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“Chip” Chalmers Benedict Wood II Re-Connects With Saigon Kids

Hi Old Saigon Kids friends,

Wow, the Cercle! Great picture, and memories leap to mind from the distant past as if an endless ‘Whack a Mole’ game. I lived in Saigon the summers of ’58 & ’59 at 40 Phung Kai Quan, a block from the old cemetery. My first job was building model airplanes with a Vietnamese Air force propaganda guy out by Ton Son Nhut, and flying them for the Viet parents and kids that would come to watch on Sundays. Anybody remember that?

Who has more pictures? I’m writing a book that will included that era in spades, so please leap to the fore old Saigon Kids. See, part of the theme covers the types of people we SKs became, our sorrows, joys, defeats, and victories (etc) from the time we returned home, to today, with Vietnam now doing rather better than, say, it was at Tet, ’68. We were YEARS ahead of “the curve” back home, and that will be a valuable experience-base for the rest of our lives. And yep, it will make some homees, angry, jealous, and so on for ever. Well, we can educate them, and the ones that absolutely refuse to learn… 😉 That’s the pivot upon which our stories teeters. So please don’t be shy. My email address is Chalmers[@]asia.com . I live in China now, and doing great. Hope you are too.

Best Wishes to ALL Saigon Kids. In certain areas of world history, there is not another group even slightly as experienced as us, give or take: THEREIN WE RULE! No kidding. Think about that. 😉

Sincerely,

“Chip”
Chalmers Benedict Wood II
Anybody actually remember me? I was a funny-looking, very shy, and painfully quiet kid back then… 😉

8 comments to “Chip” Chalmers Benedict Wood II Re-Connects With Saigon Kids

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    Chip, were you in high school back then? I was there in Saigon from 58-60.Would love to help with the book, if needed.
    All the best.
    Suellen

  • Cathie McIntyre

    Chip,
    We didn’t know each other, and your family must have been the residents who lived in MY house just before we took it over in Oct 1959.

    When we lived at 40 rue Miche — or 40 Phunkg khac Khoan, there were five McIntyres: father Donald McIntyre, Dept. of State medical doctor; mother Jessie McIntyre, and three daughters– Cathie, Lynn, and Susan. We lived in the house for two years and loved it there. We enjoyed the badminton court and took care of baby elephants and monkeys in the yard. Our servants lived on site, except for Ap, our cook, who rode his bicycle to work every day.

    Steve Pryplesh took photos of the house several years ago. It’s still standing but looks quite different now.

    Next month I’ll visit former boyfriend Pierre Luvanvi in Paris. Pierre used to pick me up at 40 rue Miche on his Lambretta, and we spent afternoons at the Cercle Sportif.

    Pierre’s French mother was buried in the cemetery across the street. The cemetery no longer exists.

    As for me, I currently live in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and right now I am writing this from the apartment of friends in Belgrade, Serbia,

    Cheers,
    Cathie McIntyre
    cathiemcksa[@]gmail.com

  • Hi Saigon Kids,

    Thanks Suellen and Cathie! Sorry to be so slow. More later.
    Chip

    http://issuu.com/chalmerswood/docs/song_of_saigon5

  • Hi Suellen Oliver Campbell, Cathie, Lynn, and Susan McIntyre, Steve Pryplesh, and Pierre Luvanvi…
    It’s only been seven years since I last communicated, Good God! You are all grandparents, and retired by now? I’m up in the quiet green hills of West Virginia working on the first full draft of my book. I’ve chosen the shy and retiring title “American Messiah” as the Title. That should raise some sales generating fuss… You think? The cover is in the Smithsonian:
    .
    https://curiator.com/art/john-koch/family-group
    .
    Actually done in 1956-7. My fool brother Ramsay, Mom, Dad, me in Blue. The story goes from Europe in the Marshall plan, Manila in the Huk Rebellion, Saigon before, during, & after the war (twice now) and the Court of St. James in London during the Beetles hysteria. It’s not really about me, but what the readers learns, and how they react from that learning. I’m just an icon, like a taxi driver conducting the reader through life all over the world trying to do the right thing in the “first person omniscient”. That’s rather a different childhood etc different from staying in Podunk playing in Little League. Yhea, I’m a bit elitist about homies who know little of the world, but I deal with that in affectionate humor, not with put-downs.
    .
    One dark example, Dad advised Ike and Jack, a Harvard ’40 classmate, we could not win in Vietnam because occupation would not be as it had in island Japan, and after so many American sons died there, their mothers would vote against and stop it in protests etc. (Dad was quoted in the Pentagon papers I think with the figure of 60-80K dead) Dad had Jack ready to get out in the second term honeymoon. Then pro-war Johnson crushed Dad from his London Embassy job, and sent him back to the Central highlands as a lowly province advisor probably hoping he would get killed. Then my university acceptance and career plans vaporized, (I wanted to be a Colorado Senator) and into the Army and our war in Vietnam I was ushered. So I became a Special Forces Officer under the wings of family friends Ed Lansdale and Bill Colby: screw you Lyndon!
    .
    My first week in Qui Nhon at my “B” Team, my poor Commanding Officer, under orders from WDC no less, instructed me to give a briefing about how we were winning etc. It was a test from Lyndon, I heard. I just could not lie in front of several national TV crews filming for home TV, so I did my retard act. I was trembling too, for sure. It was swept under the rug, but the films still exists somewhere I think… 😉 Essentially, I did Homer Simpson: I kid you not.
    .
    Before a small crowd, I mumbled like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, dropped the charts and maps on the floor, knocked over the easel, stumbled around, actually dropped my Holy & Sacred Green Beanie on the floor, and most accidentally stumbled ON it by sheer retard-mistake, then with the whole room suddenly as quiet as a subterranean tomb, my deadly killer Green Beret laser eyes spotted a Communist North Vietnamese fly coming towards me from a hole in the window screen! My knees went to full kung foo flex, my body to cold hard steel, (4130 Chrome Molly) my eyes became as Jon Wayne’s, and at the most strategic micro-second, my lethal weapon hand lashed out like lightning to kill the commie fly that had invaded… Got him! Had to keep the secret gathering free from airborne ChiCom spies and saboteurs, yes/no? Suddenly my Commanding Officer spring forward like a tiger thanking me profusely, and I stumbled to the rear knocking several chairs adrift along the way.
    .
    You see, I was hoping Lyndon and his people would be tricked into viewing the films. I know many back in NYC & WDC would, including friends, and they would have a great time laughing themselves silly that night. Needless to say, there was a bubble of profound silence around for a few days, ‘cept for my Long Range Patrol Team and Phoenix Program buddies, with whom we laughed ourselves silly, out of sight, for the next year. Catch my drift? Still, did my jobs, some interesting, got decorated and so on, and went home.
    .
    Anyway all, been really busy, including a decade in Nanjing teaching and privately diplomatting. (is that a word? 😉 It was Uncle Ed long ago that suggested I could pursue my anthropology, teaching and dipling privately. And in fact, locals often TRUST a poor freebooter more than the pros, sometimes much more. However, and some of you have experienced, the pros can get really picky and jealous. It can be a situation. There is plenty of other darkness to the story, but the above is enough for now. It did happen that I asked Dad when I was four what the greatest job in the world was? He was feeling jolly, and said: “Well Chip, messiah and prophet, but retirement can be a problem.”
    .
    Nowz time to confess further: I’ve found many time, with a background like ours, I can often set things right when the homies are lost. In fact, Very English author PG Wodehouse’s character “Jeeves” has been my ideal for decades. To fully grasp my ambition and perhaps yours, think of yourself as Jeeves here, and the Homies as Berties in overseas situations here, until the Moose in the Club house door bit.

    Ok, I do need your help during this final phase, and sincerely hope you will rally round. The book could go to Hollywood, and there in many ways will be YOU up there on the silver screens of our little spinning blue and white planet.
    .
    Best regards, at you service,
    Your most humble and obedient ole Saigon Kid,
    .
    Chip
    Chalmers Benedict Wood II
    304-257-8359
    philosopher@usa.com
    40 PKQuan. Saigon ’58-59
    ;-D

  • This will be a bit unbelievable, but it is true, except for the last paragraph, probably. In an old Saigon way, its about YOU too, and all folks in Saigon in the Old Days. Excerpt from my up coming book. Please enjoy. Comments welcome! philosopher@usa.com

    Ben’s Bacon
    By Chalmers “Chip” Wood 4/21/18

    In August, 1957, my childhood drew to a close. Dad, known as “Ben” to his friends, was asked by Ike and both Dulles brothers, one running the Central Intelligence Agency, and the other the Department of State, to go to little Vietnam on the other side of our world. Dad was to try to avoid the looming war there. All feared it could possibly lead to a Cold war nuclear world war. He was to develop good liaisons with South Vietnam’s President Diem, and back channels with Ho Chi Minh’s people in the North as Roosevelt had in World War Two.

    Such was Dad’s bacon and eggs. He had become quietly loved throughout Europe during the Marshall Plan as a super star young diplomat able to charm birds off trees, slide fat envelopes of his own cash over or under a table in two shakes of a lamb tail, and solve a vexing Cold War problem by the third shake. We as a family had all joined into the passion of that amazing era. We were enchanted and enthralled as most everyone there was amid the ashes of World War Two, and the still reverberating echoes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “to change our world into a better place!”

    Dad’s dream was to be appointed our Ambassador to Paris, as had been his friend and mentor David K. Bruce. That was Dad’s bacon. That he spoke fluent French was his eggs, and that he had majored in European History back in the old days at Harvard before serving in Europe in WWII, was his hot morning coffee. Dad was great.

    Prior to his departure, a large delegation of powerful Vietnamese and wives came to Washington for a crucial South East Asia Treaty Organization conference. But for two frustrating weeks it had become a difficult and unhappy gathering in the steaming summer Washington heat. So, for a little holiday, the delegates and their wives were invited by Dad out of their secret hotels, and into our home to relax, refresh themselves in our cool and rolling forested hills west of Washington, and personally get to know “A Real American Family!” They were delighted.

    After the Secret Service had inspected our home for dangers etc, and radioed to the police our home was “safe”, the Vietnamese delegates arrived in a long procession of black government sedans. It was my job to take the wives up to my room, and show them all the little things that made up the life of a real live American boy. That had long been my designated junior diplomatic family job: Charmer Chip.

    The slender wives, the very cream of Vietnam’s womanhood, dressed in their long and colorful traditional diaphanously svelte Vietnam Ào Dài dresses, were for stunned ten year old me the most charming and beautiful creatures ever to walk this earth. So after all the introductions on our front porch, I lead them upstairs to my bedroom, sat them all on my bed, and made my best junior diplomatic welcoming speech: “Dear Ladies of Vietnam, welcome into my family home, and my American life. Please ask me ANY question you wish. Please! Do not be shy! I am here with you, and at your service! Those are my favorite pictures. There is Davey Crocket and his famous long rifle ‘Betsy’, that’s a B-52 taking off with JATO rocket assist, that’s a castle in Scotland…” And so it went, the hidden switch on my reading light, my study desk and school books, my short wave radio for listening to anywhere in the world, through the clothes in my dresser and closet, and so on through everything, which they examined as if detective and scientists. They “Oood, Ahhed”, chattered among themselves, and the Leading Lady asked their questions, such as which was my favorite book, and could they please see my shoes? By the time I had shown them everything right down to the toothbrushs in my bathroom, and I had answered all their questions, we were never to be forgotten friends for life.

    So I took them to our kitchen for their coup de grâce: a just carefully made, perfectly salted, buttered, touch of sugar southern styled whipped to fluffy cream steaming bowl of mashed potatoes. Our very American made General Electric Triple Whip Maschine Oder Ehrfurcht Und Wunder was whipping the creamed potatoes threateningly as I quickly dipped my practiced finger in between the whirling blades for a hot dollop of deliciousness to my mouth, and motioned for them to do the same.

    It was our calculated family kitchen-trick with guests: frighten them a little, then delight them. It would be a little memory they would take home to Vietnam, and tell friends about. The wives were genuinely frightened, shrinking back in alarm. They had never in their lives seen such a dangerous kitchen machine whipping away like a brazen gallon-sized dragon of unforgivingly hard white and chromium American steel. Naturally, I stepped boldly up to the menacing monster as Almighty God Zeus would to slay another lady-killing Dragon, reached up my manly United States arm, and switched it off.

    The wives hands darted up to cover their mouths, hiding their gasps of relief. So I turned it on again, took the Leading wife’s dainty hand, guided it up to the switch, and made her turn it off. Pink rushed to her cheeks, always a good sign with females, and she tittered like a Nightingale in moonlight.

    After much chatter, we all dipped in for a mutual nibble, looked all around at each other, raised our dolloping fingers to our mouths, and tasted together as one. Their eyes grew large, squeals of delight blossomed all-round, and our mutual amities were forever thereafter engraved upon the Harmonies of Heaven’s Mandate. Then they rushed out to drag in strict order their husbands, and school them about their next family American made acquisition. Vietnamese wives have more in-family power than most Westerners realize. For example, the legend of Cinderella’s Magic Fairy God Mother came from Vietnam to the West via night time fireside travel stories along China’s Silk Road. Years later in our war there, I was always peculiarly lucky as if by the Magic of a secret Fairy Godmother.

    Ahhh, Diplomacy when it is right and good! A while later everyone was gathered on our north porch overlooking the majestic Potomac River far below. Cocktails, drinks, refreshments, or snacks were in all hands. The mood shifted, became more optimistic, and the possibility the conference could succeed seemed in reach. Everyone was smiling, a few laughing lightly, the clink of glasses touching steady, Dad was pleased, and I so proud of him. Up in the forest around our home a breeze stirred the leaves in the treetops as murmurings and whisperings in the blue sky’s sunshine.

    Suddenly, the large Vietnamese political “Great Leader” became outraged because of a misunderstanding, and demanded the whole conference come to an end immediately. He stalked out to the edge of our lawn, turned his back on everyone, and folder up his arms in anger. This was a diplomatic disaster for Dad because he would be blamed for “loosing Vietnam” for the rest of his diplomatic career! Dad and several others went out to ask the leader to please return to the conference, but he refused. Dad and I were very close, and I could see he was worried, and even frightened. I had never seen that before!

    It shocked me deeply! Dad was my greatest hero. I couldn’t understand it. So I went to him. He was walking hurriedly back and forth in our living room inside from our porch. He was looking as I had never seen before. I stood in shock waiting for him to recognize me. Surprisingly quickly, he suddenly stopped, and looked at me. “Yes Chip?” he asked. “May I try?” He looked at me as if I was an alien just blasted in from planet Mars. Then he suddenly laughed, threw up his arms, and said, “Well, EVERYTHING else has failed! So why not? Certainly Chip. You go try!”

    And thus I embarked upon my first solo international diplomatic escapade! I knew I had three diplomatic weapons no one else there had. (1.) I was ten years old, and I knew from long family experience it is foolish, and even politically dangerous for any big leader to abuse a charming child in front of wives and witnesses. (2.) I had heard stories about the prisoners of war in Asia recounting: if you sang, and acted crazy doing interesting and weird things with your body, an Asian might wonder whether you were possessed by The Divine, and treat you well. And (3.) quite secret, I could do a trick with my eyes that shocked adults, and made my friends roll on the floor with laughter. I had become frustrated with my birth-defective left eye. When tired, my left eye would sometimes wander up and away to my left, and I would be teased: “Hey wall eyed retard!” So after weeks of practice in front of a mirror, I had taught myself to keep my right eye still while moving my left eye in circles. Like the Devil’s evil magic, I could look into your eyes with my right eye, and at the same time make my left eye go around and around in big circles! I had once played the trick to a mean old aunt of a primitive religion, and she had jumped back, and squeaked in horror: “Get thee away from me Satan!” Then she had run away. It was so cool!

    So I ran down to my basement workshop, got my best model airplane glider, ran out to him with it, and launched it so it floated by right in front of him. He glanced at me, grunted, and looked away embarrassed. He had never been buttonholed by an American kid when angry, and he knew danger when he saw it. I attacked again, launching my airplane right by him. “Wouldn’t you like to fly my airplane with me?” I persisted in my most charming and musical voice.

    He looked at me, so as quick as I could in order to hold his attention, I started explained the rudiment of aviation. “You see Sir, I made this glider myself from Balsa wood and glue. This tail-plane area is twenty three percent of the wing area, the wing has a nine to one span-to-cord ratio with eight degrees of dihedral for stability, and the plane’s balance point forty percent back from the leading edge, which I can adjust with play-clay here on the nose”, pointing at it. “Because balance is a key to controlled flight, just like Confucius said balance is very important! Isn’t it just SO interesting!?”

    His eyes widened slightly, and he looked at me with sufficient surprise to forget his anger. We looked deep into each other’s eyes for two heartbeats, and before he could remember his anger and look away, I stepped closer, looked harder into his eyes, and said:

    “Dear Sir, won’t you PLEASE come back to my father’s party? It’s for you!” I put a worried look on my face. “If you don’t come back Sir, my father will lose his job, and then we won’t be able to afford the hospital surgery operation I need…” And, keeping my right eye glued between his eyes, I started making my left eye go around in the biggest circles I could. “…and then I won’t be able to go to a good school, and get the education I need to be a diplomat like you and my father! Please Sir?”

    He instantly drew in his breath with an “Oh!” of shock as he stepped back from me. Quick as I could, I stepped forward again, grabbed him politely by his wrist like a policeman slapping cuffs on a perp, and pulled. “Please?!!” And he came! So I took his big hand in mine, and lead him back up to our porch as a wayward lamb, back where eyes swelled, mouths fell agape, his twinkling-eyed wife tittered anew, and Dad rushed forward to receive him.

    I hurried away as if busy with other family chores. I knew that would leave the best diplomatic impression because it would give everyone the freedom to say all sorts of wonderful things about me they wouldn’t say if I stayed for their praise. And, it made it impossible for the Great Leader to get angry when it to dawned on him he had been bamboozled by a ten year old Retard.

    That evening Dad admitted I had “…done good” and winked at me. Saving Ben’s Bacon had been fun, and that night I dreamed of him our Ambassador in Paris. I later heard, though it was probably just another amusing Washington DC cocktail story, that the next morning, just as President Eisenhower was sipping his steaming hot breakfast coffee, his morning CIA briefing officer told him, timing his words carefully, exactly how the conference had been saved, and a possible global thermonuclear war averted by the spin of “Foreign Service Officer Ben Wood’s son Chip, and His Magic Left Eyeball”, and the President of the United States of America, the most powerful man in the world, spilled hot coffee all over his lap.

  • Hi Admin Bob,
    Thanks for your encouraging words! Not ready yet as I’m a perfectionist. I’m very pleased about Sandy’s book, and just ordered it. I believe we pre war Saigoners have much to teach the world, and the world needs an understanding of our experiences & backgrounds for their own personal, diplomatic, and political needs and benefits win/win. We have a mission! So thank you for your years of contribution. Maybe this is the first opening of the educational flower of our interests in making the world a better place.
    Chip

  • And BTW Bob, You may enjoy the podcast I recently put on YouTube concerning how my Dad, the CIA, friends, president Kennedy, and your humble obedient me, with Kissinger’s leaking, stopped Trick Dick Nixon from nuking Vietnam in 1972. No Kidding: CRYPTOBEAST #19 or
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zr1iqCNFf00&t=4597s
    Please send me some feedback! It is very much an ole Saigonners thang. Let’s spread the word to invigorate our community… Saigmmunity?
    Chip

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