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.