December 2023
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Frank Stoddard wants to know?

by Kevin Wells (ACS)

OK, here goes:

First, for those who cannot place the name, I was the kid that sold the popcorn and candy at the Alhambra before the PX started to do it.

Life before my stay in Saigon was typical of every kid in the US. Polio shots, riding my bicycle all over the town, and in general being nearly a feral kid all summer. Back then, O’Henry’s Ransom of Red Chief was the sort of thing every person had read so there was little incentive to snatch kids off the street because the bad guys knew they would end up regretting it.

Boston Blackie was a series on the television that I could not watch because the theory of raising children prohibited such influences. Nobody wanted to set up an innocent child for a life of crime. Why Perry Mason was acceptable was a mystery, but then again parents work in mysterious wondrous ways.

The family got the news about my father’s job change in the spring of 1959, and after the inoculations over the summer (note; never try the double play with your first, fresh cholera inoculation in your throwing arm!) we were in Saigon by Thanksgiving 1959.

It was hot as I am sure you remember. I spent one notable day early in my stay completely submerged for almost 5 hours (breathing through a snorkel) that being the only known relief from prickly heat. My zits had zits of their own.

To my knowledge, my father was the first civilian to be a VC target when someone put a round through the windshield of the yellow Landrover used by the malaria training team. Their theory was that anything painted yellow could not possibly contain a threat to the VC. The VC saw things differently. Although the US advisor was generally in the passenger side front seat, this day it was in back with someone else and the translator was in the front. There were no injuries, but they spent about four hours in a ditch awaiting developments. From that point on, no American civilian advisors went on training trips with their Vietnamese counterparts. At the time, my father being then the father of five, decided that was it was unwise to continue the field training and agreed to an extension to finish the training project in and near Saigon.

While there I had learned to distinguish 105mm howitzer reports from 155mm howitzer reports, been an eyewitness to a napalm strike on the Palace. I had seen the Vietnamese go away gesture (fingers pointed down and the sweeping motion) from a man wearing the conical hat, black shorts and shirt, and carrying what I now identify as an AK-47 (just outside of Vung Tao), and been to the most incredible beach just north of Nha Trang. The sand was like granulated sugar and it squeaked when you hot-footed it to the waterline.

I had seen Lyndon Johnson, then Vice President, hold a press conference on the steps of the Naval Dispensary and tell the assembled press that he had consulted with the Ambassador and the Diem representatives and that little dust-up residents had heard the night before was a “routine mopping-up operation”. Oh yeah? Then why did I see the muzzle flashes from the artillery batteries from the roof restaurant of the NCO Club? Counting seconds between the flash and the boom placed the bateries within 20 miles of Saigon downtown.

Thirty months after arrival, it was finally departure day; escape to the real world, complete with on-demand Coca Cola, water your could drink right out of the tap, and freedom from tropical diseases and insurgencies.

I thought I would be back. I thought that everyone in my high school would understand the importance of what was going on there. Even in 1962, nobody had a clue. By 1964, there were clues. By 1968, Uncle Sam was coming for me. So I volunteered, selected counterintelligence and got sent to Fort Benning. My duty station had no clue I was on the way, and told me not to get too comfortable there. After 6 weeks somebody somewhere decided I should stay there and I at last got paid. Being a bachelor and living off post is not cheap because the locals knew how to take money away from soldiers and were very efficient at it!

Being a bachelor, I was susceptible to the undoubted charms of Southern girls and after just three months in town, I as involved. Six months after that, we had a date and at ETS minus 330 there I was, married as all heck and back. Forty-two years later she is holding up well under the strain.

I even learned how to speak the lingo of the South. I had to, because I finished my BS at Clemson University in 1975, spent a few years working for a Wall Street firm, 10 years in production planning, flipped out, and after 15 years, went back to graduate school for masters work, spent another 15 years and went back again and completed a doctorate. (My dissertation has been shown to cure insomnia in laboratory rats in one dose, it will probably work for you too!.) I took degrees in 1975, 1990, and 2005, so every 15 years, I take another degree. That means I am due again in 2020. I currently teach at a small liberal arts school in SC, the president and dean of which occasionally wonder what they were thinking when I was hired.

Along the way, I got my private pilot’s license, lived through a general aviation crash (Tip; When the wreckage stops moving, get out and run like hell.) I also played bass drum in a competition bagpipe band. The band years allowed me to work on my social skills. Picking up chicks while wearing a kilt is so ridiculously easy it should be illegal. I know what you are thinking, and the answer is “It depends.” When I get the question from women, the reply was either “Are your hands sticky?” or “Is that shadow looming over me your boyfriend?” I assure you that I followed a strict catch and release policy and the most they got out of me was innuendo.

Giving back appears to be popular today, so, noticing the appalling failure of the Do Not Call list, I decided to do something about it. My method is simple. I make the caller completely crazy. My standard opening goes about like this:

Victim: “Mr. Wells?”

Me.: “Yes, and who are you?”

Victim: “I am Cecil B Lipschitt and I….”

Me: (Interrupting) “I am so glad you called. Have you sent me signed signed Power of Attorney? And let me extend my condolences on the death of your great-uncle. I am sure that he would be anxious to have Mr. Sigmond Boutelaize sign the transfer papers so you can have the contents of his safety deposit box and the $48 million your great-uncle accumulated while he worked in Nigeria!”

Victim: “What?”

(At this point they generally hang up but one notable one said “Uncle?” before he came to his senses.)

My other standard variation is:

Me.: “Yes, and who are you?”

Victim: “I am Cecil B Lipschitt and I….”

Me: (Interrupting) I am so glad you called. Now what is your mailing address at home”

Victim: “What?”

Me. I did not want to forget to ask. Yesterday I forgot to ask for your address. It may be some months and I did not want to lose touch. I have to send you, your share of the court settlement.

Victim: Court settlement?

Me: You remember! You just called me again even though I am on the Do Not Call List just like we agreed so you will get your 1/2 of the court settlement and how can I send it if I don’t have your mailing address?

At this point the Victim usually hangs up.

The opportunities are endless if I have plenty of time when those who claim to be speaking for Card Services, eager to lower my interest rate but, this is my last warning because I will be dropped from their list! (Which of course never happens.)

The first tactic is to claim that I don’t have my credit card because my wife is in New York on a buying trip and could they call back in 24 hours? When they do, of course she is grocery shopping, just took the cat to the vet, had her purse stolen the day before and so forth.

The email variations are endless. I have declined the offer of “$48 millions of dollars (US) from the estate of” some dead distant relative because I already was waiting for three such estates and they could just keep the money because I had plenty on the way already.

I have been asked for a Social Security Number three times. Under the blotter at my computer is mine: 127-23-H M 4 Z X 1 7. The caller usually protests that that is not a social security number and I assure them that I have one in the new series. Sometimes I tell them that it is a South Africa social security number!

If I do not have a lot of time, I tell the victim that I can’t talk because the jury is back from deliberations, or the police just arrived and I am busy reloading.

Feel free to imitate me because together we may be able to do some real and lasting good.

My other project involves children. We have had some child firearm deaths and injuries in the local area over the past few months so a group of us got together and decided to do something about it; a free eight week course for the 9 to 19 year old set teaching them about the dangers of misuse of firearms by teaching them to shoot safely. The course is free and we were lucky enough to have some donors.

After a 3 hour class they return the next week for one more hour and then the opportunity to fire 5 rounds of .22 ammunition at a white paper plate at 50 feet. This goes on for six more weeks, working through all common shooting positions, and culminates in a fun shoot in which they shoot the instructor’s personal .22 caliber rifles and pistols. In the process we also indoctrinate the parents and the results so far have been very good.

My favorite is Danny. Danny is 10 and has the intense, dramatic news delivery produced only by a 10 year old. Danny made it his mission to give me the news of all the unsafe firearms practices he saw on the television every week. Those little knees would pound up the steps and out would come the news:

Danny: “Mr. Wells, Mr. Wells, did you see NCIS last week?”

Me: “Sorry Danny, I missed it; what did you see?”

Danny: “I saw them running with pistols with their finger on the trigger!”

Me: “That does not sound like a good idea, does it? What rule does that break?”

Danny: “Keep your finger off the trigger until you have the sights on the target and you are ready to shoot.”

Danny was also incensed at the Jody Foster movie poster in which she is shown holding a .45 auto with her finger on the trigger and the muzzle pointed at her knee. Danny correctly stated the rule the poster violated; “Never point a firearm and anything you are not willing to destroy.” He was becoming quite a movie critic, and had some harsh words for Arnold Swartzenegger’s gun handling habits.

Girls 9-19 showed up in groups and for a while, we had several girls-only classes. The difference between the boys and the girls is that the girls followed directions much better.

So far we have run 150 students through the program and not one has scored lower than 90% on the critical safety questions in the exit exam. Not only that, they know more about firearm safety than the typical Hollywood celebrity and are capable of lecturing their parents on the topic with considerable authority.

Of course the information above that will make people crazy is firearm use. I shoot a lot of ammunition. I am on track to fire 3,600 rounds this year, mostly handgun ammunition.

Every time I talk with a law enforcement officer I ask how many rounds they fire every year. Of the dozens who have answered, only one fired more than 250, and he was the officer in charge of the SWAT team and was the departmental firearms instructor. His round count was about 5,000.

Last month in New York City, 11 people received pistol shot wounds in a workplace violence incident and a later gunfight. Ten of the 11 hit were hit by police gunfire and nine were bystanders. The police may not save you and even if they get there in time, watch out! They generally are not all that good at it.

Before you decide to tell me that I am a troglodyte, be sure to check this link:

40 reasons to ban guns: Click Here

And about teaching children about firearms: Click Here

You asked for it Frank; that is my story and I am sticking to it!


21 comments to Frank Stoddard wants to know?

  • Frank

    KLW, I became a 2LT. at Ft. Benning on 29 June 1976. I became the second oldest 2LT in the Army. I was 32 Years of age at the time.

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    Great update on your life, Kevin. As always, your writing is so entertaining and informative.
    At what “small liberal arts college in S.C.” are you teaching? I graduated from Lander College (now university)in 1967, and my husband is a grad from PC, also “67. Love all those small lib. arts school in S.C. They are numerous, charming, offered a very Southern education and awarded marketable degrees for a reasonable tuition rate. Thanks to Lander, and my parents’ dime, I have had a teaching position any time I wanted one.
    My husband is from Honea Path. Any chance you are close by that area?
    Enjoy the beautiful Carolina Fall…we miss them!
    Suellen SKID ’58-60
    P.S. Fort Benning is familiar to us, as Charles spent some time in Officer’s Basic School there before attending Ranger School, a sort 5 month stint at Fort Campbell and then shipping off to Pleiku,Viet Nam “69-70.

  • Kevin Wells

    Ms. Campbell,

    Although they would be horrified to have this out in public view, I work for Limestone up there in Gaffney. I am exclusively online now and never

    My wife was (is) a Lander Lily, Class of ’66.

    We live near Clemson now.

    PC, Lander and Limestone share that “old southern school” feeling that is hard to find elsewhere. Once you get connected to the communities, you can even come to believe that Animal House was written written about a similar place.

    I am sure the Lander Lilies would never do such a thing, but Limestone alumni tell me that they measured their hell-raising accomplishments by how high they could place a zot on the the Hamrick Hall exterior wall. A “sot” is a water soaked full roll of toilet paper. When it hits the brick with enough force, it sticks. Sometimes it sticks up there until the next hard rain. Of course, the real trick is zot placement,high enough an it would take a fire truck to knock it down.


    • Suellen Oliver Campbell

      Guess we Lander Lilies did not have as much fun as the Limestone girls. We did not throw “sots” back in my day, but we found other ways to create havoc with the house mothers. Most stories I cannot repeat, as the “innocent” are still being protected by the rest of us guilty parties. There may still be some outstanding bills for repairs to plumbing and a few other “little” things.
      Mama “B” lived below us in Chipley Hall and we loved to cause her apoplexy by wrecking havoc before a holiday.

  • Kevin, more Saigon stores and remembrances, please, please.

  • Kevin Wells


    Fort Benning School for boys has many graduates!

    “Down by the shores of the Chatahoochie
    Down by the banks of the Upatoi, stands my alma mater
    Fort Benning School for Boys….”

    Do you remember the rest? It seems to me that it went along the lines of:

    “We like it here, we like it here, you bet your a** we like it here…”

    Anyway, walking through Infantry Hall in 1969 while making my way through the mob between classes at Infantry Officer Advanced Course, I saw a familiar face, or what I thought was a familiar face.

    Two minutes later, I was up to 90% sure that it was Billy Smith’s brother. I looped back but the classes were back in session.

    Base Locator was perpetually behind so I never found out if that was him.

    Do you have any idea if it was?


  • Frank

    I do not know if you knew Billy Smith was killed in an auto chase in Dallas several years ago. He was a cop at the time. I understand a daughter of his was was actually a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader. Billy had several brothers, but my buddy was Larry. I do not know of Larry being at Benning, but with the 101st at Campbell.
    Yes, the school for boys song is very correct. Many memories, actually good ones. I was in 50th Company.
    Just a different note;;; Just got off the phone from a fellow named Tom. Just thought I would pass this on.
    Yesterday I went to Tucson and bought some windows/sliding door (old, but never used) from a fellow I found on Craigslist. I called him to day about two more windows that I am interested in for our new construction on our house. He said , Frank, what do you want to pay for them. I said, how about $200.00. He said, how about $175.00. You been nice to me and I would like to be nice to you!
    You know what, every-time we thing bad about folks, we need to reassess and really realize most (of us) are just plain wonderful people trying to do good. Isn’t this a need story?

    • Kevin Wells


      Billy was one of the ‘buds during my stay.

      I had heard that he had died, but did not know the circumstances.

      If Larry made O-3 and he wanted to stay in, he had to go to IOAC (Infantry Officer Advanced Course) at some point. He may have had a double, but in my mind it had to be Larry.

      If you are building a house, eat your Wheaties, you will need the energy. Once was enough for me.

      I am glad you had a good experience. Last year about this time, I contracted for a solar array. I paid 100% of the contract price and had the contract and the cancelled checks. The installer did not pay his supplier and his supplier placed a lien on my home.

      My lawyer sent his lawyer a copy of the contract and bank-certified copies of the checks. And thought that was the end of it.

      The solar panel supplier tried foreclosure.

      I found that very irksome.

      I would not have lost and wanted to go to trial, but the installer finally paid so I was merely left with the legal costs, some of which were repaid.

      You got lucky, and you should try to stay that way!

      I have made quite a hobby of the installer’s court cases. In the last two years, he has had default judgements (meaning that he did not respond to court notices) totaling $123,000. He has three court cases pending.

      Fortunately for some other customer, I took that hit thereby saving someone the bother and expense. I can defend myself so better me than someone else.


  • Frank

    O.K., I know! I should check my writing more, before I post!

  • Frank

    I think Larry got out of the military by 1965 or 66

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    Did basic training at Ft. Benning in the fall of 1966 followed by AIT at Ft. Ord in preparation for OCS….never made it to OCS. Silly asses claimed I wasn’t a US citizen as I was born in England, but proved them wrong in the end….but the delay in time was sufficiently long for me to tell them they could keep OCS and the extra six months in the Army. Out in 1969 after a year in Long Binh. No exciting stories….

  • Sandy Hanna

    Did Larry Smith have a sister who would have been in fifth and sixth grade between 1960 and 1962. If anyone knows of anything let me know. Thanks. Sandy

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    Sandy, I found a Susan Smith and Beverly Smith, both who were in the fourth grade in the year 61-62. Names ring a bell? Ken

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    Dear All~
    I was able to contact Cheryl Smith via e-mail several years ago. She is Larry’s sister and both were about my age(14-16) at the time we were in Saigon. She told me Larry does not usually touch base with any Saigon Kids, but she gave me a run-down of all of their lives. Donna was their younger sister. It was great to be in touch with her after all these years, thanks to Saigon Kids.

  • Al Misker

    Interesting piece, nice job!
    Also interesting was your comment about selling popcorn and candy at the Alhambra. My good friend, Willis T. (Willy) Flachsenhar, and I also sold popcorn and drinks there for a short period of time in 1958! Small world! I also got into some serious trouble there for trying to ride my scooter (with “Dini” on the back) down the long hallway before everyone else had finished walking out! Those were good days! And also fantastic memories!

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    I too sold stuff at the Alhambra theater for the PX in 1961.

  • Frank

    Cheryl Smith was my buddy back in the good old days. We never dated, she was beautiful, she was just my trusted friend. When I saw here in Phoenix in 2000 it was special. I had located her and then Buzz. They got married on their way to the reunion. They had been sweet hearts back in Saigon. She called me their “love Angel” for getting them back together. What more could anyone ask for. At our dinner dance in 2000 the D.J. played “Sea Of Love” for them!

  • Frank

    When I was dating Venita, we could not go to the Alhambra. Foreign Nationalist were not allowed…although I did notice that G.I. were allowed to bring their girlfriends in. That’s O.K., they earned it. Venita and I used to go to the theater across from the Continental. One of the movies we went to was with “something” “Douglas about Van Gogh”!

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