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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

Our South Vietnamese Friends

During the years of my frequent visits at the South Vietnamese Embassy I made many friends with Embassy officials. During the time of the overthrow of the Diem Government I became very friendly with the new appointed Military Attaché Colonel Khuong. He was one of the Turks, that was that group who overthrew the Diem Government. Colonel Khuong had a wife and eight children. One day Lu Lu and I were invited to his house for dinner. When we entered the house and walked into his living room, his wife and kids stood neatly in line to welcome us. I said to Lu Lu, "look how disciplined those children are". I noticed right away that their father was a military man. With all those children that house looked perfectly neat and clean.

Another time Colonel Khuong and his family invited Lu Lu and me with other Vietnamese for a picnic at his 60-acre farm in Germantown. I was the only Caucasian in the group. I had taken some of Mr. Chau's friends from the Embassy in my car, and the Ambassador's driver who owned a small Nash took some friends along. All along in and outside the car I had to listen to the Vietnamese language because most of them spoke very poor English. I was very impressed by this 60 acre farm. Where did this Colonel get all his money from, as he was only in the U.S.A. for a short time? We were well treated and had an enjoyable day.

On our way back just outside Germantown my car broke down and there was no way that on a weekend I would be able to get it fixed. The driver of the little Nash said, "Don't worry Mr. Jeff, we take you home". As I had to leave my car behind, the little Nash car looked to me like it was already full, but the driver told everybody to get out. Then he told Lu Lu and me to get in the backseat. Lu Lu had to sit on my lap. Then he told his friend to get in the car again. I couldn't believe it - we were packed on top of each other. I told him he couldn't drive the car like that, it was against the law. But all of them acted like they didn't understand what I was talking about. This was the only way for me to get home. As he drove down interstate highway 70 I was scared to death. They all were talking in their language and laughing and he was driving that little car about 70 miles an hour. Most all of them were very small people, but every time he hit a bump I thought the springs of the car would break. I was trying to tell him to slow down, but Lu Lu was sitting on my lap and I was stuck in the back. I couldn't get over it, how happy all of them were in this packed car. These people had no fear at all that something bad could happen very easily. How happy I was when we arrived at the South Vietnamese Embassy again.

Another time I went with Colonel Khuong to up-state New York to visit a Veterans hospital which was treating many young South Vietnamese war veterans who were paraplegics. The hospital was in the neighborhood of the West Point Academy. It was during the Christmas season and the Colonel wanted to visit them as most of those boys had no family at all in the U.S. We went in two cars, as I was familiar with the area. The Colonel paid for all the expenses. Once we got to the hospital, we visited one ward which was completely filled with Vietnamese paraplegic patients from the war. I didn't know, but Colonel Khuong told me in the heat of the war a lot of those really bad paraplegic South Vietnamese soldiers were transferred to different veteran hospitals in the U.S.A. for treatment. The facilities of treatments in the South Vietnamese hospitals were sometimes not available. Most of the Vietnamese soldiers I met in the hospital couldn't speak English. There were some Vietnamese officers riding around in wheelchairs, and they were able to converse in English. All of the nurses who treated those soldiers were Vietnamese and spoke very good English. I noticed how good-looking those nurses were. It was a pathetic scene to walk through this ward and see all those young men being crippled for life. And yet all of them had smiles on their faces when we talked to them. Some of them showed me where they were shot. You could clearly see a big hole where the bullet had penetrated the flesh. I talked to one of the South Vietnamese officers who was riding around in his wheelchair. I could tell that he wanted to talk to me so badly. He told me that after his physical therapy treatment he would get his braces and would be able to walk, he would like to take a computer course here in America, so that after he went back to South Vietnam he still could work. You see and hear their stories, in my heart I said I wished I could help all of them, but you know there is no way of doing this. I know our visit meant a lot to them, and I was glad Colonel Khuong asked us to join him on this trip. After I left the hospital ward I thought how rich I was, just to know that I had two legs to walk. We are sometimes low keyed about our own lives, but what a difference it makes after you have visited a ward like that with so many young men knowing that they will never be able to use their legs, and yet they have hope that they can still make something out of their lives. Seeing things like that strengthen my life and show me that there is a lot to live for, and makes me want to share whatever fortune came along in my life with people who weren't as lucky as I was.

We stayed overnight in a hotel not too far from New York City. The next day the Colonel invited us all to see the Christmas show at the Rockefeller Center at Radio City. What a treat that was! I always wanted to see one of those Christmas shows. After that we all had dinner in New York's Chinatown, and from there on it was a long drive home again.

CONTINUED: Dinner at the South Vietnamese Embassy
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

- Book Index