December 2023
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Before Saigon: Tom Hanna

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

Tom Hanna

Tom Hanna (1960-62)

We traveled to Saigon in July of 1960. My father was a Lt. Col. in the US Army Ordinance Corp. When he got his orders to be Chief of Ordinance military adviser to the South Vietnamese Army, we were living in Hinsdale, Illinois. He was completing his MBA at the University of Chicago, studying in an Army-sponsored program. I was finishing the seventh grade, my sister Sandy the forth, Patti the first, and my little brother Bob was a preschooler.

When we heard that we were going to Saigon, Sandy and I got out the atlas and found French Indo-China on a map. The atlas was obviously out of date. I do remember that I had recently seen a documentary that chronicled the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu and the subsequent division of Vietnam in to North and South.

We left home the day my father graduated from the University of Chicago. We traveled to Kentucky to visit Mother’s relatives and then South Texas where Dad grew up.

After about a month we continued our journey, driving to Los Angeles where we spent a few days at Disneyland. Our next stop was somewhere close to San Francisco where we stayed with family friends. We were driving a 1957 Ford Fairlane station wagon with a broken air-conditioner. Within a day or two the Old Man took the car to be shipped to Saigon and we all went to Travis Air Base ready to depart on the next stage of our journey.

The plane was a tri-tailed Constellation four engine prop like the ones that TWA flew. It was operated by Military Air Transport Service (MATS) and piloted by a US Navy crew. No stewardess on this flight! The trip took three full days. We stopped in Hawaii, Wake Island, Guam, Clark Field, and then Saigon. I remember the rusting WWII landing craft on the beach at Wake Island, the ‘C’ rations they passed out on the fight, but mostly the never-ending expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

We finally landed in Saigon. When we got off the plane it was so hot it felt like we were walking into hell. Little did I know at the time that the next adventure in our lives had just begun.

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