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Saigon Kid Research Volunteer Wanted

UPDATE Feb. 18, 2010

Research Completed

Mystery Solved

Click Here to learn what really happened

As you may have read HERE , Bruce has done considerable research in an attempt to verify the story about a teenager who set himself on fire in Saigon in 1963 – hoping to identify him.

Unfortunately, Bruce has hit a road block in his research, in that the records which may identify the youth are not available on-line. But, they are available at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH.

So, we are seeking a volunteer who lives near Hanover to contact the college and make arrangement to physically search through these documents for the identity of the teenager who allegedly set himself on fire in Saigon.

Do we have any Saigon Kids living near Dartmouth? If so, would you be willing to volunteer your services?

If you are interested in helping with this research, please indicate so in the Comments section below.

Any takers!?!


15 comments to Saigon Kid Research Volunteer Wanted

  • Les Arbuckle

    Bill Sheppard went to school in NH (private school) in the late sixties. Like Bill, I was in Saigon for all of 1963 and don’t remember hearing about any American kid setting himself on fire. You might ask Bill if he remembers such an incident. Bill lived in Saigon for five years and knew just about everyone.
    I’m also wondering how one would know what school this kid may have gone to without knowing his name. Without his name, what, in the school records, might identify him? I live in Boston now, but going to Hanover without a clue as to his identity seems like a very long shot.

    • Les – Yes, it is a long shot. But, the “root” of this account of an American kids setting himself on fire seems to stem from John Mecklin’s book – Mission In Torment. Mecklin’s research notes and other documents pertaining to this book are located in the archives at Dartmouth. Hence, our hope is that his research notes/doucments will contain the identity and/or his source of his information about the kid and/or who his father was ” an American officer assigned to the U.S. Embassy”. In reviewing the list of the achives at Dartmouth it appears there would only be 2 or maybe 3 boxes of research notes/documents to look through to see if they contain the source of his story about the kid setting himself on fire. Mecklin says in his book “Mission In Torment” that he deliberately left out people’s identity.

      This story of the kid setting himself on fire appears to have originated from Mecklin and his reference to it in “Mission In Torment”. So, the question is: Do his research notes/documents for the book contain the identity of the kid and/or Mecklin’s source of his reference to it in his book. It appears at this point the only place left to look to find the answer is in the archives at Dartmouth. If it is the mystery will be solved. If it is not, it is doubful we’ll ever know if this story is fact or fiction.


      PS To Bruce: The thought occurs to me that maybe Dartmouth might have a ‘research service’ of some type that can go through the archives and report findings, etc. Perhaps as part of a student research credit program or something. You’re plugged into the university/college system – are you aware of any such programs, or do you know how we’d find out from Dartmouth if they can be of assistance, etc. etc. ???

  • Bruce Thomas

    Bob, I’ve received a most gracious response to my inquiry to the Special Collections department at Dartmouth College earlier this afternoon. Someone there has already fetched the boxes and is going to scan through the Mecklin papers to see if there’s a mention of the incident of the American boy. I’ll post an update to the blog when I hear something back from those nice people at Dartmouth.

  • Bruce Thomas

    Following up on my previous comment, I can tell everyone that the customer service at Dartmouth College library’s special collections department is fantastic! In virtually no time at all, the relevant box of John Mecklin’s notes was opened, and a document found concerning the incident of the son of an American official being burned.

    For those of you who, perhaps unconsciously, in reading the original online article by William Prochnau picked up on his erroneous wording that it was the “teen-age son of an American official,” I can lay that flawed identification to rest. Instead, the boy was a 6 year-old first-grader at the time. So if our clearest memories from Saigon are about kids our own age, it’s no wonder that no one in the upper grades at ACS in 1963 could recall any such incident as described by Prochnau (who was paraphrasing the words from John Mecklin’s book).

    It might also help to lay the matter to rest if we could go back and edit Prochnau’s online article, not only to remove the word “teen-age” but to also remove the idea that the young boy was even trying to imitate the monk who burned himself. It turns out that the boy, just like many other curious youngsters of that age group, had simply laid hands on a “very cool lighter” and, in playing with it, managed to ignite the nylon shirt he was wearing. He suffered third-degree burns, and to this day bears burn scars from the incident — and says that it wasn’t until he was in high school years later that he first ever heard about a monk in Saigon torching himself!

    So here we have yet another instance of journalists putting two and two together and getting something other than four, in order to enhance a story.

    I hope that those reading this comment have picked up on the fact that, for reasons of privacy, I will be like the original author John Mecklin, and not share the name of the “young son of an officer of the American Embassy.” But, now a grown man in his fifties, he was quick to tell me that it was his older sister’s courageous actions that kept his injuries from being worse (she, too, was in elementary school at the time); that a great doctor prevented those scars from becoming a permanent handicap; and, that the incident itself is a cautionary tale that “can only serve to be yet another reminder to children not to play with fire.”


    • Bruce – Awesome research! Much appreciated – 🙂

      Once again the 33SKIA solves the mystery. This time with a bonus of connecting with another Saigon Kid.

      It ceases to amaze me how much false, fake, twisted, distorted information was reported about Viet-Nam and circulated throughout the world as ‘the gossip truth’ by the media and others.


  • Ken

    And we all know that the “gossip truth” continues today in what is known as the media.

  • Judy Divers Plymale

    Unbelievable work to obtain the accurate details! It was my incorrect impression that so much of the “pre internet” past, overseas locations in particular, were lost and would remain so

    • Judy – the “33SKIA” (Ba Muoi Ba Saigon Kids Intelligence Agency) ALWAYS knows whats going on and where and when … LOL … 🙂

      It’s the ‘magic’ ingredient in the Ba Muoi Ba that gives us our amazing powers – LOL – to succeed where others have failed.

      Actually, there is a lot of ‘pre-Internet’ information available to day on the Internet. Just this past week I was given access to 70,000+ books and documents from Cornell University which have been digitalized to preserve them; along with 62,000+ books and documents at the Library Of Congress that are also being digitalized (because the paper is becoming too brittle) for preservation.

      The most difficult part is sifting through all the available information to find the actual information being searched for, etc.


      • Judy Divers Plymale

        Possibly it is those “amazing powers” but I tend to think it speaks to the calliber,deligence and persistance of those who are a part of “SKIA”….
        I guess, as time goes on and more of the past is put in digital form, the past will become more easily accessible.
        Possibly a question that is an obvious I am missing, what is the significance of “33”?

        • Judy — Click here for a complete rundown on Bob’s favorite elixir.

        • Judy – “33” is the reason it was soooo hard for Ken to learn things during his school years in Viet-Nam – LOL – 🙂

          Now, after all these years, you know why he needed special help from your Dad to pass History! – LOL – In fact, some have said it is the reason he was sent to Dalat (where he was locked in the school compound – to limit his access to “33” apparently).

          Me, of course, being the outstanding example of American youth representing our country in Viet-Nam, never ever touch “33” – particularly after witnessing the “effects” on Ken and Frank – LOL – 🙂

          Oh wait, I didn’t witness Ken as I was deported before his arrival. Probably a good thing as after witnessing Frank, I doubt I’d have been able to handle Ken too – LOL – 🙂


  • Les Arbuckle

    Before I dug this thread out of my email (2 minutes ago) I sent you an email asking whatever happened to the research on said kid (3 minutes ago). Now I know, so disregard my email: never mind!

    Anybody remember Beer Larue, also known as “Tiger Piss?”

    This just in: I now have representation (a literary agent) for my memoir “Coming of Age in Saigon: Memoir of a Military Brat.” Now to find a publisher…


    • Les – Glad you found the follow up post solving the mystery. Thank you for your gracious offer to travel to Dartmouth to do the research, if needed. Very much appreciated! Fortunately Bruce was able to gain the assistance of a wonderful lady at Dartmouth to complete the research.


      PS: Glad to hear you are moving forward with the book.

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