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Salvation Army Saigon, Vietnam, History of Dan Ross

Me in Saigon

At Headquarters, 525th Military Intelligence Group
The Ponderosa

Salvation Army Saigon, Vietnam, History of Dan Ross, is a little bit of my history with The Salvation Army Medical Missionary Team in Saigon, Vietnam. I had a lot of fun with them and have very fond memories of all of the time I spent with them.

 


Salvation Army Saigon, Vietnam, Here I Come!

 

 When I was in the United States Army Intelligence School (USAINTS) at Ft. Holabird, Maryland, we were all given the "Dream Sheet." The Dream Sheet was a form which was to be filled out in which we would indicate to the US Army where we wanted to be stationed as our next gig. Now you understand why it was called the "Dream" Sheet. We all knew we were going straight to Vietnam. In our Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) there were two choices: The Long Tour and The Short Tour. The long tour would be Thule, Greenland where there was an opening for one person of our MOS. The short tour was one year in Vietnam. In the only act of defiance we wimps were able to put up, 100% of us chose Thule, Greenland. We all ended up in Vietnam.

 

I was given about a months leave and was told to report to the Army base in Oakland, California, for transport to Saigon, Vietnam. I did a little traveling, some flying and headed for California. My uncle Vinson lived in Oakland so I went to visit them. The Salvation Army officers who had been at our Corps when I went into the US Army were now stationed in Oakland Citadel, so I went to visit them. This was Major and Mrs. Wiseman. The Wiseman's invited me to dinner at their home which was really nice. Since it was Wednesday night, they had asked the Oakland Citadel bandmaster if I could come and sit in with their band practice. The bandmaster invited me to play so I played 1st Baritone with them during their rehearsal. Most of the Oakland Citadel band had been imported from England by the Kalamazoo, Michigan Corps. Most of that group decided to head west and ended up in Oakland Citadel. The two exceptions were Joan and Jim Burleigh who ended up at the Seattle Temple Corps.

I visited with my Aunt Pauline and Uncle Vinson and met my California cousins for the first time. My Uncle Vinson was a longshoreman at the Oakland docks and had been in the Navy.

 

Junior in Navy

My Uncle Vinson around the Korean War

 

Salvation Army Saigon, Vietnam, Heading Out!

 

 The Salvation Army Territorial and Divisional Headquarters were located in San Francisco at that time so I had a lot of relatives and friends to visit. After socializing with a lot of my family and friends around Oakland and San Francisco, I got on a bus for the airport. At the Army Base and the airport it was "Hurry up and wait." When I saw the stacks of duffel bags piled high and stretching off in the distance, I became fearful that nothing could carry that much stuff let alone all of the guys that went with the duffel bags. Then, as we sat in the terminal we watched an old DC8 roll up to the terminal . The PA system came on and the voice told us there was a mechanical problem with the plane and we would be delayed. I swear this is true. We sat there looking out the window while they changed the tires on that four engine jet. This did not bode well for our trip.

 

We got in that old plane and it started the takeoff roll. Being a pilot, I torture myself in large airliners by watching those little signs beside the runway. You start off at the end of a runway that's about 10,000 feet long. After rolling for about a mile and a half picking up speed, you start seeing those little signs. They go something like this, 2,000; 1,500; 1,000; 500. If we're still rolling on the ground after a mile and a half and I'm seeing 500 I go into white knuckle mode. Those signs are there to tell the pilot how many feet of runway he has left and around 500 he'd better either cut power and slam on the brakes or haul back on the yoke and get off the ground. We were so heavily loaded we used up the whole runway and were solidly on the ground when we passed 500.

We flew to Hawaii and spent a little time there. Then it was on to Guam. The landing there was interesting. I had been flying seaplanes and I was sure we were making a water landing when we approached the island. Out my window there was no land in sight. The waves kept getting closer and closer then the pilot began making more corrective adjustments to the controls and I knew we were about to touch down and there was still no land. Finally, I heard the tires screech, felt the impact of the plane touching down and I looked out my window and there was STILL no land. I looked down and the wings were hanging out over the water and we were right at the edge of the runway. This is the closest I've ever come to what it must be like to land on an aircraft carrier.

 

The next leg of our flight was to Clark Air Force Base in the Philipines. The take off from Guam was just as hair raising as the landing. We taxied out to the end of the runway and turned to line up with the center line of the runway. The wing was out over the water, then the tail was out over the water. Then it was full throttle and we were soon shooting over the water at the other end of the runway. We had stewardesses on this flight and, except for our uniforms, it was just like a regular commercial flight. When we got to Clark AFB, we just sat in the terminal and waited for the plane to be serviced. The stewardesses were in the terminal with us at Clark and there was a distinct change in their demeanor. They were not going on the next leg and several of them looked so sad. I think they felt they were helping to carry us to our death.

Salvation Army Saigon, Vietnam, Arrival

After the plane was serviced at Clark, we got back on and everybody's mood was changed. It was getting to be late at night and the cabin was very quiet. As we approached the coast of Vietnam all of the lights in the plane went out and all of the window shades were drawn closed. It was absolutely silent. We ended up at Long Binh which was surreal to say the least. I don't have much memory of this place because we were only there a day or two until busses arrived to carry us to our individual units. I was impressed by the helicopters and honey pots. We arrived at night and one of the first things that happened was about 20 Huey helicopters came roaring in over our heads for a landing not too far away. This was an awful racket but an awesome sight. I still thank God I was just enough color blind to squelch my insane desire to fly one of those things.

The honey pots were under the latrines there was a long row of latrines that looked very much like the porta potties we see at parades, airshows and other mass events. The difference here was that behind the latrines the ground was about 2 feet lower. Under the latrines were the honey buckets. I drew latrine duty and for a couple of hours my job was to pull the honey buckets out from under the latrines and pour a layer of kerosene onto the contents. We then lit them on fire and the kerosene and contents disappeared. Well, not exactly. This was an environmentalists nightmare. The thick black kerosene and fecal matter smoke blew away a short distance and became the air we breathed. What a life.

A day or two of Long Binh and I was put on a bus. We drove to Saigon and this overwhelming feeling of depression came over me. As we drove down the road next to tiny little huts all I could think was "I'm never going to leave this place." I wasn't afraid I was going to die, but all I could think was, "I'm never going to leave this place." Then I got to thinking about it and, as just about every American military man in every American military event, I started thinking about going home. I thought about my family, the Seattle Temple Corps, and High School friends and college friends and all I could think about was getting back to them.

After I got settled into my barracks, I turned on my little black radio and turned the dial. The very first thing I heard on that radio was:

 

     

Ring the bells of heaven! There is joy today
   For a soul retuning from the wild!
See the Father meets him out upon the way,
   Welcoming His weary, wand'ring

 

   Glory! Glory! how the angels sing!
    Glory! Glory! how the loud harps ring!
   'Tis the ransomed army, like a mighty sea,
    Pealing forth the anthem of the free.

Ring the bells of heaven! There is joy today
   For the wand'rer now is reconciled.
Yes, a soul is rescued from his sinful way
   And is born a new a ransomed child.

Ring the bells of heaven! spread the feast today!
   Angels, swell the glad, triumphant strain!
Tell the joyful tidings, bear it far away,
   For a precious soul is born again. 

 

 I heard that song and I thought, "What on earth is this? I didn't know the Salvation Army had any Vietnamese Corps in Saigon. We sang that song a lot at The Salvation Army Seattle Temple Corps. " I listened all the way through the song which was being sung in Vietnamese and then someone spoke in English briefly and announced that it was the Seventh Day Adventist Church choir in Saigon. It turned out that there was no Salvation Army Corps in Saigon, but several other denominations had churches there.

As soon as I got to the 525th Military Intelligence Group compound in Saigon, I went looking for church. I found out that we had a chaplain and a chapel. I went to our little chapel and looked in the window. I immediately learned every thing I needed to know about the chaplain. The chapel was being used for a store room. The pews were all piled up and there were large boxes everywhere with dust all over everything. Church was a bust on our compound. I don't remember ever seeing that chaplain and he was never to be found. We had a Sergeant Major who had Youth For Christ meetings in the mess hall and that was about it. He was transferred stateside shortly after I got there and we had no access to worship services.

Salvation Army Saigon, Vietnam, Meeting the Team

I then heard that there was a Salvation Army medical missionary team coming to Saigon to work among the refugees. I looked them up and went to meet them. I began spending a lot of time with them and they were very friendly. There were officers from from Pennsylvania, Illinois and, I believe, New York. And a woman from Hong Kong. The woman from Hong Kong had been awarded the Victoria Cross by Queen Elizabeth for her work among refugees during World War II. In addition to the Salvationists, there was a Chinese woman who was a medical doctor from the mainland. We became friends quickly and I drove the van for them and carried boxes whenever I was off - duty. Captain Exline was from Pennsylvania. She was single and had been an officer for some time. She introduced me to Top Ramen, the oriental noodles in the plastic bag. She would cook some Top Ramen and we would go up on the roof in the evening and eat a bowl of noodles and talk about just about everything. She was single because her boyfriend had been killed in a motorcycle accident so we had a few things in common besides the Salvation Army. As usual, the MAIN topic of conversation was the Salvation Army. We told each other about most of our experiences and became pretty good friends.

I asked the team what they were doing about church and they said they would go to the Christian Missionary Alliance church. They asked me if I wanted to go with them and I said "Sure. Whenever I'm off - duty." So on Sunday, I got to their little compound and we all piled into the van and went to the Christian Missionary Alliance church. The pastor there was very gracious and announced that our row of Salvationists was present and in regard to our presence, the congregation would turn to a little song written by William Booth. It goes something like this:

 

     

  O boundless salvation! deep ocean of love,
O fullness of mercy, Christ brought from above,
The whole world redeeming, so rich and so free
Now flowing for all men, come roll over me.

My sins, they are many their stains are so deep,
And bitter the tears of remorse that I weep,
But useless is weeping; thou great crimson sea,
Thy waters can cleanse me, come, roll over me.

My tempers are fitful, my passions are strong,
They bind my poor soul and they force me to wrong;
Beneath thy blest billows, deliverance I see,
Oh come, mighty ocean, and roll over me.

Now tossed with temptation, then haunted with fears,
My life has been joyless and useless for years,
I feel something better most surely would be
If once thy pure waters would roll over me.

O ocean of mercy oft longing I've stood
On the brink of thy life giving flood!
Once more I have reached this soul cleansing sea,
I will not go back til it rolls over me.

The tide is now flowing I'm touching the wave,
I hear the loud call of the Mighty to Save;
My faith's growing bolder, delivered I'll be;
I plunge 'neath the waters, they roll over me.

And now, Hallelujah, the rest of my days
Shall gladly be spent in promoting His praise
Who opens His bosom to pour out this sea
of boundless salvation for you and for me.

 


This Song is referred to in The Salvation Army as "The Founder's Song" because it was written by William Booth, Founder of the Salvation Army.

The last time I heard this song was May the 10th, 2003. I was sitting alone in the auditorium at Washington State University saving a row of seats for my family. It was my daughter's graduation from the University. The auditorium was empty except for about ten people when someone turned on the PA system and a band playing a march came out over the speakers. I thought, "That sounds familiar. I've heard this march before, I've played this march before." Then it hit me. It was a recording of "The Salvation Army March" by John Philip Sousa. He wrote the march in honor of The Salvation Army and embedded in the march is the melody of "The Founder's Song." It was on a CD of band marches that was played over and over throughout most of the ceremony. Most of the time it could barely be heard, but I must have heard it three or four times.

 

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Salvation Army Saigon, Vietnam, Christian Missionary Alliance "Corps"

 

 The Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Saigon became our "corps." One Sunday we wept with their congregation at the news that the Viet Cong had rounded up local native pastors of some of the outlying CMA churches near Saigon and executed them. It was an awful time for the Church.

As far as the work of The Salvation Army in Saigon, it was busy. It was long and it was hard. Whenever I had a day off I would borrow a pistol from one of the officers and head over to the Salvation Army and help them carry boxes to and from the little clinics they would set up in the refugee camps. We weren't allowed to leave the military compound unarmed and my personal weapon was a huge M-14 rifle. It was really cumbersome and I looked like GI Joe when I carried it. OK, I didn't LOOK like GI Joe, I FELT like GI Joe. US Army Officers had .45 automatics or .38 police specials so I would ask around to borrow one so I would be less threatening when I went out with the medical teams. It was a lot of fun and I got to help the civilians. All of the Americans on the team lived in the same building while I was there. Later, they went to different apartment buildings as the team expanded and branched out into other areas of work.

At the Salvation Army building, were several Vietnamese ladies who did the cooking and cleaning. When they saw me and Captain Barbara Exline talking they started giggling. After a while, she asked them what was so funny. They didn't speak English, but they started pointing at us and calling me "Boom Boom" I immediately replied, "No Boom Boom, No Boom Boom." Cpt Exline thought that was cute and she said, "Oh let them call you Boom Boom." So I shut my mouth and ignored them. Finally, one day, while several of us were sitting in the living room talking, Cpt Exline told me she was going to include something about me in an article she wrote regularly for The War Cry, which was the Salvation Army magazine. She asked if she could include something about me and I said, "OK, that's fine." She then said, "I'm going to use the nickname the ladies gave your." I said, "What nickname is that?" She said, "Well they call you Boom Boom." I choked a little and said, "Oh no! Don't do that!" She looked startled and said, "Why not?" I said, "Because these women think we are lovers, and Boom Boom means .... " She turned three shades of red ending in a sort of pale purple. Her last words on the subject were something like. "Oh no!" One thing is for certain, they never called me "Boom Boom" again. Thank God that was over. There were other American servicemen who came by every once in awhile and this could have been pretty messy if they read in the War Cry that Cpt Exline had a "Boom Boom" in her life.

Salvation Army Saigon, Vietnam, Commissioner Hepburn Visit

Then one day we heard that Commissioner Hepburn was going to visit the team from New York. He was the Commander of The Salvation Army in the United States. We were sitting around talking about the visit when the conversation turned to what to have for dinner. They invited me to be there too so I said, "OK. That's fine." Since the team had members from China and members from the US, the cooks had been cooking American food on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Chinese food on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Everybody agreed that Commissioner Hepburn probably got enough American food so we would have Chinese food on the night he came to dinner. So they decided to get a shopping list together for the Vietnamese cooks to buy for the meal. After a while the two Chinese ladies brought up a problem. They had been speaking to each other softly in Chinese for a few minutes and then they decided to speak up. They apologized for any problems they might cause. Then they explained that the Vietnamese cooks had NOT been cooking authentic Chinese food and it would not be good enough for the American Commander. We were all flabbergasted and asked them what we had been eating on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. They replied that the Vietnamese women were trying to please them so they had not said anything, but this was an important occasion and they wanted it done right so they volunteered to cook authentic Chinese food for the night that Commissioner Hepburn was there. We weren't to say anything to the Vietnamese women because they didn't want to hut their feelings, but they were just to be told that they wouldn't be needed that night. When Commissioner Hepburn arrived we were all introduced and then sat down for an authentic Chinese meal. Captain Exline wrote a book about her Vietnam experiences and included a picture of me with Commissioner Hepburn and several other team members in the book. I have a copy here somewhere and If I find it, I'll show you the picture.

 

 Barbara Exline

 Captain Exline in the Neighborhood Market

Captain Barbara Exline
The Salvation Army United States of America
Eastern Territory (USA East)
Western Pennsylvania Division

Captain Barbara Exline and I took a stroll in a neighborhood market. This is something you never want to do in a third world country unless you have a real strong stomach.

 

 Meanwhile, back at the Ponderosa, (Yes, our military compound was really named "The Ponderosa" from the cowboy TV show "Bonanza") we got a new chaplain. I saw some guy open the door to the chapel and start hauling stuff out of it. He was the new chaplain and he meant business. The only thing I had ever heard of the old chaplain was that he had been transferred back to the US. A day or two later, the Chaplain's assistant killed himself. I recall it was his belief that the chaplain would take him back to the US with him, but he left without him. I never heard anything else. While the old chaplain couldn't be found, the new chaplain was something else. He couldn't be avoided. He was everywhere. He was a ball of fire. He's the only Baptist I've ever met who constantly chewed on a cigar. I don't recall ever seeing it lit, but he was never seen without a cigar clenched in his teeth. He was my kind of guy. There was no fooling around with him. He was there to serve and the very first Sunday he was there, he had already cleaned and painted the chapel. It was perfect. It only held about 25 people so it was standing room only every service. The guys in our unit sang with macho gusto so when we got in that little chapel and started bellowing it sounded like a huge choir. It turned out a lot of guys had just been waiting for a chaplain to come along and all of his service were full. We only got about an hour for chapel on Sunday mornings when we were on duty so we would hotfoot over to the chapel, sing til our throats were sore and then listen to a short sermon. These were some of the most worshipful times I've ever spent. This chaplain did one service after another until all of his flock had been served. He was a hard working shepherd. This man really cared about his men and his work.

Our chaplain was a busy guy and one thing he did was to meet with other Christian leaders in the community. He became acquainted with the Seventh Day Adventist's pastor and his family and invited their choir to visit our compound. This is the choir that I heard on the radio singing, "Ring the Bells of Heaven" the first time I turned on my radio in Saigon.

 

 7th Day Adventist Choir

 The pastor's wife leading the Seventh Day Adventist Choir at "The Ponderosa" in Saigon, Vietnam

 7th Day Adventist Choir

 This was such a nice choir. I wonder how many of them were executed for their faith when the communists took over.

 7th Day Adventist Choir

 The choir at The Ponderosa. In keeping with our "Bonanza" theme, the sign for the "Saloon" is right above the end of the bus on the left of this picture.

 7th Day Adventist Choir

 Our chaplain ditched his cigar for the Adventists. That's him at the microphone.

 7th Day Adventist Choir

 They were quite polished and not only looked good, but sounded great! The clothing the women are wearing has a special name which I have long forgotten, but the outfit is so graceful. It consists of silk ankle length pants with an ankle length piece of cloth in front and in back. The choir is in white, but women wear all kinds of colors and designs on this kind of silk outfit.

 7th Day Adventist Choir

 Part of the audience made up of the men of the 525th Military Intelligence Group.

 7th Day Adventist Choir

In combat areas there is a lot of unity and a lot of rule changing. For instance, enlisted men don't salute officers. Saluting an officer is an invitation to the local enemy sniper to kill our officers. 

There is a lot of unity among Christians too. The Salvation Army members attend the other denomination's services and they sing our songs. Here you see our Baptist chaplain chatting with the Seventh Day Adventist pastor and his family. In combat areas we Christians are all in the same boat and a lot of "rules" change. Since your a lot closer to getting into heaven in a place like this, you have to be congenial with Christians of all denominations because you could be sitting next to each other in heaven at any minute.

For me, this was normal and always the way it should be dating back to my childhood when all of the Christians in town would meet up at a different church once a month for a songfest. This is one reason my websites are littered with songs.

   

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