September 2023
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Before Saigon: Frank Stoddard

by Admin and Richard Turner, Contributing Editor
© SaigonKidsAmericanCommunitySchool.Com

Frank Stoddard

Frank Stoddard (1960-62)

The year before I went to Saigon, my father placed me in a boarding school run by the Benedictines.

Have you ever heard of the Great Imposer?

Well, I missed him, he was at the school the year before I got there. He was discovered and quickly left, but everyone was still talking about him (Tony Curtis latter played his part in a movie).

That was the year, I was a sophomore, and was I seriously considering becoming a priest.

I’m glad I decided to head off to the “Paris of The Orient” instead.

In January of 1960 I would start to regularly take a Greyhound bus from St. Martins in Lacy, Washington up to Fort Lewis to get my required Vaccines. On one of those trips I ran into one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen. She was the younger sister of my friend Bob from my Teheran days. Bob and I used to listen to Buddy Holly music, over and over again. This beautiful girl and I talked for about 15 minutes at the Fort Lewis Bus Depot and then we departed and never talked or saw each other ever again. Oh well!

That January of 1960, I decided that when I arrived in my new place I would be smoking. I wanted to fit in. O.K. so I planned to start smoking six months before I started. I have always planned ahead of time whenever I was going to do something new. Thank goodness I also planned to quit on Thanksgiving Day 1986 when in Stuttgart. Gosh, that was so hard to do. The dumbest thing I ever did was to start smoking in June of 1960 and the hardest thing I did was stop in 1986.

In June (1960) I took a bus to Seattle and then transferred on to Spokane. I visited my two sisters JoAnn and Jane (they have both died). I then took a greyhound to Butte where my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Gill picked me up. I spend a few days in Anaconda visiting them. This part of Montana seemed like home and will probably always be home for me. My dad was born and buried there. My sisters and brother (triplets) were born in this area. My oldest daughter was born in Bozeman and our son was born in Anaconda. I met Suzy in Anaconda and we were married in Missoula. I got my B.S. in Bozeman and never looked back — well sort of.

I then headed out on the bus to Idaho Falls. I arrived late in the evening in Idaho Falls so I was very hesitant to call anyone. I went across the street and stayed in what would be called a “flop house”. It was a dollar a night. Prostitutes were trying to pick up people and there were drunks passed out in the halls. The next morning I called Doris and said I’d just arrived in town. I stayed a few nights with my cousin Doris (Doris was a cousin, but because she was as old as my Mom I always thought of her as a Aunt.) Her two kids were my age. And visited many relatives in Idaho Falls and Rigby.

I flew from I.F. to San Francisco. I stayed in the Sir Francis Drake. I learned to take the Cable cars. I loved Fisherman’s wharf. I took a boat tour around Alcatraz. It was still a prison back then. I took many black and white photos with the camera (Petri) my folks had bought in the Saigon PX and sent to me. I used that same camera to take photos when I was stationed in South Vietnam with the Marine Corps. I still have it but I don’t know if it works.

I caught a flight with a connection through L.A. and then on to Honolulu.

In Hawaii I was able to connect with my friend Gordon Mau (from our Iranian days). He came down to the Halekulani where I was staying in what was at that time a bungalow with a kitchenette. (Very pricy at $11.00 a night). At the hotel I went to a cigarette machine (do you remember them?) and put in my quarter and bought a pack of Viceroy. I didn’t like them and switched to other brands, but thus started my 26 years of smoking! Ugh!

By the way, I had just missed a Mau family luau (party) but Gordon’s Aunt still had some leftovers. Thus I had my first Poi!

My last night and day in Hawaii I was alone.

I went to a park on the south side of Waikiki Beach. Hawaiian music was playing and hula girls were dancing and you could really smell the aroma of the flowers’. The girls allowed me to have my photo taken with them. Some stranger, with my camera, took pictures of the event while my arms were around them and with my hand touching the bare waists of the dancers. I still have those 35mm slides buried in one of the many boxes out in the garage and yes, for a young kid that was real spiffy!

I went up to a pineapple stand to get some fresh fruit. I gave her a silver dollar. She had never seen one before. I explained to her that was the only type of dollar that you would ever see in Montana. Folks there did not want the paper one. Thay wanted to feel the weight in their jeans, not something like paper that would just rot away! She took five of them from me. (Some of you might remember that about two doors down from the Majestic Hotel in Saigon, there was a “Black Market” store. They would not take my silver dollars.)

I then caught a JAL plane from Hawaii to Tokyo. We stopped in Wake to refuel. I insisted they let me deplane just to be in the same place where the Marines took a stand in 1941. Yes, I was a history buff even back then. I do not know what the Japanese stewardess thought about my comment, but they all seemed to like me, for they “doted” over me the whole flight. (Gosh, did I feel special and they were all so beautiful). Talk about feeling like a King. It is still in my memory as one of my best trips.

I won a cast iron Tea Pot by submitting the closest time to us crossing the International Date line — it was an Airline contest. Actually there was an adult American engineer that tied with me for the prize, so they gave us both a teapot. We still have it today. I’ve always thought this JAL flight was my favorite airline flight of all time. Do you have a favorite?

I arrived in Tokyo in the daylight morning hours. I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel downtown. There were many sign hanging on buildings and poles along the road. They said, “WE Do Not Want Ike or You!” (The President had a planned visit to Japan at the time and a nuclear ship was suppose to dock in Yokohama. Both events were canceled. The management of the hotel profusely apologized for my restrictions. They arranged a tour for the hotel guests that took us around the city, showed us the Diet Building and many of the other main attractions. The very lengthy tea ceremony is very much a special memory in my mind. My Aunt Ruth, latter received a letter of apology from the hotel saying they were sorry that her nephew was restricted to seeing their city because of the riots. Yes, I did see what was called the snake or dragon dances, but I did not fell threatened. I found it so mystical and exotic.

In the morning I went down to the hotel cafe for breakfast. While I was eating (at every breakfast) three Japanese girls would poke their heads out around a rice-paper curtain. When I would turn toward them, as I was seated and eating, I could see one head was on top of the other. When I looked at them, they quickly pulled their heads back from my view and they then seemed to giggle uncontrollably. Talk about my stereotypical image of young Japanese girls. Although I must admit, that their actions made me feel special and in an odd sort of way very manly.

I flew from Japan to Hong Kong on Air France. That airline always has such great food and drink! I debarked from the airplane in Hong Kong and up above on top of the air terminal was my Dad yelling out “Frankie. Here I am”. Do you remember when you came down the gangplank and walked across the tarmac to get into the airport? Well that was what this was. I looked up and felt so relaxed that my Dad was there to meet me.

The next three days were very special. I guess if there was a time a father and son could bond that was certainly the time. We ate and drank from little restaurants near the refugee camps to the floating restaurants — The World Of Suzie Wong was opened up to me. We had everything from noodles to Peking Duck (called Beijing today). We shopped for clothing to furniture and pictures. My wife and I still have the scrolls of a man and a woman of royalty that are in our bedroom above our bed. We also have the carved coffee table and bar that Dad bought and had it sent to Saigon. My little sister Mary has the Rosewood tables that have the pull out chairs.

We flew to Saigon on Air France.

Upon landing at Tan Son Nhut the doors opened to my new world and it was like a “Blast Furnace” hitting me straight in the face as we exited the plane. It was so hot on that June Day. But it was so cool to see my Mom and my little sister Mary Lu.

I think we arrived about 11:00 in the morning and about three in the afternoon, four American girls came a knocking at our house. They came to welcome me (and to “check out” the new guy). Now, I’d just come from an all boys’ boarding school and so I must admit that this moment became very special in my mind. All of these gals were so beautiful — Oh My Gosh, I can never explain how I felt!

Later that evening Larry Smith came by and introduced himself. He said he would take me around and introduce me to the other kids. My Dad gave me 500 Pee in case I needed it. We went to the Haznams house where several “Saigon Kids” were hanging out. Dini was there and so was her boy friend Jim Calkins. I met Veny and her friend Joe Miller. I thought she looked luscious, but Joe, well, he was just O.K. — LOL. Several other kids were there. It was on the second floor of the Haznam’s house — perhaps a bedroom — many kids were dancing to rock’n roll music. I got into a conversation with a guy by the name of Bob Layson. We talked about the latest hits. I remember we specifically talked about Bo Diddley and Conway Twitty!

My first night in Saigon, the scent of women was in the air (it had been awhile since I was around girls), I was smoking (and feeling “smoking hot”), Rock and Roll was playing and folks were dancing, and I was sixteen and waiting for it all to happen.

Saigon never let me down!

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