. The Kinh-Do was newly built for the comfort of U.S. military and their dependents living in Viet Nam in 1963. When we first arrived in June, everyone was talking about its grand opening scheduled for the end of the month.

Three months later, the place still had a new and polished look and smell. We enjoyed weekly visits to see what was playing. Mother loved going to the movies. The Kinh-Do not only showed new releases, they also had re-runs of movies we had seen stateside before arriving in Viet Nam.

This was quite a treat since there were no television stations in Viet Nam in 1963. Watching TV wasn’t an option. In Saigon, Americans went to the movies, enjoying air conditioned comfort, movie faire and pretending they were living a normal life back in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

The theater was also familiar with plate glass windows, a theater marquee, and movie poster displays framed in the front of the building. Tickets were sold in the lobby along with food and drink. The only things missing were video games and pinball machines. Video games weren’t invented yet, and pinball machines were at the bowling alley across the street.

At 6:00 p.m. the lobby was full of children and their mothers.

After Mother got the tickets and refreshments, we entered the cool interior. Seats were filling quickly, but we were lucky to find a row that was not yet full. While waiting for the movie to start, I looked around. Children were lined up at the front of the theater to use the bathrooms. Couldn’t get used to seeing that. Every theater I knew had bathrooms in the lobby area, but here they were in the theater itself. The women’s bathroom was to the left of the movie screen, and the men’s on the right.

Because it was embarrassing to watch all the people waiting in line, I decided to check out the wall decorations—two huge wooden fish hanging on the walls. They were simple fish designs like those drawn by the early Christians. Nothing fancy except the mosaic tile inlayed on wood. They weren’t part of a school of fish. They hung alone—one to the left and the other to the right. Both were so large they took up a third of the walls.

Soon the lights went out and the newsreel began, followed by a cartoon. Energy and expectation filled the area. We couldn’t wait for the featured film.

Thirty minutes into the movie, I will never forget the shock of the explosion, the smoke pouring from the center of the screen, and the lights suddenly coming on revealing the stunned audience. No one cried. No one screamed. No hysteria.

A bomb exploded. Viet Cong terrorists had packed a bicycle with plastic explosives before leaning it against the outside wall of the women’s bathroom.

Attacks on movie theaters were uncommon in 1963. People went to the movies to get away from the everyday stress. On September 23, 1963 all that changed for me.

There are no bombs exploding in American theaters today although Americans have the threat of shootings by domestic terrorists in them.

Last week, my husband and I went to see A Walk in the Woods. The ticket taker wanted to check my purse to see if I had a gun.

     Had a gun?

     Why?

I came to the movies to enjoy the adventure of two aging men walking the Appalachian Trail. Why would I bring a gun to the theater?

I ignored the ticket taker’s request and walked on. Just as hysteria didn’t take over in the Capital Kinh-Do Theater bombing over fifty years ago, I refused to let it take over today. I came to see a movie, not to take part in a gun battle with a domestic terrorist.

Masters Degree in Publishing Part 1

I’ve been working on a Masters degree in publishing my narrative nonfiction coming of age memoir. Not a university degree. It’s more of curriculum vitae outlining experiences catalogued to produce a successful book. These are many.

I’ve worked with editors and Beta readers. I’ve watched webinar classes produced by Writer’s Digest, attended conferences and workshops, and given presentations to civic and educational groups. I have had many teachers.

One of them was Dr. Kelly Crager from the Vietnam Oral History Project at Texas Tech. During my interview in May 2010, Dr. Crager asked me a profound question: “Who did I talk to in Vietnam?”

Who was I close to who listened to my fears and answered my questions?

When I was twelve-years old, I had many fears and questions. I answered, “No one.”

“No one?” he asked.

“No one,” I replied.

“You didn’t talk with your parents, teachers, or friends?”

“No,” I said, “no one wanted to hear what I had to say.” Most twelve-year-old girls didn’t question U.S. policy. Twelve-year-old girls want to giggle about boys, do their hair, and go shopping. I wasn’t like those girls, and I had no one to talk with about my fears and concerns.”

That was a depressing realization. Dr. Kelly waited patiently for me to continue.

Suddenly everything clicked in place.

“I talked to Nam,” I said. “He was the 35-year-old Vietnamese servant who ran our household. I talked with Nam as he worked in the kitchen, dusted the living room, or swept the driveway and carport.”

“What did you talk about?”

“I shared my thoughts and adventures with him. I listened to his stories about Vietnamese history during WWII and the collapse of the French colony of Indochina.

I had many more teachers in the pursuit of this Masters Degree in publishing, but he was my first. Without him, I doubt I would have been able to tell my story.

My life begins…again and again.

Fort Monmouth Front Gate

I’m a military brat and proud of it.

My father was in the Army for 25 years. He enlisted in 1943. I was born at Fort Monmouth, baptized at Fort Meade. I lived at Pearl Harbor and Schofield Barracks on Hawaii. When others read about the scars of war left by the Japanese attack 7 December 1941,  they don’t know my story. The Japanese not only dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Field, they dropped them on the Army post north of Honolulu.

When I was living in Schofield Barracks, I knew a boy wandering in the woods who discovered a Japanese bomb dropped in the area. Thinking it was a dud, he picked it up. His hand was blown off. Unfortunately, the bomb was live, waiting eighteen years to explode. Continue reading

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