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PROJECT CONCERN ALULMMNIE :
This is an open Web Page for the many Volunteers, paid staff, friends and all those who Project Concern have touched over the years. Please add to this page by contacting the Webmaster Vern TOLER email@example.com if no contact try <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Links of intrest
Although Project Concern International is quite different from the days when Dr Turpin formed it, the organization is still going strong supporting health needs through the world. Check out their web page at
JAMES W. Vietnam Doctor. The Story of Project Concern. Map, 210pp, worn
New York. Reprint. 1966. Establishment of Project Concern, a medical missionary organisation, in Hong
Kong and Vietnam. AU$20.00
site has up dated information on Vetnam
then click on Vetnam Light or Vietnam Connection
Dr Thomas & Sannie COOK Donna an Dr. Roger Hofmeister
Thomas C Cook <email@example.com>
Tom & Sannie COOK MD
Host for Y2K PC Reunion
Served as a Nurse for PC Vietnam
Lives in Germany.
TIME ZONE VIETNAM
Vern Toler and Ha Kin Lienghot, Saigon, Vietnam March 1993
The group first assembled in Thailand where we visited several temples, all were beautiful, but they were as crowded as Disneyland. The traffic in Bangkok was so bad it took several hours to go only a few blocks. On one of our field trips we were taken to a Thai Montagnard village. Which formally grew Opium Poppies, some of which was still growing. It was obvious by seeing the villagers that the opium had destroyed the health of the village people.
As soon as we landed at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Vietnam we knew we had entered the Twilight Zone. Nothing had changed in the past 25 years. When we entered the immigration area things began to go down hill. There was no help available for our members who had to use walkers. The baggage inspection and paper work was heavy. All recorded Video tape was confiscated, it seems they donít want information brought in. Driving through Saigon it seemed that progress had gone backward, streets were crowded but few automobiles and no military traffic. At the hotel our passports and visaís were picked up and we again had to fill out questionnaires that requested information as our past in Vietnam, friends and relatives in Vietnam, with their addresses and our religion. Ironically there was a newspaper bragging about their efficiency when a cruise ship arrived. The newspaper said that they put souvenir stands on the dock so the passengers could by souvenir since most of the time was taken up by immigration due to entrance and exit Visaís.
One of the early signs of what was ahead for us was a former Vietnamese employee of PC sent his wife to the hotel to greet us. Since he had been arrested and ordered not to talk to foreigners. He remained across the street so he could see and wave to his friends. The Hotel did not honor itís contract with Clement Travel and had raised the fees by 35%. It did not take long to spot the secret police The most obvious one was the elevator Captain, Although the hotel had only two small elevators his job was to push the elevator call button whenever a guest went to an elevator, although this job seemed menial, he was a sharp looking young man who carried a "walkie talky" often gave orders to others in the hotel. Once while in the lobby I saw him observe a man enter the elevator then he quickly and without asking picked up the manís visa from the hotel desk and took it to another room. Another interesting incident with the secret police in Saigon was while I was walking with some members of our group some young men pushing bikes on the crowded sidewalk started bumping me with their bikes and they picked my pocket. When that happened a man who was following us pulled a gun then quickly put it away when we saw him. Secret police are the only ones who would dare carry guns in Saigon. I did not see the uniformed police with guns except at checkpoints along the road. There were many things in Saigon that would bring back memories to many "GIís" Since some of the streets had Barís open to the streets which were filled with foreigners, and there were a few hotels with suggestive signs. There were a few interesting tourist changes along the waterfront. There were several well-lit floating restaurants and one luxury-floating hotel, which rooms run around $200.00 a night. The food at the "tourist trap restaurants and hotels was expensive and poor quality. But the food in the Vietnamese restaurants was great and a full meal cost less then a dollar. Since sanitation is not a way of life in Vietnam I felt safer eating the food where I could see it prepared then I did eating in the hotels where we didnít see the kitchen. There was one change in Saigon that was out of this world. At night the main street and park in front of the Rex Hotel becomes alive with young people cruising on motor scooters and bikes. They are all well dressed and just riding in circles for hours and stopping only to eat or pick up friends, it was is quite a sight and luckily I was able to record some of it on video.
Our stay in Vietnam was handled by "Saigon Tourist" A State Run tourist agency. I will have to admit they did have some good tours set up, the buses were small but they were air-conditioned which helped compensate for the bad roads. One thing they havenít figure out is the need for pit stops along the way, especially when some of their clients were senior ladies. Although we paid them "Saigon Tourist" controlled us; they would not stop at our request and also told us when we could take pictures. They provided all of our transportation and on our way to Dalat we went through Lin Heip where there was a former PC hospital, we asked them to pass by it but they refused.
With our group were three Montagnardís, who were sent to school in the States and become refugees when the war ended. They since had become US citizens, gotten married and raised families, none of them had seen their parents for over 24 years. And everyone in the group was anxious to get to Dalat to see them reunited with their families.
Dalat was a French resort town at an elevation of 6000 ft, with a lake and pine forest the town was always clean and very colorful since the Montagnardís would be in town dressed in very colorful clothing. Each clan weaves their own plaid design in their clothing. When we arrived at the hotel, everyone was quite stunned. The town was dirty and overcrowded, yet there were no Montagnardís in sight. We found that we had to use the "grape vine" to get word to the Montagnard villages that we had arrived so the parents could be reunited with their children and so PC could contact some of the hospital workers they had trained. The PC group consisted of 41, mostly former volunteers at the Lien Hieyp and Dam Pow hospitals; five of our group was Doctors. And we all planed to work a few days at the hospital. The next day we were informed by the "so called Peoples Committee that Foreigners were not permitted to enter Montagnard areas. It seams that the Peoples Committee doesnít mind lying since that morning Joe Bangert an ex-Marine from Brewster, MA. Who speaks Vietnamese was leading a commercial tour group to a Montagnard Village. We soon found that a large part of our time was presenting proposals to the peoples committee and waiting for them to get back with an answer, they could not comprehend that we represented no government and were all volunteers who paid for the trip out of our own pocket and for humanitarian reasons, we still were hoping to get a chance to visit the hospitals, even if it was to deliver some of the medical supplies we brought over but each day it seemed we were given more restrictions on our movements. Meanwhile our Montagnardís were beginning to wonder when and if they would see their parents. The mother of the two girls showed up at the a Catholic Church and they had a nice reunion, but they could not visit in private nor could they go to their hotel The family of the girls seemed fearful and returned to their village after only a few hours visiting. HaKin Lienghst was my roommate during the trip so I traveled a lot with him. He was born in Dalat where his father was a schoolteacher. They had a home and car in Dalat, which the Communists took from his parents, when they were sent to a reservation. . When HaKin was thirteen he was selected to go to the States to go to school by a volunteer group. while going to school he lived with twenty three different families. In the States. He completed college became an U.S. Citizen, got married and has two children. HaKin was getting worried about his chance to see his family, It was obvious that we were followed and he was worried about repercussions towards his parents. When we saw some Montagnard men in town he asked them if they knew his relatives, but they seemed afraid to talk to us. Finally we received a note that his parents had arrived at a hotel in town so we went searching for it. Another person and myself took our Video cameras with us to take pictures we were lucky for his parents were outside the hotel and they had a very emotional reunion. We then went to the porch of the hotel to take pictures and talk since the hotel was locked and the door guarded. . After a short visit I left to give him a better chance to visit with his parents, I did notice the secret police were getting bolder and coming closer to us. After I returned to the hotel the PC group was having a meeting to discuss the latest information from the peoples committee things seemed to be getting worse but we were all happy to hear that HaKin found his parents. We then went on a temple tour and when we got back to the hotel we found out that a few minuets after I left HaKin He, his parents and the PC member Ken had been arrested and their cameras and tapes were confiscated. It was hard to figure out the charges since they seem to make up their laws as they go along. In essence he was told he could only take pictures of weddings and funerals. They were interrogated for several hours and fined $200.00 each then told to report back to the police station the next day.
Some of our group spoke French and they went to a French tavern and when they started speaking French to the operator the secret police told the proprietor to close the tavern in five minutes. What seemed to be unusual is that there were a lot of foreigners in DaLat who seemed to have no problems, in fact I spoke to one German who was traveling thorough Vietnam on a bicycle. In spite of the trouble our group encountered we had a great time there too. The average Vietnamese was friendly to us and wanted to talk to us. Although the restaurants were not as fancy as I remember from the past, we had a some great meals, and at "Lys" Restaurant the operators provided us with some wonderful "sing-a-long" sessions and even the secret police seemed to enjoy it.
Dalat has a large Catholic Cathedral built by the French. Our tour guide pointed out the church and bragged that Vietnam has freedom of worship. And travel it happened to be Ash Wednesday so some of our Catholic members of the group decided to go to services. But that didnít sit well with the peoples committee, and they increased the restrictions on us. We were then told that we could not leave the hotel except for quick individual trips to market to buy bottled water or souvenirs We could only eat in the hotel restaurant and Vietnamese had to obtain a police permit to talk to us, since that sounded like house arrest we took the hint and started to make plans to leave Dalat early, No refund from our hotel. And we still had to pay for next hotel since it wasnít pre-paid. Dalat is a resort town and there is a lot of new foreign construction in town. There is a giant golf course being built the villas and the luxury hotels are being renovated. It would be interesting to see who would be willing to pay big money to come to Dalat while the Communist peoples committee is in town. Although it hard to figure out any reason for their action it seems that the Vietnamese look down upon the native Montianards and the Communist are doing their best to suppress them. It took us several hours to get all the clearance to leave town. It was difficult for HaKin, for his family had sat across the street for several hours so they could see him, although they were not allowed to visit, his parents were not with the group. After several hours one of the former PC Hospital workers was permitted a short visit, then Ha Kinís brother was permitted a short visit. Both visits were limited to the steps of the hotel. The hotel had its secret police too, since it didnít have an elevator his job was to open the door. What was unusual about him was that although he was a doorman he had the best room in the hotel and his wife and child accompanied him He acted like he didnít speak English. But when he was surprised to see me open part of my suitcase to make it into a backpack he couldnít resist asking me about it in good English.
Things changed for us when we finally left the Highlands, and we headed for NhaTrang, The road was difficult and while in the mountain pass we were not permitted to take pictures, When we passed Cam Ran Bay the sailors at the Vietnamese Navy Base gave us friendly waves. In NhaTrang it was like another world. The first thing we noticed is that we didnít have to fill out police questionnaires at the hotel. And we seemed to have a lot of freedom. The beach was clean and the water was pleasant although at the time there was a strong undertow so our swimming was limited. Some of our members rented motor scooters to ride around town. I was especially interested in Nha Trang as it was my home base for a couple of years. I rented a bicycle took off to find some familiar places. although it has been more than two decades, Nha Trang hasnít changed much. Every where I went people would came up to me to talk. A Mr. Pham Tho came to me and said he was an interpreter and worked for U.S. Aid, He insisted that I ride with him on his motor scooter, he then drove me to many of the places I had worked before and to many people who knew some of the people I had worked with, everyone was extremely friendly and they were able to give me some reasonable assurances that some of my friends that I was concerned about made it out of Vietnam. The restaurant food was economical and good and the Hotel rates were reasonable. As we were getting on the bus for the return trip to Saigon Mr. Tho came to the bus to give me copies of his ITT diploma as a Communications Controller and also a copy of his Communist Prison Record. All this seemed to panic our "Saigon Tourist Leader". I believe all of us enjoyed Nha Trang, and I was a little sad for I felt I was leaving Mr. Pham Tho with some false hope. One of the more adventurous members took the civilian Railroad Train to Saigon and he had an interesting story to tell.
Our next two days were controlled tourist trips, which were rugged but interesting Our trip to My Tho was for a river cruse to an Island Orchard set up for tourists. On the Island our guide explained the various types of tropical fruit trees, He also took us to several homes where the families showed us around and explained their living style and after the tour we were taken to a restaurant where we were served many types of tropical fruits along with stories about them. Although this was strictly a commercial tour for foreigners it was well worth the time and money. We visited the " Cao Dia Holy See" this was a religion founded by a Frenchman about 70 years ago and it combined Buddhism and Christianity. The temple was really unique with great artwork. We were permitted along with other foreigners to observe their services from a balcony. We then visited Cu Chi the Vietnamese Army had created a museum from a portion of VC underground tunnels, They were quite interesting and difficult to go through, I did get some good Videos of them but after a while I thought the VC finally got me. As I was barely able to muster the strength to get out, The problem was that since it was hot and humid and I hadnít drank any water for several hours I had heat exhaustion. The tour was operated by the military and they explained their military tactics without the expected anti-American rhetoric at the hotel on the last day in Vietnam the group gave me a surprise Birthday Party. We all had a great time joking about our predicament. Our final problems were at the airport where we went through several different inspection procedures. There x-ray equipment is set up to spot videotape in luggage; also their x-ray procedures are Not Film Safe. Each of my VideoTapes was inspected but they passed. But all of the tapes Ken took were confiscated. I donít know what criteria they used to keep the tapes but since I expected the problems I didnít try to hide any tapes and I had them all in one spot easy to get to. We were all quite relieved once we were in the air and out of Vietnam.
Project Concern has had medical units in Hong Kong for over thirty years and they hosted a typical Chinese style dinner for us. In a few years Hong Kong will come under Communist control and that was a concern for many people there. Although it is still, a shopperís paradise the prices of items are no longer a great bargain.
My thoughts about Vietnam have always been different than many people; I have always had a compassion for people throughout the world wherever I have been asked to serve. While preparing for the trip I had a strong feeling that things were not going right so part of my preparation for the trip was to handle our legal matters in case I didnít come back according to schedule. The trip has strengthened my thoughts on what I think our country should do. The most emotional problems rest with the POW/MIA issue. And information about them. The main portion of the problem I still blame on the anti-war activist of the sixties, for they are the ones that created the political atmosphere that caused our personnel to evacuate Vietnam rapidly and weaken our negotiation powers. The Vietnamese record system is in chaos and I doubt if they have many reliable records. The rapid growth of the jungles and the humid atmosphere destroys what few reliable relics are left. The trade embargo only hurts the people of Vietnam who are friendly and willing to work hard. The embargo does not hurt the Communists Leaders for they have all the materials and power they want and they have no care about the people they serve. If American people were free to move about Vietnam and make inquires I am sure we will gain more information about our missing then we would get by demanding information from the Communists for the credibility of the Communists government is nil. If the American business people were allowed to enter into joint ventures they would be able to hire people and perhaps instill some of our standards of non-discrimination. This is important for in Vietnam Montagnardís, and employees of the former regime are prevented from gaining meaningful employment. In the past Americans were Government employees giving aid in hopes of gaining friendship. And of course there were the volunteer humanitarian groups also giving aid. The new American is the businessperson expecting a profit and the Tourist expecting service for the savings they are spending. There is also the ex "GIís" who wants to return and see Vietnam again but will need the freedom to travel and attempt to visit old friends, and places where they have served. If this was possible I feel Vietnam will eventually change for the better and the Communists will have to change too or be left by the wayside.
Mon-ta-gnard (mon tuhn yärd', -yär') n.
Number of Mon-Khmer and Chamic-speaking
Peoples of the highlands of central and
S Vietnam and Laos.
*copied from Microsoft dictionary disk.
Vern Toler 1998
Ant Hill Background
Dam Pow Hospital Aid
VC installed Ventalation at Dam Pow
Vern & Mary in Tiland
Mary J. and Frank Hooper
Vern & Max Ritz in DamPow Vietnam
Old information small print.
ARE YOU READY FOR Y2K
Dr. Tom and Sannie Cook will host Project Concern Reunion for the year 2000 in
Charleston, SC Phone 843-795-2055
Tom & Sannie Cook, Project Concerns Vietnam Reunion was at
21- 27 February 2000 in Charleston, SC Next reunion 2002 In Germany.
Host Johanna Hueter
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