RD FOSTER  USMC

CHINA  BEACH  PROTESTANT  ORPHANAGE
Da Nang, Vietnam 1968

Located on one of the most beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia, the orphanage, created by Dr. and Mrs. Gordon H. Smith,
was built in part by Marine Engineers, Navy Seabees, and US Army Special Forces in the 1960s.
We went to visit every chance we could to cheer up the kids who had ended up there.
Life was hard for those kids, but for an orphanage, it didn't look like a bad place to live.
Pictures by Ronnie D. Foster

{click on picture for large view}

China Beach Protestant Orphanage Classrooms The kids were always happy to see the Marines The playground equipment was built by...
... American servicemen.   On the South China Sea  
No shoes needed here A couple of happy guys Their front yard was the beach My first gun was a BB gun
      Toys were in short supply
   

That's me with two of the kids

I often wonder what became of them

 

The 78 pictures below were sent in by Kimberly Su Delaney, who as a child, known as Nueng Te Cong or Julie Peacock, spent part of her childhood at the China Beach Orphanage. Adopted by the family of Ivan Fuller, a Navy Chaplain, and brought to America, she now resides in the Chicago area. An NBC TV special, by Charles Kuralt, featured Kimberly and her story. The excerpt below from a book by Mrs. Gordon Smith, introduces little Cong to the world. 

THE TEN DANGEROUS YEARS
By Mrs. Gordon H. Smith
Neither enemy mortars, Vietcong intimidation, not dangerous trails prevented the
Gordon Smiths from continuing their mission to the Vietnamese
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Chapter 22
Miracle in a Tiny Girl’s Tragic Life

Three-and-a-half-year-old Cong, of some village near Da Nang, should have been dead. That is, if a unit of US Marines hadn’t cared. They found this sick, little brown Vietnamese doll lying on the ground, blind, whimpering amid the ruins of her home and parents. The Communists had just burned down her village, killed her parents and the other villagers, and even had cut little Cong deeply across the top of her head. She should have died. The Vietcong wanted her to, desiring no witnesses. “They killed my father first. Then they hit my mother and she soon died,” said little Cong in her voice weak with fright. … (click here to read the entire chapter of this amazing story)

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Nueng Te Cong or Peacock - her Vietnamese name
Julie - as named by the Marines who rescued her in the month of July
Kimberly Su - her American name
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Cong with Mrs. Gordon Smith

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Julie Peacock with Gen. Lew Walt,
future Commandant of the Marine Corps
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Diana Read, Nurse at China Beach Orphanage
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Rev. and Mrs. Gordon Smith
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Cong and Vietnamese boys awaiting heart surgery in the USA
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Back home, and able to see her friends for the first time.
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Cong and Chaplain Schumacher at Da Nang
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Her doll she got in California
PhotobucketMrs. Smith, Vinh, Cong
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Cong with some of her
China Beach family
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Kimberly Su, her husband Mike, and the Delaney family
 
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Le Chau Esther, who worked as the secretary and translator, with some of the children from China Beach Orphanage now grown.
                                                                              
 


 

This is the original letter from Rev. Gordon H. Smith on the history of China Beach Protestant Orphanage,
 
sent to me by Dorothee Calvet from Paris, France.

Dorothée CALVET
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
China Beach Orphanage

Dear Sir.
My name is Dorothée and I was born in July 1967. I'm a orphan of war, adopted in France.
I'm just saw the photos you put on your website from China Beach Orphanage in Danang Vietnam and it was very interesting for me to look at them.  This picture and the comments of Bob Martin moved to me because I was an orphan of Vietnam War and I lived to a orphanage when I was an infant. I 'm from unknown parents and I was carry by Sisters of Saint Paul de Chartres in Danang too but in another orphanage (the one described by Bob Martin) also located near the beach. It was a catholic orphanage and the building you show was a protestant orphanage I think.
I'm searching for my roots and my past and I' m in touch with many former US soldiers who served in Vietnam in 1966 - 1972. So I collect their memories and photos they took when they visited orphanage to understand what happened for many children like me.
I left Vietnam on January 1969 adopted by a French family. Many orphans from Sacred Heart orphanage were been adopted all over the world. Bob Martin talk about this in the comments of the pictures.
I'll be interesting if you could share with me your memories of your visits in orphanage and perhaps others photos. Could you send me also the e-mail address of Bob Martin, I would like to contact him.
Thank you Sir for all your photos and thank you in advance for your reply.
Best regards from France
Dorothée

Dear Dorothée,
It was so very nice to hear from you. It's great to know that some of the kids were able to find new lives with loving families. I was just a kid myself at the time, 19 years old. I was a young Marine stationed on the southwest side of Da Nang, near Hill 327 (Freedom Hill) and the airbase. Since I was in a Motor Transport Company, I was gone from there most of the time and only got to visit the orphanage a few times. Those times I did go were wonderful experiences, playing with the kids, helping with the maintenance around the orphanage, and getting away from the normal daily grind. I grew up on a farm in Texas, and came from a big family, so seeing the kids helped fill the void that I was experiencing and loved every opportunity to put a smile on a kid's face. I can only imagine what a hard life it was having no parents in the middle of a war, and I can only say I am so glad you made it. I hope you are having a wonderful life, and wish I could see you and give you a big hug, just like we did with the kids at the China Beach Orphanage.
Thank you so much for contacting me. Please keep in touch.
Ronnie D. Foster

Sent: Thursday, March 29, 2007

Subject: RE : Re: China Beach orpahange

Dear Ronnie
Thank you very much for your reply. I have pleasure to read your e-mail. Thank also for Bob Martin's address, I'm going to write him. I a m in touch with Dave Ekardt, a former Marine who know China Beach orphanage and sent me photos and the story of this orphanage. I give you his e-mail if you want to contact him and share memories.
Let's keep in touch
Dorothée


Sent:
Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Subject: Documents about China Beach Orphanage - Danang

Dear Ronnie 

I found in my database an interesting documents concerning China Beach Protestant Orphanage located in Danang and sent kindly for me by Dave Ekardt, a former soldier who served in Danang.

 I have pleasure to send you this docuement for your own information.

It is a letter from Reverand Gordon H Smith ho was director of the UNITED WELFARE AND RELIEF SERVICES (UWM). This document written in the earlier of 70 ' s redraws the history of this orphanage and needs to help this orphanage.

 Best wishes

 Dorothee

Response from Dave Ekardt

Hi Ronnie,
I received your email from Dorothee. She contacted me over a year ago when she came across my website with pictures of the orphanage. You have a real nice website and there were some familiar places in your pictures. About a week before we got pulled out in April 1971, I got to go on a 'cultural tour' and we visited the orphanages. I always wondered what happened to them and was glad to see that they survived. I was in 1st Radio Battalion, (Signals Intelligence). I started out on Freedom HIll where one of our main outposts had the top of the hill. We survived Typhoon Kate's 135mph winds there. Then I went out to one of our of sites (radio direction finding) on a small hilltop observation post on hill 119. A few months later I was out at our DF site at FSB Ross, spent some time at LZ Baldy, and then back to FLC to pack up for the unit's redeployment to Hawaii. My website is going through some changes as soon as my tech guy gets freed up. The site is
http://www.freehomepages.com/radiobn/
Take care and Semper Fi,
Dave

   

China Beach Orphanage (responses)

(Bob Martin, please contact Le Chau Esther if possible - lechau.esther@gmail.com)

***

March 4, 2011
Le Chau Esther - lechau.esther@gmail.com
Dear Mr. Ronnie Foster,

I am writing this to thank you for the photos you took at China Beach Orphanage. They are so precious to me, and I think to the orphans as well. Everything was in chaos when we were forced to leave the place. We were unable to bring with us anything. Right after we left, everything in the orphanage was stolen and destroyed. I cried when I looked at the picture of the Chapel, our beloved chapel, with Simone Haywood's little white Honda car in front of it. That was the place where we went every Sunday morning or whenever we wanted the Lord to share with us our sadness, our sufferings, our
sorrows and even our happiness. It is very nice of you to keep these photos until today and put them on your website, so that we can see again the place where I worked nearly four years and where the orphans spent their childhood. All the
orphans, I dare say that, cherish the time they were brought up there. We always talk about that time whenever we have a chance to meet. We only regret that we can't retain the photos we have taken at the orphanage. That's why we appreciate your kindness and thoughtfulness to put the photos on the Internet. I'll download and have them developed to show the orphans. I want to see if they can recognize you, who loved them and cared for them. They have a very good memory about what ever happened to them.
    Several of them are now living in mountainous areas, some in Danang and some in their native village, if you are still wondering where they are now. I go to their mountainous villages almost every summer. I came there to visit them, to go to Church with them, and especially to attend their son's or daughter's weddings. We are always very happy to see each other and have plenty of things to talk about, most of which are about "hidden stories" happening then in the orphanage, which make us laugh a lot.. If you ever have a chance to come back to Vietnam, I will take you there to see them. Thank you again, Mr Ronnie Foster, for your great love and kindness to our orphanage.
May God bless you and your family abundantly.
Sincerely,
Le Chau Esther

My reply:
Hello Le Chau. I am so glad you found the website with the pictures. It is so personally satisfying that my old pictures can bring joy to others. I wish I could remember more about the orphanage, but as you know, we were pretty busy just doing our jobs and only got to visit the orphanage every week or two. I enjoyed every minute of it. I was still just a kid myself, even though I was a Marine. I can only imagine what life was like after the war ended and could only hope and pray that you all were okay.
I would love to come visit you and meet some of the "kids", but that costs a lot of money and I'm just a working guy. Maybe some day. You are more than welcome to use any of the pictures at any time. I hope some of the kids in the pictures will be able to see them. I hope you are doing well. Thanks again, and please write me every once in a while and let me know how you're doing.
Thank you and God Bless.

On the same day I received the email from Le Chau Esther, I got the following email:
Hi!  
I came across your website when looking up China Beach orphanage and I am e-mailing you in hopes that you or someone you know (i.e., Bob Martin) would remember (or know someone who may remember) a Montagnard/Vietnamese orphan girl named Muon from the China Beach orphanage who was there from the age of about three (1963'ish) until she was 12 (1972) when she was adopted and sent to live with her new family in the states?! 
I know this is a stab in the dark, but this girl is my older sister, now named Sarah, who came to live with us in Minnesota and I would love to hook up with someone who knew her to find out more information, especially as it sounds like she would be one of the few actually adopted out of that orphanage and likely had family who had to place her there! 
Thank you for any help you can provide! 
Respectfully,
Mary Wald

 I passed the information on to Le Chau Esther and heard back from her the next day:

Sat Mar 5 3:42 am
Le Chau wrote:
Dear Mr. Ronnie Foster,
Did I write and tell you that I know Muon that Ms. Mary Wald mentioned in her letter to you, that you forwarded to me? Thank God that we can hear something about Muon since the day she was adopted by a nice American family. Thank you very much, Mr. Ronnie Foster , for writing to me and forwarding Ms. Wald's e-mail to me. I phoned Muon's aunt and she was so glad to hear about this. I have written to Ms Mary Wald (and to Rev. Bill Shuler as well,) and am waiting eagerly to hear from Ms. Mary Wald.
Thank you again, Mr. Ronnie Foster, for all that you've done, and May God bless you. Next time we will talk about your visit to VN. It's not very expensive as you may think
Sincerely,
Le Chau


Sat Mar 5, - 7:08 pm
Le Chau wrote:
Dear Mr. Ronnie Foster,
I read the e-mail Ms. Mary Wald wrote to you, mentioning Muon, once an orphan at China Beach Orphanage and was adopted by a nice American family. I wrote to her three times until today, but have never heard from her since then. I wonder if my e.mails have got lost on the way. I would appreciate if you could send her my latest e mail so that she would know I could give her some information about Muon's relatives
here, as she requested. Thank you very much always for your great love and kindness, Mr. Ronnie Foster. May God be with you and your family.
Dear Ms Mary Wald,
I've written you twice after reading the e.mail you wrote to Mr. Ronnie Foster, asking about Muon, who was adopted by a nice American
family in 1972. I know Muon, and I also know Muon's closest relatives here, Dinh thi Manh and Dinh thi Tuoi, who were brought to the China Beach Orphanage together with Dinh Thi Muon. Her parents were killed in the war. We haven't heard from Muon since she was adopted, except a photo sent by her new parents right after she arrived. We would appreciate if you could get contact with Muon and tell her we
wish to hear from her and know how she's been doing since then. Rev. Bill Shuler and Mr. Ronnie Foster have received my e-mails and have written back as well. I wonder if my e.mails to you got lost on the way. So please write if you receive this.
We are looking forward to hearing from you.
May God's Blessings be yours.
Le Chau

Sat. Mar 5, 2011 -  7:47 pm
Le Chau wrote:
I am sending you one of the latest photos I took with former orphans on my trip to PLeiku and Kontum to visit them. They are now living in
mountainous areas. You surely met them and probably played with them when you came to visit the orphanage as they were brought there during the 1960s. I am the one who was wearing black pull over. The cottage (whatever you call it, it is called "nha rong" in Vietnamese, a kind of special house of the mountainous people, so that wild animals can't come up to steal their food) was built by the tall
one (in red shirt) and his friends. He is now the chief of the tribal village up there. The nha rong is located up on a small hill where young people gather to sing or dance on special occasions. It's also the place where they can come to study together. I am not good at using computer, so don't hesitate to tell me if you don't receive the photo I mention. I'll try again.
As ever,
Le Chau

China Beach Alumni 2011

 

 

On Sunday I heard from Mary Wald:

Sun. Mar 6, 2011 – 5:42 am
Mary Wald wrote:
Thank you so very much for quickly getting the word out - I cannot believe I have been able to get in touch so quickly with Le Chau who knew Sarah (Muon)!  I was unable to get back as quickly myself as my Father had an unexpected surgery and so I have been away. I will surprise Sarah with a phone call tonight to give her Le Chau's phone numbers! 
Thank you again for your help - I know it will mean alot to Sarah!!!
Respectfully,
Mary 

The response from Le Chau:

Sun Mar 6 7:20 pm

I am in a hurry now. But your very nice letter urges me to write this and tell you I have got contact with Mary Wald and Muon Sarah, her older sister, just phoned me. It 's a miracle, Mr. Ronnie Foster, and we do appreciate your help in this. Muon Sarah is also trying to contact her aunt in Danang, but it's hard because her aunt can't speak English and Muon forgets lots of Vietnamese. Will write you more later. I am glad that you like the picture. God be with you and your family, Ronnie Foster.
As ever,
Le Chau  

In the meantime I heard from Mike and Kimberly Delaney:

Bill Shuler was Kim's foster brother in CA when she first came to the U.S.  Bill was the son of Ruth Smith (later Ruth Shuler) married to Jack Shuler.  Kim lived with them for just over 1 year while dozens of other Vietnam orphans came and went usually within a couple of weeks thru this home.  Kimberly was very excited to re-connect with Bill. 
We have also made contact with several China Beach folk's including Le Chau who was the China Beach Orphanage translator for 4 years.  Le Chau says she was known as Co Chau. You may know her? Kimberlyly has asked me to contact you and ask if we can get any images you have of the Orphanage for her treasured scrap books? 
'The Ten Dangerous Years' by Laura and Gordon Smith can usually be found thru Amazon used book's listings.  Just be patient.  My neighbor found one just recently.  Also used Christian book stores especially in MI seem to have them.  Moody Press was the publisher. 
We will eventually get some images to share!  Kimberly was diagnosed with Acute Myloid Leukemia back in November and has been in and out of the Hospital battling this ailment.  She is so far doing great.  Kimberly goes in for a bone marrow transplant March 21.  We are certainly Praying for divine intervention since this is medical science's only cure. 
Once again THANK YOU for the web site it has made a difference!

Peace Mike Delaney
I forgot to mention that we are currently copying the Gordon and Laura Smith biography documentary from VHS to DVD.  We would be pleased to send you a copy.  Please email me your home number, address and which format (VHS or DVD) you prefer.  This is a fantastic story of how Gordon and Laura Smith brought the Gospel message to a lost people and how that message is still alive today.  Many images of Vietnam not often seen or perceived by the U.S. There are 2 images of my wife Kimberly in the documentary.  One with a General Walt or Dewalt?  She is sitting on his lap.  Just can't remember the name right now.  Second among other orphans playing at the Orphanage. 
Kimberly would like to give you a call and talk too!
Peace Mike Delaney
Mike and Kimberly Delaney
Elmhurst  IL

On Monday I got a phone call from Kimberly and Mike Delaney in Chicago. Kimberly thanked me for posting the pictures and how they had brought together so many people around the world. In 1969 her village was destroyed by VC, murdering everyone in the ville, including her entire family. She was left for dead with a serious head wound, either bullet or bayonet. Two days later a Marine unit found the bodies piled up in a trash dump. As they began to separate the bodies a baby was found in the pile still alive. It was in the month of July, so the Marines named her Julie and took her to a hospital. When she recovered, she was sent to the Protestant Orphanage (China Beach) Da Nang.

 

From Le Chau
Dear Mr. Ronnie Foster,
I think I must write this to send you again my deep gratitude for your kindness expressed through your website. First of all, the pictures you took during your time in Vietnam have brought up to us lots of good memories.
Secondly, the time you took to write to me, and then sent me Mary Wald's letter searching for her older sister has resulted very well in
urging me to write back to Mary Wald and therefore got in touch with Muon Sarah, who was adopted from China Beach Orphanage in 1972 by a nice American family. Mary Wald gave Muon Sarah my telephone number, so she was able to call me, which formed a connect which had been broken for nearly 40 years. Muon's auntie here, Dinh thi Manh, was sleepless the whole night after I told her that I had got contact with Mary Wald, thanks to Mr Ronnie Foster. And the next morning, she cried when I told her Muon Sarah just called me. Sarah said she was so excited as she couldn't believe that she was able to get contact with someone from China Beach  Orphanage, and thanks to that, with her own family. We must thank you for this, Mr. Ronnie Foster.
Thirdly, again through your website, I could get contact with Mike and Kimberly Delaney. Kimberly was also once an orphan at the China Beach Orphanage, adopted also in 1972 by a generous American family. Mike wrote me at once after receiving my letter. He knew that his wife Kimberly would be very pleased to be able to get contact with someone from China Beach Orphanage, who knows her and her case. Rev. Bill Shuler was also very helpful in giving me more information about the Delaney family. Kimberly's call to me the night before assured me that what her husband said was true. She was very glad to hear my voice again. I wish I could come to see the Delaneys. I admired their efforts in the way they live and serve God, the way they take care of their four children when both of them have lost their sight. I really thank God
for being with them and giving them strength to overcome all difficulties and obstacles in life. I do know that you are very busy, so thank you very much again for everything you have taken your time to do for us. May God bless you and your family abundantly. Thank you very much for your very nice letter. I thought I was reading an emotional letter from a G.I. ! It is so generous and considerate of you to have such thoughtful feelings. I am proud now to know a good person that I think it's hard to find on earth, which makes my life more meaningful.
I think you really can imagine how excited we were to be able to get contact with people we had lost touch with in almost 40 years, and you
will understand how grateful we are to you. We do hope your website will be, as it has been,  a bridge to link more wonderful relations. Several former orphans have called me lately to share the happiness of finding Dinh thi Muon Sarah and Nguyen thi Cong Kimberly Delaney, who are their friends as they came from the same orphanage.
Therefore, I would like to ask if there is, in the future, anyone who reads your website and asks about an orphan in China Beach Orphanage,
would you mind informing me, as you had done in Muon Sarah's case? I believe there will be more, because at that time, there were more than
300 orphans in the orphanage and each of them had a sponsor from the U.S (some in Germany and Britain), either a family or a Church.
Through their letters, I could see that they really loved and cared for their sponsored child, and I would understand if they wanted to
know what their "child" were doing and where they were now. And the orphans here would be very excited to get contact again with their
sponsors. Because three of the sponsors from the U.S did come back to Danang and looked for their "children". They found them, eventually,
and all were so thankful to God for helping them.
As always,
Le Chau

 

*********

Jan 11, 2011
II happened upon a blog that you set up with photos of the China Beach Orphanage. I noticed a blog entry in which a Mike Delaney mentioned that his wife Kimberly had been at the orphanage and was adopted by an Ivan Fuller. I believe this is the orphan that lived with my mother, my brother and me when she was rescued by US marines after her entire village was killed. My mother, Ruth Shuler (at the time Ruth Smith) placed her in the home of a military chaplain by the last name of Fuller. Her name was Cong but she was called Peacock (this was actually her sister's name but someone told the marines it was her name mistaking her for her sister). My mom raised the funds to get her surgery for her eye. Due to malnutrition her eye was such that she wore a metal cover over it and needed to sit close to the television set to see. I would love to get back in touch with her if there is a way to reach her or have her reach me. Thank you for your help! God bless you.
Rev. Bill Shuler
lisabillshuler@aol.com

***************

January 11, 2010
My wife Kimberly spent time at China Beach Orphanage from age 3 to around 9 before coming over to the U.S. and being adopted eventually by a Navy Chaplan named Ivan Fuller.  Kimberly was known as Nueng Te Cong there and had a serious eye problem.  She lost her entire family and was a sole survivor of her village.  We have a decent collection of literature and photo's to share.  I know Kimberly would love to talk to others and share experiences.  We now have 4 children and they too like these stories.  Are you aware that Stanley Smith created a documentary video which contains some great photo's of China Beach Orphanage?  The video is a life Biography of his father Gordon Smith and his time spent in VietNam.  Please feel free to contact us. 
Peace Mike and Kimberly Delaney
Elmhurst IL 60126

January 26, 1010
Stanley Smith of United World Missions could get you a copy of the Documentary.  The Documentary is about his parents Gordon and Laura Smith who were instrumental in building and maintaining China Beach Orphanage.  Try Stanley at
smith9359@bellsouth.net and find out what it takes to get a copy it is quite moving and Kimberly appears twice in the Documentary.  One is a still shot on a U.S. General's lap!  Kimberly needs to sort out all her pictures etc. and decide what and how to share them.  She still retains her original China Beach Orphanage clothes believe it or not!  Our 2 youngest girls get a kick out of those.  We also have a picture of the new wing which on your web site is under construction after it was complete.  Amazing we have any of this at all.  I also think you should hunt down a copy of a book no longer in print titled 'The Ten Dangerous Years' written by Gordon and Laura Smith and published by Moody Press.  This is a great view of the war thru the eyes of the Missionaries and local Vietnamese.  Chapter 25 is all about Kimberly! 
Appreciate the invite from TX and we also invite you to come meet us if ever near Chicago.  We are very busy with 4 kids but will eventually get around to posting some pic's.  

Peace Mike Delaney

***
 

Sent: Sunday, October 08, 2006 9:36 PM
Subject:
CHINA BEACH ORPHANAGE MEMORIES

Dear Ronnie,
The other day, I found your site when I somehow got it into my mind to do an Internet search on "China Beach Orphanage" and wound up with a collection of pictures taken presumably by you during your time in Vietnam in 1966-69. I just about fell out of my chair. I also shed a few tears.
The only reason I did a search on "China Beach Orphanage" was because I worked almost daily at China Beach Orphanage in 1972-74 through United World Mission, which was sponsoring the orphanage at the time. Their field office was headquartered in Da Nang. I first came into contact with the orphanage in the spring of 1970 when I was working as an Army Chaplain's assistant at 37th Signal Battalion, near the air base. One of my chaplains took a great interest in the orphanage, and we raised nearly $1000 from our unit to help out there. I began sponsoring a little Montagnard boy named A Mot, who I continued to sponsor until the fall of the Saigon government in April 1975. Since then, I have lost track of him and everyone else connected with China Beach Orphanage, and like you, I have often wondered what became of everybody.
Down through the years, China Beach Orphanage has often come into my thoughts, but I don't often speak of it because it has little meaning for much of anyone else. It has been years since I have come across anyone who has had any experience with China Beach Orphanage. Since you were stationed around Da Nang before I arrived, it is interesting to note how things appeared in earlier years.
I definitely recognize some of the kids. One, a little boy named Hao, looks only five years old in your photo. I knew him when he was about 10. Another boy, Bon, looks about 8 or 9, but I picture him in my mind as a teenager. The picture of the girl standing on the beach is a bit fuzzy, but it looks like it might be a girl that was later in an English class I was teaching for the older kids in 1972-73.
In the photo of the kids on the swings, I note in the corner the beginnings of a new structure. Don't know when that photo was taken, but in the end, that structure turned into a four-story building that housed the babies, toddlers and under-5 group, the orphanage dining hall, the girls' dormitories, and living area for Diana Read and Simone Heywood, the nurses (besides the Vietnamese nurse that everyone called "Co Y," or "Miss Nurse"). When I first came to the orphanage about May 1970, that building was already finished and in use.
In the photo labeled "classrooms," that building ultimately held apartments for the orphanage director, Pastor Hut, and his family, plus an apartment for a staff worker, and boys' dormitories. In fact, almost the entire L-shaped building became the boys' dormitories.
While I was there, the orphanage had about 300 kids, about 25-30% of whom were from the mountain tribes, most of them Jeh, but also Bru and Cua. Just after I arrived in 1972, the Easter Offensive began, and about 30 mountain tribe kids were brought down from Kontum. Because they spoke only Jeh and not much Vietnamese, they were housed in a separate building throughout the entire time I was there.
While I worked at China Beach, school classes were held on the ground floor under the chapel, seen in the first photo. Off the orphanage grounds, and down the road about a half mile or so, extra classroom buildings were built to house the overflow of kids.
In 1973, the nurses arranged to have the girls who were interested in becoming nurses to participate in a kind of "candystriper" program out at the children's hospital. As far as I remember, about 8 of the older girls participated, staying out at the hospital in special living quarters for the rest of the summer.
In 1972-74, my duties were varied. I was the mission bookkeeper, but I also had duties at the orphanage. As I have already said, I taught a daily English class for some of the older kids. They were very sharp and a lot of fun. They were motivated, and they picked up English fast because they wanted to read books in English. Often, they practiced their English with me.
Sometimes, I was asked to speak at the chapel services (with the aid of a translator) or to help out with their summer camp. One boy was interested in taking piano lessons, and since I have taken a couple years of piano lessons myself, I gave him a start.
As I say, I arrived just about the time of the Easter Offensive, and the orphanage kids were involved in collecting canned food and other items through the Vietnamese churches to distribute to the refugees. I helped to drive them out to the various locations to distribute the food directly to the people.
Also, I wrote a regular monthly newsletter for the sponsors, sent out through the Vietnamese secretary who did the translating of letters between the kids and their sponsors. When the kids got sick, I drove them to the children's hospital out at Hoa Khanh, north of the city, and picked them up after they recovered.
The times I most fondly remember was just "hanging out" with the kids, sometimes trying out my bumbling Vietnamese with them. I joined them in giving swings, playing volleyball, walking them to the beach, taking them on little trips. Every Sunday afternoon, I would load up about 20 of the little kids in the VW bus and take them around Monkey Mountain or Marble Mountain, around the streets of Da Nang, over to the air base (where we knew a number of Air Force personnel who were still there), or over to my place where I gave them cookies and soft drinks. Took a load of them by boat to the north side of Da Nang Bay, where our mission had another small orphanage of Montagnard kids. The beach there is very beautiful and the scenery very tropical. Every week, Pastor Hut made a list of the kids who would go on these little trips so that everyone who wanted got a chance. We always carried a couple of the adults or older kids to help with the supervision.
As you well note, the kids didn't have much in the way of toys, but they sure made up for it with the most vivid imaginations I ever saw anywhere. I remember a day when I saw a group of Montagnard boys make an elaborate set of roads and bridges and villages, with piles of sand, twigs and tin cans used as cars, jeeps and trucks. There was a certain unspoiled quality in this that I found extremely attractive. They were still very happy in spite of their lack of material things.
When you spend a lot of time with kids with whom there is not adequate communication through spoken language, you develop a kind of sixth sense when it comes to communication. None of us knew each other's language very well, but we somehow developed means of speaking, understanding and trust that went beyond words. It was "soul to soul" communication, which is somehow different and deeper, going beyond cultural differences. After a while, the distinction between Vietnamese and American broke down, and it was just person-to-person. It is a fantastic experience, and I haven't duplicated it in quite the same way since.
Over time and almost daily contact, I think we developed real feelings of love for one another. Sometimes the little kids would run up to me, throw their arms around me and start crying about something that I didn't quite understand. But I knew they were sad, and that was enough. Somehow, something nonverbal got communicated to them, so they just continued to pour out their hearts until they got it out of their systems (and dampened my shirt). After a time of quiet and taking refuge in my lap, they would suddenly revive and return to their play.
Sometimes, it worked the other way around. Occasionally, I would apparently show some sign that I was upset or sad about something, and the most sensitive of them would pick it up. They would sit next to me, obviously trying to comfort me with a touch or a look in only the way little kids can do it. It was pretty hard to stay upset after that.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Anyway, thank you for making your photos available, and thank you for letting me express myself. The photos bring back a lot of fond memories. Like you, after 1975, I lost complete track of the kids. In the months following the communist takeover, I went through several months of grief, knowing their lives, already uprooted, would change again. I wonder where they are and what has happened since.
With best wishes to you,
Bob Martin

Sent: Tuesday, October 17, 2006 9:05 AM
Subject:
CHINA BEACH ORPHANAGE (CONTINUED)

Dear Ronnie,
Your "Welcome Home" struck me. During the war period, I actually lost a couple of friends because of the time I spent in Vietnam. One person in particular was very hostile towards me. He had always been a very amiable companion before that. Other people took issue with me, saying I should have taken off and gone to Canada. After those experiences, I was very cautious about who I talked to about my Vietnam experiences.
My last e-mail turned out so much longer than I expected that I failed to say everything I intended to say.
For example, were you aware of the adoption policy of China Beach Orphanage? For all the orphans there, very few of them were actually adopted out to Americans or anyone else. The reason for that is because although the orphans may not have had parents, they did have other relatives-older siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. The Vietnamese concept of "family" is much more inclusive than our western concept. We may have been agents in caring for the kids, but we didn't have the last word.
Often, I saw relatives of this or that child who would show up for a visit. Many of the kids stayed at the orphanage because of economics. The family situation was so precarious that they could not support anyone else. They had no choice but to leave one or more children in an orphanage-not a pleasant choice, but we were there to help. Under such circumstances, we had no right to take these kids and send them abroad unless the relatives gave specific permission for us to do so. Sometimes that happened, but not very often. Most often, the relatives looked forward to the day when conditions would improve and the children could return home.
There was one little girl named Thanh that everyone wanted to adopt. She was about 2 or 3 when I arrived and about 5 when I left. She was a gorgeous little girl with a bright disposition, and it was understandable why she charmed everyone. She was a true orphan with no known relatives outside the orphanage. However, she had four older siblings at the orphanage who were very close-knit. The older ones said, "You may adopt Thanh, but only if you adopt the rest of us." Of course, that never happened.
The only ones who were actually adopted out were those whose relatives gave permission or those who had no known relatives. Given the events that happened later, one may say that was a mistake. But at the time, it seemed the right thing to do, and it wasn't always clear where we sat that America was going to "cut and run" from Vietnam. It helped the relatives and the government to trust us better. Unlike the Catholic orphanage down the road which did a lot of adoptions, especially of babies and toddlers, the number of babies and toddlers at China Beach Orphanage was relatively small. Many of the children you knew were in late childhood or even teenagers by the time I arrived-not good prospects for adoption.
Another matter that we faced was the religious matter. Did you know that China Beach Orphanage was a Christian orphanage (specifically, Protestant)? As you probably know, Vietnam is primarily Buddhist, and probably most of the kids at China Beach Orphanage came from Buddhist backgrounds. So how did that work out, you may ask.
Actually, quite well, in ways people may not expect. The general attitude in Vietnamese culture is very fatalistic. What happens to a person in this life, whether good or bad, is the result of one's fate or karma, and the karma of one's ancestors. There is no way a person can escape or redeem it. It must simply be played out until it has all been paid. According to the general culture, the suffering that has happened to these kids because of war is the result of bad karma. There's nothing they can do about it. In a time of war, this can lead to some pretty pessimistic thinking, even for kids.
Christianity, on the other hand, does not have such answers to the problem of suffering. While the reasons for suffering are not so clear cut, Christianity basically says that all suffering may be redeemed. None of us escapes evil, but evil does not have to turn us into victims. It may be transformed into something with good results. This was a message that was conveyed to the kids at China Beach Orphanage, and many (not all) welcomed and adopted it for themselves. It gave them optimism and a strength of character and purpose that enabled them to forge on in spite of the evil circumstances of their lives.
This has practical applications. When you no longer feel bound by karma or fate, you are more open to positive experiences. Last time, I mentioned the eight girls involved in the hospital nursing program. All were Christian girls. Though they came to China Beach Orphanage because of unfortunate circumstances, they wound up having an experience that opened them to new possibilities for their lives that they may not have considered otherwise. This doesn't justify the evil circumstances, but says that they may be harnessed to good ends.
As I have implied, there was no compulsion placed upon the kids to become Christians, though many of them did. Those who left the orphanage may have reverted back to their Buddhist upbringing. On the other hand, some of the kids definitely had an influence upon their relatives. The changes in their lives moved the relatives to also change and become Christian.
I also did not tell you that I, like you, am also a writer, although I am not published like you-at least not yet. Like you, I am working on a novel, also placed in Vietnam during the war years, though in my case, all my characters are Vietnamese. Americans show up only incidentally (no baby killers, by the way), but just enough to give a sense of the flow of our coming and going and the flow of history that is common knowledge about the war.
A number of the characters are based roughly upon the people I knew at China Beach Orphanage, and about half the book takes place in an orphanage whose setting is similar to that of China Beach Orphanage (although I give it a different name). But the book goes back further, to their village lives and what brought them to the orphanage in the first place.
The title (at the moment) is "A Voice from Heaven". The title comes from the central thesis of the book. The main character, Huynh, in the first chapter, seems to hear a voice from heaven telling him to focus upon a particular girl in his village named Dao. Of course, he wonders if he is hearing things or engaging in wishful thinking. One thing leads to another and another, until he gets the answer to his question. Before he does, his village comes under control by the VC. Americans free his village, but for a time, he and his family wind up in two refugee camps. He also experiences street life, the orphanage, and just as it looks as if he is about to return to his village, Saigon falls and he winds up on a fishing boat. In the midst of all this, he experiences conflict within his own family.
When I began working on this novel, I had no idea how difficult it would be. The process has taken far longer than I would have dreamed. If I had known in the beginning how long and difficult it would be, perhaps I wouldn't have started it. Now, I am far enough along, there is no looking back. The challenges of understanding culture and Vietnamese perceptions of Americans and themselves are really difficult. As you know, finding accounts of the war that don't give a leftist interpretation of our involvement are not easy to find. But the non-leftist interpretations are out there, and a new generation of writers is emerging that is not so committed to the so-called "conventional wisdom." There are also some very good and interesting personal accounts and translated literature written by Vietnamese people that give a lot of cultural clues, and little by little, I have pieced together the thousands of pieces of the puzzle. After sixteen years, things are finally coming together, and one day, it will definitely be finished.
Again, this e-mail is getting longer than I expected, so I better draw it to a close.
With best wishes,
Bob Martin

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