April 2024
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Submitted by Les Arbuckle (ACS)

As some of you know, my memoir, “Saigon Kids, A Military Brat Comes of Age in 1960’s Vietnam” will become available on or about this Tuesday (September 12) at Amazon and other booksellers. As far as I know, it will be the first Military Brat memoir ever presented to a large audience and the only one that is not a self-published book.

Let me start by saying that I know I got a lot wrong. I tried to paint a realistic and gritty literary picture of my life in Saigon during the years I was there. But I didn’t start writing Saigon Kids until I was fifty-three years old (fifteen years ago!), and my memory has not gotten any better over the years. I’m not saying ‘this is the way it was” as much as I’m saying, “this is the way I remember it.” Memory is a fickle friend at best, and at worst, a damned liar.

As a life-long musician, I would have loved to be able to include a sound track to go with the book. Music can evoke emotions that no amount of writing will ever touch. When I started writing “Saigon Kids” back in 2002, I often listened to the tunes I remember hearing then, songs like “Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain,” “Walk Like a Man,” Little Deuce Coupe,” etc. Whenever I hear those old songs, I can close my eyes and feel the cool air of the bowling alley on the back of my neck, smell the burgers and fries, and hear the crash of the balls and pins. Saigon was a magical place and nothing stirs my memories of that place more than the music of the era.

I’ve changed most of the names in the book with a few notable exceptions, which most of you will pick up on at a glance. But don’t be too quick to assume that you know whom I’m talking about when you follow my characters through a world of hijinks, misadventures, and assorted teenage craziness. In some cases, I’ve made the characters difficult to identify, but if you were there, you might make a lucky guess or two. Then again, you may be dead wrong.

Some of you will like the book, some of you won’t, but in order for any artistic endeavor to succeed, the emotions of those partaking have to be engaged. I would prefer you hate it passionately rather than feel indifferent. But I do sincerely hope you like it and that reading it stirs up at least a few good memories for you the way writing it has for me. We Saigon Kids occupy a unique place in history and I tried to do justice to our absurdly abnormal past.

The early Vietnam war years through the eyes of a U.S. military brat: In May of 1962, Naval Chief Petty Officer Bryant Arbuckle flew to Saigon to establish a new Armed Forces Radio Station(AFRS). Next to follow were his wife and three boys, Leslie among them. Saigon Kids is the candid, recondite slice of fourteen-year-old military brat Les Arbuckle’s experience at the American Community School (ACS) during the critical months of the Vietnam War when events would, quite literally, ignite in downtown Saigon. In 1963, Saigon was beautiful, violent, and dirty – and the most exciting place a fourteen-year-old American boy could live. Saigon offered a rich array of activities, and much to the consternation of their parents and teachers, Les and his fellow military brats explored the dangers with reckless abandon running from machine gun fire, watching a Buddhist monk burn to death, visiting brothels late at night or, trading currency on the black market.

Coming of age in the streets of Vietnam War torn Saigon: When Les first arrives in Vietnam, he is a stranger in a strange land, expecting boredom in a country he doesn’t know. But the American social scene is more vibrant than he expected. The American Community School is a blend of kids from all over the globe who arrived in Saigon as the fuse on Saigon was about to ignite. As the ACS students continue their American lifestyle behind barbed wire, Saigon unravels in chaos and destruction. In spite of this ugliness – an ever-present feature of everyday life — Les tells his story of teenage angst with humor and precocity.

Coming of age tale with a twist:The events leading up to the Vietnam War provide an unusual backdrop for this coming-of-age tale with a twist. Saigon Kids will also make a perfect companion to the documentary film (sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts) currently in production. The film chronicles the lives of “military brats” living in Saigon in the volatile years from 1958 to 1964.

About the Author

In the years between his birth in 1949 and his nineteenth birthday, Les lived in Texas, North Carolina, Florida, New Mexico, California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Hawaii and Vietnam as a dependent of the US Navy. His father, Bryant Joseph Arbuckle, was a Chief Journalist who managed the Armed Forces Radio Station in Saigon, Vietnam, from June, 1962 until June, 1964. After a stint with the 50th Army Band at Fort Monroe, Virginia Les attended the Berklee College of Music (BA) and New England Conservatory (MM). He is a professional saxophonist living near Boston, Massachusetts with his wife, Joyce Lucia. He has performed with a variety of musical acts including The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Lou Rawls, Bernadette Peters, The San Diego Symphony Summer Pops Orchestra and The Artie Shaw Orchestra. His recordings for the Audioquest label and he is featured on the recordings of well-known jazz musicians Kenny Barron, Mike Stern, Cecil McBee, John Abercrombie and Victor Lewis.


  • Les,

    Great job of documenting our memories of the days of our youth in old Saigon.

    I agree music would be a nice touch!

    Have you considered making an *auto-book* version with back ground music of the times incorporated?

    Rock Onn…


  • sarah j rogers

    can hardly wait for my copy to arrive

  • George Hanna

    Les, Kathy Connor Dobronyi wrote
    Under the Wings of a Good Luck Phoenix: Memoir of an American Girl in Saigon; June 1963 to March 1964
    A good read based upon her mothers diary.

  • Maile Doyle

    Les, I just bought mine on my Kindle and can hardly wait to read it. I did read Kathy Connor Dobronyi’s book recently and thoroughly enjoyed that. Best wishes and I will post a review on Amazon and Goodreads.

  • brooks kasson

    your book arrived today, les, and i’ve begun it. rich, fascinating.

    you mention that you lived on rue richard/phan din phung….what number? we left a few months before your arrival in 62 and lived in the compound at 91 phan dinh phung. two blocks from the palace.

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    Les, I read your book and was really taken back to the 60s. You guys were a lot braver than I ever was during my time. When you lived in the townhouse in Phan Dinh Phung, did you know Sgt. Williams and his Vietnamese wife, Bey?

    I don’t recall ever meeting you as my senior year (62-63) was in Dalat and then in the fall I flew out for school in DC. But I was back in the winter of 63 and stayed until the fall of 64.

    I hope you get lots of good reviews on Amazon….I echoed what Maile wrote. Lots of luck. Ken

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