Sometime after the Catholic-Buddhist clash, Buddhist young people took to the streets again, this time in a non-violent protest against the U. S. They felt U. S. officials favored the Catholics. I unwittingly ran head-on into this protest.
To set the scene — Since I worked nights at the radio station, I needed something to occupy my days and was glad to secure a position as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at the Vietnamese American Association (Hoi Viet My) school. This was a very enjoyable experience for me, allowing me to have daily contact with a large number of Vietnamese of different ages and socio-economic backgrounds. I especially enjoyed the occasional invitation to a Vietnamese home, sometimes a very humble home. I came to have a much greater understanding, appreciation and even admiration of Viet Nam’s history and culture.
I had purchased a bicycle for getting around Saigon and on the day of the anti-U. S. protest I was riding my bike in late afternoon from the Vietnamese American Association to AFRS to begin my nightly shift. As I came around a corner I found myself riding directly toward a solid phalanx of young people carrying a huge banner that read, “Down With Cabot Lodge.” Henry Cabot Lodge was the American ambassador to Viet Nam. He created a backlash when he suggested the U. S. should take control of Viet Nam as a protectorate until the political situation stabilized. The banner made it obvious this crowd was mad at Americans. I came to a sliding stop and stood in the middle of the street for a few seconds, not sure what best to do. I was afraid if I turned around and pedaled away it might incite the crowd to come after me. Several of the marchers were carrying sticks or pipes and none was smiling.
Not at all sure I was doing the best thing, I walked my bike over to the sidewalk and stood pressed against a fence. I avoided making eye contact with the marchers and I was relieved to see they were not paying any attention to me. I continued to be tense for a few minutes as they marched past, long minutes for me. After the last of them was past me, I remounted my bike and went on to the radio station.
I couldn’t do a first-person report on my experience in the 6:00 p.m. newscast because we were under orders to minimize reporting on any anti-American activities or other events that reflected badly on U. S. policy in Viet Nam.
A bit of foolishness that came up involved a plan to deal with the possibility of the Viet Cong taking over the station and making a propaganda broadcast before they could be driven out by ARVN (Army of Viet Nam) troops. (It was not altogether impossible that the VC might make such an attempt.) There was talk of installing a cut-off switch near the floor beside the door of the control room. As one of us was being marched out at gunpoint he could hit the cut-off with a foot, preventing the radio signal from being broadcast.
The plan also involved placing a loaded .45 in the control room for some unspecified purpose. (Ducking down behind the control console and engaging the VC in a firefight, maybe?) Most of us advised the Assistant Officer in Charge of the station that it wasn’t going to happen. One day, as someone was doing a newscast from the announce booth, the guy at the control console was fooling around with the pistol and accidentally fired a shot into the announce booth, missing the newscaster by inches. The .45 was gone the next day, to everyone’s relief.
Another incident that literally hit close to home for me was all over before I and other residents of the Dai Nam knew about it. We found out that a demolitions team had located and removed a large explosive charge that was planted in the ceiling of the theater on the ground floor of the building. The hotel rooms on the five upper floors were directly over the theater’s high domed ceiling. The theater’s electrician had planted the explosive at a point where its detonation would cause the ceiling to collapse, dropping the hotel rooms, and all of us asleep in them, into the theater cavity.
The electrician had been arrested a couple days before the explosive was found and removed but he resisted for some time telling where he had planted it. During those days, when a time- delay fuse could have set off the explosion at any time, we were not removed from the hotel or told of the bomb under our beds. We were not pleased about the situation.