This is a report I received from John Sweet on his recent visit to the Thare Orphange near NKP, Thailand. It is a story of the American GI helping less fortunate people during wartime and later returning to see it 30 years later. It reminds me of the orphange run by Father Menger in Vientiane, Laos which we used to help with all kinds of things which we either borrowed, stole or obtained by whatever means we could just to help out these little people.

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From: "John & Nancy Sweet" <jsweet@seacoast.com>

To: "Gene Rossel" <aircommando1@earthlink.net>

Subject: Return

Date: Thu, 6 Nov 1997 23:18:29 -0500

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Gene,

 

I am very sorry to learn of the recent loss of your brother. Your love for

him must have been very great. It was an added difficulty to have missed

the reunion which you have worked so hard toward. During the last year I

have enjoyed the articles you have written for the ACA and noticed the great

knowledge and sharing which is communicated within them. Your web site is

outstanding.

 

I have never written an article before so please bear with me. Below, I am

attaching (by cut & paste) the material which I had forwarded to you

previously in its orig. Amipro (Lotus) format.

 

Father Khai speaks seven languages fluently and has been to the United

States on several occasions. Without his abilities the orphange at Thare

would not have succeeded as well as it has, nor probably even survived. He

is a wonderful man and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to

know him.

 

Please let me know your thoughts on the enclosed when you are able. Will I

rec. a membership renewal notice?

 

(This was the memorial presentation letter, which was translated by Father

Khai to the children when the donation was made in 1997)

 

IN MEMORY

OF OUR BELOVED BROTHERS

 

 

We make this donation in a sincere desire to again assist the children of

this school Many years have passed since 1969, when Father Khai and I

worked on the Christmas celebration together. A celebration which is vivid

even now as my fondest Christmas. A celebration of sharing and love which

has never been forgotten by the children who were here, even after almost 28

years former students still remark upon that time with fondness.

 

Today a new generation of students are here, and the Americans serving in

the 56th Special Operations Wing at Nakhon Phanom have long since departed

home. Some of those who assisted and contributed greatly to the success of

that celebration in 1969 never returned home. Our beloved brothers

perished during the war, or yet remain Missing in Action. In their memory

we make this donation to renew their commitment of love and fellowship, and

they shall not be forgotten.

 

This donation has been raised by contributions of the men who were soldiers

in the 56th Special Operations Wing at Nakhon Phanom, and from the families

of those whose fate is still unknown.

Roger Herrick - In memory of his brother Captain James Herrick Jr. - 602nd

Fighter Sq. MIA

Colonel Jimmie Butler - FAC Nail 12

Dick Anderson - 23rd TASS

Kermit Wilkins - 23rd TASS

Paul Lee - 23rd TASS

John Sweet - Tactical Units Ops Ctr

A donation In Memory of Arthur Hardy by his friend John

A donation In Memory of Lawrence Crozier by his son Lawrence

A donation In Memory of Clarence Sweet by his son John

A donation from Mary Menner

A donation from Albert Grow

 

In Love and Peace

 

(Here is what I have written so far- for your editing)

 

Every once in a while I would stumble across the old shoe box full of

pictures while searching in the bedroom closet for something. My quest

would then become of secondary importance, and I would spend a few minutes

while sitting on the bed, pondering over the dozen pictures I always left on

top. Pictures of NKP, Nakhon Phanom - or "Naked Fanny" as we all called it,

and of the orphanage at Thare. Pictures taken just a couple days before

Christmas in 1969, and the years would pass away as the flood of memories

returned.

 

Another Buck Sergeant named Ted deserves the most credit, for he convinced

me to accompany him to the orphanage at Thare almost fifty miles away from

NKP near Sakon Nakhon. To this day I have no idea how Ted first met Father

Khai, nor how he managed to pull off teaching English to the children there

during his R & R time, instead of being required to go to Bangkok, but he

did! Father Khai picked us up for the journey and returned us after dark

that night, speeding in a cloud of dust over the twisting rut filled red

dirt road through the jungle. We used to say "If you didn't believe in God

before you got in Father Khai's car, you sure did by the time you got out."

My one day visit to the orphanage was enough to convince me that Ted was

right, the kids needed all the help they could get. So together we started

a campaign to raise money. The project began in October and took off like

wildfire. The men stationed at NKP gave generously and gathered assistance

from everywhere.

 

By the time a week before Christmas rolled around there was $5,000 in cash,

as well as everything from baseball equipment to fingernail clippers.

Somehow, don't ask me how, there were over a dozen large containers each

four feet square filled with personal items for the children. Combs,

shampoo, scissors, sewing kits, handkerchiefs, soap, socks and clothes. I

was amazed because they were all brand new and individually packaged. It

certainly was going to be a great Christmas for the kids!

 

The units were competing amongst themselves in a friendly way to outdo each

other. The most astonishing gift was the first one delivered. A huge pile

of snow from Colorado with a Christmas Tree stuck on top. The kids went

wild because they had never seen snow before. But I have to admit, when

Santa showed up in the 21st SOS Jolly Green Giant, they had tied for first

place.

 

Father Khai had not been idle either. The Bishop had come up from Bangkok

for the celebration, which was an eleven hour drive each way. Somehow

Father Khai had "found" a case of cold American beer and provided a feast on

the verandah for Ted, myself and several of the officers. The older girls

performed Thai dancing as entertainment while the other 1200 orphans

watched, lined up behind them facing us.

 

Passing out those gifts to the children is the fondest memory of Christmas I

have. As they passed down the row of boxes holding out their newly acquired

shopping bags (with handles) I wondered who had connections with the bag

manufacturer. The faces of the children portrayed the true meaning of

Christmas in ways I am not capable of putting into words. I always

remember that day filled with joy in celebration of love and peace. I

always wondered what happened to Father Khai and the orphanage at Thare.

 

 

Part 2

 

One day while using my computer last Feburary I decided to test the claim of

a new Search Engine on the Web. Entering the words "Nakhon Phanom" I was

sure nothing would be found and I would be eligable to win a prize in their

contest. I was wrong. I found the wonderful Web Site of the Air Commando

Association, submitted my application and joined.

 

Funny how your plans change isn't it? I was headed to China by invitation

of a Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party. A guide and translator, along

with transportation was to be provided with permission to travel anywhere I

wanted. The offer had been made over dinner a year earlier. My wife, Nancy

and I had assisted a delegation which had come to America to finalize

negotions with the company I work for. They would never have the

opportunity to be in America again and were staying in a motel alone for two

weekends, so we escorted them around Boston and Southern New Hampshire. I

never thought they were serious when we were told "You are welcome to come

to China" until I received a phone call from Sashi concerning the details a

month later.

 

So I got to thinking maybe we can go to Bangkok if wewere going to enter China

from Hong Kong. Then I discovered that Thai Airways is now flying up to NKP

several times a week. When that worked out I knew I was going up to have a

look around. Then in late June I left a posting on the United Stated Air

Force 50th Anniversary Web Site - PACAF as well as another on the VietNam

Vets Message Board, about my return trip to Nakhon Phanom.

 

A week or so later I received e-mail from Suttida and David Brown. Suttida

is from NKP and now teaches Thai at Princton University and her sister is a

school teacher in NKP. Suttida kindly offered to assist me in any way, and

offered to have her sister meet us at the airport. I then asked her if the

orphange at Thare was still there, and if they could locate Father Khai. I

received e-mail back that Suttida would ask her sister to try to locate him

and that the orphanage was still there.

 

That same night I dreamed of returning to NKP, and maybe finding Father

Khai, who was my only Thai friend I could remember by name. I woke up when

I thought "If I find him what would I say, remember when we helped you?

The very next day I began raising mony for the orphange at Thare, which was

to be donated in memory of the men from NKP who never returned home. That

same night I received E-mial from Dick Anderson, a former member of the 23rd

TASS at NKP who responded to my posting on the VietNam Vets Message Board.

Dick had located several other members of the 23rd TASS over the years, and

held a reunion with them at the VietNam Memorial in Washington, D.C. a

couple of weeks before. He stated that it seemed like a good project for

the 23rd TASS guys and asked for my address. The next thing I knew, I had

checks in the mail from five men I had never met, including Roger Herrick,

the brother of Captain James W. Herrick Jr. of the 602nd, who became MIA in

October 1969 while I was at NKP.

 

Two weeks after I had raised $1,000 and Suttida's sister had found Father

Khai and Suttida e-mailed me his fax number. So I faxed off my old pictures

of him and I from 28 years ago and received a very warm response which was

signed "Your Old Friend in Thailand, Lawrence Khai" Seems he was now

ArchBishop of Thailand.

 

Father Khai picked us up at the airport at Sakon Nakhon and drove us to his

residence where breakfast awaited us. We then toured St. Joseph's School

which is adjacent. The school today is very modern including a room filled

with computers. All grade levels are taught English and computer useage.

The children wear red and whilte uniforms and are extremely well behaved.

The school also has a recent addition of a large gymnasium which has not

been enclosed on the sides.

 

The orphanage at Thare stands across the street from the school. The old

buildings I remembered in 1969 have been replaced, and a brand new church

has also been built. One of the Sisters who works at the orphanage was one

of the children present when Santa arrived in 1969. Father Khai informed

me former students still speak fondly in rememberance of the American GI's

visit to this day.

 

Most of the orphans who attend St. Joseph's School no longer reside at the

orphanage, but rather live with families in the local communities. A family

of their own has proven to be far more benificial to the children. However,

some still live at the orphanage as not enough families have been located.

As the children were all in classes, we headed out with a rented van (1,300

bhat for six hours) to see NKP.

 

.All those who have been mentioned have given me their permission to use

their names. I will try to complete the rest of the story this weekend.

Thank you for your help Gene. I look forward to hearing from you more about

your exploits with missionary in Laos.

 

Warmest Regards,

 

John Sweet