April 2024
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Saigon Kids Stories: Saturday at Cap St. Jacques

by Bruce Thomas (ACS)

Vung Tau — a beautiful spot at the mouth of the Saigon River. My father thought one Saturday we ought to have a great adventure. So the four of us, together with our cook Tu and our housemaid Hai (and Hai’s two children), hopped into our Ford station wagon (the one with the Auburn decal on the back window written about previously) and hit the road down to Cap St. Jacques. Everyone, especially Hai’s kids, enjoyed the visit to that lovely spot. It had to have been in September or October 1960 — I think it was just days before a couple of American military men were ambushed while driving their Jeep on that same highway.

The war’s terror was just beginning to bubble in earnest. If my mother reflected anxiously on that adventure after the subsequent ambush and deaths of the advisors on the same road we’d driven blithely down earlier, it would only prepare her for her own adventure on Friday, November 11 — a U.S. holiday when she would normally have stayed home from her secretarial position at the American Embassy. But she was the duty secretary for that weekend, and was driven to work in an embassy van that skirted the fighting around the presidential palace while she lay face-down on the van’s floor! Once she got there, Ambassador Dubrow and the CIA station chief kept her too busy taking dictation to even think about her scary ride.

The next time I got to visit Vung Tau was in 1969, when I worked as a staff officer in Bien Hoa, and I was sent to a week-long course at a CIA-run school there. Those of us at the school spent many pleasant evenings enjoying the night-life in Vung Tau.

Vung Tau was like an in-country R&R spot. On several occasions, while flying as an observer in USAF Cessna aircraft used in psyops, the jet-trained young pilots would relieve their frustration of having to jockey a slow propeller-driven airplane by needing to “check out” a suspected mechanical condition — while we were conveniently flying near the airfield at Vung Tau. As the mechanics would work to ascertain the condition, the pilot and I would catch a ride to downtown Vung Tau and spend the afternoon enjoying the various sights.

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6 comments to Saigon Kids Stories: Saturday at Cap St. Jacques

  • Now that Bob has promoted my earlier comment to full article status, I guess I’ll need to ‘fess up to both a spelling error as well as a factual error in what I had written.

    I inadvertently left a letter out of our ambassador’s name — it’s properly written as Durbrow, of course.

    And I mistakenly said that the two men killed near Vung Tau were “a couple of American military men.” Instead they were a USOM advisor for public safety, Dolph B. Owens, age 33 (Bob’s favorite number), and his Vietnamese driver. An Internet newspaper source says he had recently arrived in South Vietnam, and his wife and two young daughters were at the Memphis airport preparing to depart for Saigon when word reached them of the death.

  • Tom Hanna

    I also remember the Cap St. Jacque incident. We had recently arrived in July and Americans were then told not to travel out side of Saigon un escorted.

    The day of the first coup I was trying to get to the Circ and was unable to due to the road blocks, etc. When I finally go home my mother was almost historical. Brings back old memories.

  • Daniel Queen

    My father, Daniel Queen, Sr., was the first American to come on the jeep. He worked with Mr. Owens in Viet Nam and we lived in Saigon for a while. This story was told to me many times and my Dad told me that he had forgotten his cigarettes and went back for them. Due to this, he missed the ambush.

  • Frank

    Bruce, Was the Cessna airplanes the push pull type? We always said that the best AO’s were the Air Force. The best ground support fixed wing were the Marines.

    And the best “Dust Off” were all of them!

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