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

The Opinions of our Vietnamese Friends

Baird moved back to the States, and settled with his family in a suburban area around Washington called Beltsville. Through some financial help of his influential friends in the government he was able to make a down payment on a house. His friend Senator Paul Douglas arranged a lawyer job for Baird in the headquarters of the U.S. selective services, where Baird had to handle contentious objector cases for army draftees who didn't want to serve in Vietnam. He didn't like his job that much, but he had no choice, as he needed it very badly to support his family. At the back of their house was a large, empty plot of land. Baird arranged with the owner that Lu Lu and his family could use it to grow all of their oriental vegetables. Lu Lu became a favorite around Baird's family. With her gardening and Burmese cooking, it was like going back in Burma again. Being back in the U.S.A. had not slowed down Baird and Pat's drinking habits. Whenever I visited their house, I always had to join them in having a drink. Baird would always wear his Burmese Lounge (a piece of cloth the Burmese men wear that looks like a skirt) He would wear it to the shopping center in Beltsville and people would look at him, why is this man wearing a skirt. When I told him about it he said to me, "They'd better get used to it".

Discouraged by the Burmese Government, his Burmese friend and business partner Bo-Let-Ya left Burma through the jungle into Thailand. He came to the U.S.A. and stayed at Baird's house for a little while. With Baird's help and his influential friends he was trying to get home financial help for Bo-Let-Ya to organize a strong resistance force to overthrow the General Ne Win government. But the support for this was very small. Bo-Let-Ya later on went back to Thailand and died there several years later.

Baird's children were very sympathetic to their parents' life, and always looked after them. The oldest daughter became a stewardess with Pan-American Airlines and settled in Hawaii. After Baird got his retirement from the government he moved with his family to Peoria, Illinois. Pat's mother had passed away and she inherited some of the family's finances. Most of Baird's and Pat's family felt disgraced to associate with them after their misfortune in Burma. Of course their alcoholism had something to do with this also. In Peoria, Illinois Baird needed open heart surgery. The winters in Illinois were not the Helfrich family's favorite after having lived for so many years in the warm climate. Baird used to bring his Vietnamese friend along and enjoy some of Lu Lu's cooking. She didn't mind at all as we knew Tran Van Khiem's parents very well.

With all the Vietnamese friends we had, Lu Lu and I were invited to many Vietnamese parties. At several of those parties I met General Thi. We had many conversations about the war and the reason he was released from his General duties. This is what he told me: During the South Vietnamese war he was a commanding General around the most Northern part of South Vietnam in the ancient city of Hue. At that time many of the Buddhist people demonstrated against the President Theu government and the war. General Thi became very sympathetic with the Buddhist people who were demonstrating against the President Theu government. Because of General Thi's support for the Buddhist demonstrators, his popularity increased greatly among the South Vietnamese people. General Thi became so rebellious against the President Theu government that President Theu was worried his popularity among the people would change his government and General Thi would make arrangements to settle the war with the North Vietnamese. So President Theu ordered troops to be sent into Hue and take over the job of the rebellious General Thi. The American marine General Walt with his troops and General Ky with his forces surrounded General Thi around the city of Hue. There were some intense moments of negotiations. General Thi's troops were well known for their fighting skills and they would have taken on General Walt and General Ky's troops for a battle. Because of the close friendship General 'Phi had with General Walt the matter was settled. After that General Thi was told that he needed a long rest and vacation. At that time President Johnson was having a staff meeting with General Westmoreland in Hawaii about the war in South Vietnam. General Thi was sent to Hawaii to be at the meeting. After the meeting he flew back in President Johnson's plane to the U.S for a medical check-up. Once he was in the U.S.A. President Theu government didn't allow him to return to South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese government felt he was too much of a trouble maker and it was better to have him out of the country. I had many interesting conversations with General Thi. He told me that the whole war in Vietnam was nothing more than politically and corruptly motivated. Here was a man who once had power and fame and was admired by thousands of his Vietnamese people. I used to see him walk on the streets of Washington D.C. all by himself like any ordinary citizen. Life can have its strange moments for every man.

CONTINUED: Saving Money for a Long Trip
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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