Week 5: #52 Ancestors – So Far Away
By Eilene Lyon
According to Google, it is 9,079 miles [14,611 km] from Richmond, Virginia, to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. That’s how far my dad was from home in 1966.
The Second Indochina War, what we call the Vietnam War in the U.S., began in 1955 after the French departed the newly separated countries of North and South Vietnam. Our government took control of military and financial aid to South Vietnam.
It wasn’t until President Johnson’s administration in 1964 that the first combat troops were sent overseas. My uncle, Nathan Halse, was part of this first wave of soldiers in Vietnam. He served his tour working as a radio operator for the U.S. Marine Corps. He returned to the states in 1965, stationed at Twentynine Palms, California.
My father, unlike Nathan, anticipated a long military career. He participated in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in college and received his commission upon graduation in 1958. In 1965, our family returned from his assignment in France to a position in Richmond, Virginia, after a short stay at Ft. Lee, near Petersburg.
Dad bought a house in a new subdivision near the supply depot where he worked – the only house he owned during his 21-plus years in the Army. He specialized in logistics and the base issued supplies for troops being mobilized to southeast Asia. In December, he received surprise orders – he, too, would be going to Vietnam, just after New Year’s Day.
My Grandma Halse came to Virginia to spend the holidays with us. She cut her visit short when she received the news that Nathan had died in a single-car accident in California on December 30. Dad attended the funeral in Corvallis, Oregon, on the way to his new assignment.
We had a comfortable home and Dad’s income took care of all our needs, but I think Mom found being alone with three children under age eight to be more than she’d bargained for. Little brother and I were too young for school, though I did attend pre-school part of the time.
My parents corresponded by reel-to-reel tape; it approximated a glacial speed, one-sided phone call back and forth. My brothers and I would listen to the beginning of Dad’s recordings, eager to hear his voice, but the mundane news soon turned our attention to fun and games elsewhere.
At a post near Saigon, Dad served as a logistics advisor at the Quang Trung Training Center and as a staff advisor at the Ranger Training Center. One of their accomplishments was building a swimming pool at Quang Trung!
His tour lasted exactly one year. When he returned to Virginia, we had to move again, this time to Woodbridge, Virginia, for Dad’s posting at Fort Belvoir.
I wish I could recall what it was like when Dad came home. I’m reminded of those clips you’ve seen on the nightly news: some soldier deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan makes a surprise visit home to attend a child’s recital, school play, or soccer game. When the kid realizes Dad (or Mom) is there, a meltdown ensues and we all wipe away tears and say “Awwwwww.”
Daddy’s homecoming wasn’t a surprise to us, but I know I was very, very happy to have him back.
A key event in the Vietnam War came with the Tet Offensive in 1968 and public sentiment turned sharply against the conflict. Dad, however, was not done with Vietnam. He received orders for a second tour, departing in May 1969. We moved to Corvallis to be closer to Dad’s family while he was gone. During this second tour, Mom and Dad got to enjoy an R & R trip to Hawaii.
Dad worked as Depot Commander at the Vietnam Exchange in Qui Nhon this time. Apparently he had expected a different assignment:
“First person I saw this morning was Dick G–. He operates the Class I section of the Qui Nhon depot. So he was diverted from his original assignment just like me…In spite of horrid first thoughts, this assignment may turn out to be one of the most challenging and interesting yet. I will essentially wear two hats: one that of the PX area depot Commander and two that of deputy area Commander.”
Again, it was a huge relief to everyone at home when Dad came back from Asia. Because Dad and his brothers had all worked at the Corvallis Gazette-Times in their school days, it wasn’t unusual to find Halses featured in an article. When Dad returned in May 1970, he gave the paper an interview expressing his opinion on our involvement in Vietnam:
“I certainly do think we belong in Vietnam. On this last tour of duty, I worked closely with Vietnamese civilians and they said they wanted Americans there. These people have the same personal desires as we. They want to control their land and be able to live freely in it.”
Feature image: Some of Dad’s Vietnamese civilian friends. Taken at the Saigon Zoo. Slide is labeled “Cō Cuc & children” (Collection of the author)
Dad’s written summary of work history
Letter from Dad dated May 25, 1969.
Corvallis Gazette-Times, May 23, 1970, p. A-1