December 2023
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Submitted by Kathy (Connor) Dobronyi (ACS)

I wrote and published a narrative nonfiction coming-of-age memoir, “Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix.” My editor was a Vietnam vet who served with the Wolfhounds in 1967-68.My family and I arrived in Saigon June 1, 1963, two weeks before Thich Quan Duc set himself on fire in front of the Cambodian Embassy. I was 12 years old. My mother, brother, and I left March 10, 1964.

In 2010 I was interviewed for the Vietnam Oral History Project at Texas Tech. Dr. Kelly Krieger asked me who I talked with during the time. I said, “No one.” After a moment, I realized that I talked with our houseboy, Nam. He practiced his English with me, and I learned much about Viet Nam, its people and history.

Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix: Memoir of an American Girl in Saigon; June 1963 to March 1964

About Kathy

Kathy Connor Dobronyi was born in New Jersey and was baptized in Maryland. She was in Hawaii when it became a state and Viet Nam when it became a war. Those were the first twelve years of her life as an Army brat. Storytelling was always important to Kathy. She first learned her craft listening to great Hawaiian storytellers on Oahu. Wherever she went, she always found people who had a story to tell. In 2003 Kathy faced a major challenge when she and her husband retired to the west coast of Florida. She didn’t know anything about the state, its history, or its people. When a local friend declared, “I sure wish someone would tell my story,” Kathy embarked on a new career telling tales of Florida Cracker History. Her performances led to an interview and meeting with H. Lee Helscel, editor of a local paper. Lee was surprised to learn that Kathy and her family were living in Saigon, Viet Nam in 1963. The first visit between editor and storyteller led to an eight-part series in the newspaper. Reader response was overwhelming with demands for Kathy to write her coming-of-age memoir. Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix is the result of those articles she wrote eight years ago. Kathy shares her personal discoveries and painful memories with truth and honesty.


Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix: Memoir of an American Girl in Saigon; June 1963 to March 1964

Kathy Connor needs more than luck to get out of Viet Nam alive. When the twelve-year-old American lands in Saigon with her family on June 1, 1963, she doesn’t realize this won’t be a typical military assignment. The Connor family arrives two weeks before Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sets himself on fire. His protest horrifies the world and threatens the American-supported government of Ngo Dinh Diem. The South Vietnamese president is overthrown during a military coup d’tat on November 1, 1963. Although the Connor family knew about the war in Viet Nam, they believed Saigon was safe. The U.S. government wouldn’t put families into danger. Wrong! On the eve of the Vietnam War in 1963, there were over 4,000 American civilians in Saigon. Everyone in Kathy’s family has a story to tell. On his fourteenth birthday, her brother Michael becomes “a man.” He also learns about Viet Nam by breaking the rules—traveling into restricted areas, drinking alcohol, and exchanging money on the black market. Her mother wants the Vietnamese to be American—speak English and pay sticker price instead of haggling over cost. Her father wants to do his job in military intelligence—break codes, develop listening posts, and train Vietnamese to use modern high tech equipment that has no place in the primitive warfare waged by the Viet Cong. Like most Americans in Saigon, Kathy and her family live among the Vietnamese. As military personal, her family has exclusive use of military facilities such as the Base Exchange (BX), commissary, Capital Kinh-Do movie theater, a hobby shop and the swimming pool in Cholon, Saigon’s Chinatown. Saigon was part of French Indochina until 1954. It was called “the Paris of the Orient,” with its tree-lined streets, opera house, Notre Dame Cathedral, exclusive sports clubs and white mansions that once housed colonial administrators. Kathy sees French colonial influence everywhere. She wonders how it is effecting the Americans who are flooding into the country to assist President Ngo Dinh Diem’s government. Nam, the thirty-five-year old houseboy working in the Connor household, teaches Kathy Vietnamese history and culture. With stories about life in World War II and the aftermath, he explains the struggles of his people under foreign occupation. He shares his escape from the Communists in North Viet Nam, coming to Saigon with thousands of others in 1954 in the exodus called the Passage of Freedom. Kathy doesn’t realize war is coming to the city while she explores Ben Thanh Market and the bustling Saigon streets, investigates the Saigon Zoo and the exclusive Cercle Sportif. Adolescence is difficult, but Kathy must also deal with cholera epidemics, theater bombings, and military coups. The Vietnamese believe in luck. For Christmas, Kathy receives a good luck phoenix pendant from her parents. Kathy Connor’s good luck phoenix isn’t like the Western phoenix that is immortal, reborn from the ashes. Her Vietnamese phoenix represents peace and hope, things she learns in Saigon. During the Tet holiday week in February 1964, while Kathy and her family are on vacation in the Philippines, the VC bomb the Capital Kinh-Do Theater again. Three men die. Many are injured. Kathy hears about the tragedy at school. When she gets home, she shares her confusion about war with Nam. Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix is the testament of the friendship between a young girl and a Vietnamese who taught her that life should never be taken for granted.

Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix: Memoir of an American Girl in Saigon; June 1963 to March 1964


  • Barbara L Parker

    Good luck with your book.

  • Laurie Methven

    I’ll have to get it. I”m wondering if we knew each other? I was 12 in 1963 in Saigon. Went to Saigon in 1962 and left in 1965. As a CIA brat, we didn’t live on the base.

    • Kathy Connor Dobronyi

      I don’t remember your name, Laurie. I was in seventh grade at ACS. Started the school year in Mrs. Jenkinson’s class, but was transferred to Mrs. Nazarenus’ class before the end of the month.

      I lived at 214A Yen Do in District 3 not far from the Xa Loi Pagoda.

  • carl cini

    Hi Kathy,
    Bought your book in kindle format and look forward to reading when we leave for Europe soon.

  • Would you donate a copy of your book to the American Overseas Schools Historical Society?

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Robert L Webster
    Office Manager, AOSHS

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