MCC at the Banmethuot Leprosarium, 1955-1962
In Memory of Alan Hochstetler
by Donald E. Voth
MCC Vietnam, 1958-1961
Beginning the Adventure
In May of 2018, following the celebration of the life of my dear friend Alan Hochstetler, I decided to write up a brief story of the leprosarium where we were initially assigned in Việt Nam, where Alan supervised and carried out the construction of two patient wards. There are many, many stories that could be told about our time there, but these are primarily those which involve him. I planned to write this as something that could be shared with friends and relatives of Alan who hadn’t had the opportunity to learn about Alan’s work in Banmethuot. I hope it may be of interest to others as well.
Alan Hochstetler, Leland Good, and I — all three conscientious objectors to Military Service—were assigned by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to Việt Nam for three year terms of alternative service in a program called PAX — Latin for “peace." In Việt Nam, we were assigned to the Leprosy Hospital located in the forest near Banmethuot with primary responsibility to build two patient wings on to the existing hospital. Alan, who had considerable construction experience already even at 19, was to be in charge of the construction project with help from Leland. My primary responsibility was the relatively minor leadership and administrative tasks of the small MCC unit at the hospital, but we all actually participated in a wide range of activities, including medical service.
After orientation at the MCC headquarters in Akron, Pennsylvania, we set sail. We went first to France on the Holland/America Lines Statendam departing on August 29, 1958. We spent several days in France and then headed onward to Việt Nam on the Messageries Maratimes lines Le Việt Nam, arriving at the port in Sài Gòn on Friday, September 29. After a week or so in Sài Gòn we were driven up to the leprosarium near Banmethuot on Saturday, October 4, in a long caravan consisting of a 1938 Citroen truck, a well-worn Willys Jeep wagon, and a Land Rover.
Protestant Christianity had been introduced to Việt Nam by members of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) Mission in 1911 at Đà Nẵng by Canadian missionary Robert A. Jaffray. That work had been expanded to the Hill Tribes of Southern Việt Nam in the 1920s by CMA missionaries Gordon and Laura Smith, who founded the Leprosarium near Banmethuot in the early 1950s. Evangelism expanded somewhat in the 1940s and expanded more in the 1950s. The focus of CMA was primarily on conversion and the organization and nurturing of a native protestant Christian Church in Việt Nam. Hence, it did not—as many other mission organizations had—launch other activities, such as medical, educational, or social institutions other than biblical and theological training institutions.
The Smiths founded the leprosy hospital in 1951 in response to needs they perceived during their evangelistic work among the Hill Tribes of the Central Plateau; however, because of CMA’s aversion to the founding of service institutions—and due to some alleged fundraising abuses—the Smiths left CMA in 1956, leaving CMA Việt Nam responsible for the management, support, and staffing of the hospital. Meanwhile, the Smiths continued to work farther north in the Central Plateau and along the coast in collaboration with a different mission organization, founding another leprosy hospital in the mountains and an orphanage on the coast. This was the context in which MCC became involved.
MCC’s entry into Việt Nam and the Leprosarium
The details of the negotiations leading to MCC’s commitment to the Leprosarium are told in Luke Martin’s A Việt Nam Presence. Briefly, after the separation of the country into northern and southern zones by the Geneva Accords, many refugees moved from the North to the South, which created the initial reason for MCC’s interest Việt Nam. The initial team was three persons who arrived in 1954, which was followed by additional commitments in 1955 and 1956. Dr. Willard Krabill and his wife, Grace, were assigned to Việt Nam and arrived in October, 1955.
Among other things, Krabill’s responsibility was to investigate adding medical services to the on-going refugee relief program, especially to serve the Hill Tribes of the Central Plateau. After examining various options, including assigning medical personnel to a government hospital in Pleiku, which was rejected, Dr. Krabill recommended assigning a medical team to the CMA-operated leprosy hospital near Banmethuot, with the possibility of developing a general treatment clinic there, and, also, in the future establishing another hospital in collaboration with the Evangelical Church of Việt Nam (Hội Thánh Tin Lành) at a site of their choice. That choice was a large Evangelical Church property on the beach at the outskirts of Nha Trang.
MCC assigned a small medical team, together with several facilities, construction, and management men to the hospital beginning as early as 1956. This team had succeeded in obtaining several vehicles and metal buildings from the departing French army and established a center for MCC on the leprosy hospital site, including a residence, warehouse, and general treatment clinic, which initially operated as an out-patient clinic but subsequently had a small in-patient capability as well. The medical team was integrated into CMA’s own medical staff and also developed a mobile clinic program to several outlying villages, serving both leprosy and general patients.
The leprosy hospital had planned to expand by adding two patient wards—some foundation trenches had even been dug for that purpose—but then the project had been abandoned. MCC agreed to provide three men to the team to develop the plans for those two wards and build them using MCC funds, as well as provide some administrative and other support for the unit.
In September of 1958, when our team of three PAX men arrived, the Krabills had already returned to the United States. The remaining MCC hospital staff were: one temporary physician and family, Dr. Clarence Rutt and his wife and daughter; one nurse, Margaret Jantzen; one PAX man, Duane Swartzendruber; and one team hostess, Lois Cressman. Our arrival brought the MCC personnel number from six to nine. Dr. Rutt soon departed—he was working in Việt Nam while awaiting a visa to go to Indonesia for his main assignment—and Lois Cressman was later replaced by Anna Ewert. There was also a CMA staff: a nurse, Olive Kingsbury, and a Leprosarium Director and his wife.
There were also several local Ede staff persons and assistants, most notably a young Ede/Jarai couple, H’Chioh and Y’Dun Ksor, and H’Chioh’s brother, Y’Nam, a lab technician.
The location and layout of the Leprosarium is presented above. It is about eight kilometers east of Banmethuot on highway 13 going towards Dak Mil, and about seven kilometers south on what was then a very poor dirt road. The nearest village was Buon Kla, just to the east of the Leprosarium. The site is near what is now a popular tourist destination, the Dray Nur waterfall.
The layout of the MCC residence is also presented here. It was a metal building made from remnants of a French barracks. One looked out of the Residence entrance, across the street—such as it was—to the MCC clinic/hospital, and off to the right at the leprosy hospital. This is where Alan and I spent about 18 months and where Lee spent the entire three years of his term.
The MCC Office in Sài Gòn: When we arrived, the MCC Office was in downtown Sài Gòn at 94 Pasteur, where we shared a building with Catholic Relief Services. MCC rented a residence on Võ Tánh street, near Tân Sơn Nhất Airport. Glenn Stoltzfus was Co-Director with long-term Vietnamese employee Nguyễn Văn Ninh. There was also Glenn’s wife, Geneva, as well as Harry and Esther Lefever with their small child, who lived in the Võ Tánh residence. Ninh and his wife, Nhung, lived nearby in a row house on a small side street off of what was then Chi Lăng street, near the Seventh Day (Co Doc) Hospital, on the corner of Võ Tánh and Chi Lăng.
CMA Missionaries in Banmethuot: In addition to the MCC staff in Sài Gòn, we affiliated quite closely with some CMA missionaries who lived in a CMA compound just on the edge of the town of Banmethuot. Our interactions with them were numerous since the Leprosarium was administered by CMA, and several of the missionaries stationed there were actively involved in the leprosy program. Those included Nurse “Millie” Ade and Dr. Ardel Vietti. In addition to those folks, the CMA missionaries at the compound in Banmethuot were the Ziemer family, the Mangham family, and Ms. Carolyn Griswold.
Hội Thánh Tin Lành (HTTL): Although MCC was associated closely with the Protestant Evangelical Church of Việt Nam—Hội Thánh Tin Lành (HTTL)—and though the local Protestant Churches among the Hill Tribes of the area were all part of that organization, our associations with that organization were minor. They included only whatever participation we had in the Hill Tribes Churches, including the Church on the Leprosarium grounds, and the HTTL Hill Tribes Church in Banmethuot, and Pastor and Mrs. Nhuong, a Vietnamese pastor couple of the HTTL assigned to serve the Hill Tribes. It was with Mrs. Nhuong that I had my first lessons in Vietnamese. This happened after my two colleagues and I had pretty well mastered the basics of Ede. It was after hearing pastor Nhuong preach in the Ede Church in Banmethuot using his elegant and clear northern dialect Vietnamese that I first became enthralled with the beauty of the very complex Vietnamese language.
International Voluntary Services (IVS): At an agricultural research site on the other side of Banmethuot there was a team of American IVS volunteers from various agricultural Universities in the United States. These included Clyde Eastman of Iowa State University, who later joined me at Cornell University in the Rural Sociology Graduate Program; Don Luce, Cornell University; Ray Borton, Cornell University; and Richard Koegel, Wisconsin. One IVS staff person had even studied at the Mennonite junior college in Freeman, South Dakota: Gordon Brockmueller. Brockmueller was accompanied by his wife and was the IVS team leader.
U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG): There were several members of the MAAG who were located in the Bungalow, a rambling, rustic building which had been the hunting lodge of the former president Bao Dai, the last member of the southern Nguyễn dynasty. Our connection with them was almost entirely limited to the fact that English language Sunday Church services, usually led by one of the CMA missionaries, were periodically held in their facility in Banmethuot.
Building the Patient Wards
By the middle of February of 1959, I wrote home that we were having a lot of fun beginning construction on the wards for the Leprosy Hospital. Final approval to go ahead had come through, we had already been hauling sand for a long time, and we had gotten a supply of cement from Sài Gòn. We had been making the four-inch cement blocks for some time already, so there was a small supply of bricks available—this was done mostly by hand with the help of a vibrating device driven by an electric motor. The cement was mixed by hand, very dry, and then placed into metal moulds, which were then placed on the vibrator, settling the dry cement into nice blocks with no air bubbles. These were then laid out to dry, the moulds having been removed very carefully. We employed a few Rhade workers who did this for a long time, as it was a pretty slow process. It produced an excellent cement block.
Under Alan and Lee’s supervision, the workers had also finished digging the trenches for the footings for the first ward. Not having to deal with the threat of freezing, we Westerners really didn’t know exactly how deep the footings should be, nor did we have a good idea of how stable the soil could be expected to be. I don’t know how far down we eventually dug.
The walls were four-inch cement blocks, plastered with concrete on both sides to give a completely smooth surface. For the windows and doors, there were frames and jambs of approximately four feet by six feet. The superstructure for the roof was of wood, which was covered with sheets of an asbestos composite material.
We could not get mortar in Việt Nam; it simply wasn’t available. So, early on in the construction process, we were trying to lay blocks with simple Portland cement. That wasn’t going well; it had none of the flexibility one needs when laying bricks or blocks. We had been told by Ninh that we should simply add lime to the cement to produce mortar; and, in response to one of my letters in which I mentioned the difficulty of laying cement blocks without mortar, my dad had told me the same thing. So, we finally got some lime, not knowing exactly what kind we should get, but we dissolved it in water and added it to the cement and, behold, we had excellent mortar!
The wood and woodwork for the construction is a fascinating story in its own right. Alan had learned from local villagers that there was a large tree out in the jungle which had been cut illegally and was simply left lying, and that the villagers were willing to let us use it since our project was being done for them. It was a form of mahogany which is both very beautiful when finished and termite proof; exactly what we needed. He contracted a team of Vietnamese who came out by the week, camped at the site of the tree out in the forest, and cut all of the dimensional lumber for the construction out of the felled tree. This was all done with a very large bow saw, five to six feet long, guided by a chalk line. In the end the product was excellent, even the centimeter-thick panels used for the doors.
We then hauled the lumber out of the forest on the Dodge Power Wagon. Sometimes, especially during the rains, we had a hard time getting through the simple trail through the jungle that we had made ourselves.
Alan also obtained a Vietnamese carpenter who, like the sawyers, came out to the site from Banmethuot by the week with his own bag of tools and his own bag of rice. He was being paid the equivalent of about $1.75 per day. His tools were almost identical to those now found in old-time museums in the United States; simple chisels, planes made of wood, etc. He made all of the door and window frames and all of the doors and windows on site with these simple tools.
We were estimating that the cost of each wing of the Hospital would be about the equivalent of $1,920 for material, not counting the cost of labor. We were hiring Hills Tribes workers for about half a U.S. dollar per day and the Vietnamese carpenter for about $1.75 per day. We had been allocated $6,500 for the entire project. In the end we came in well within our budget, and by early 1960 both wards were completed.
The dedication of the two new wings was held December 27, 1960, long after Elnora, Alan, and I had left Banmethuot. Elnora and I, together with several others, traveled together from Nha Trang to Banmethuot to attend the dedication. Strangely, I mentioned neither the dedication nor the time spent with Elnora in any of my letters. She wrote, in her January 1, 1961 letter (No. 201):
The dedication was at 4:00 on Thursday afternoon. The missionaries from BMT were out to it. Dr. Vietti gave a little speech thanking MCC for their part in building the new wings. Don gave a response to this. A quartet of the ‘Mennonites’ sang (Don, Al, Lee and Dr. Dick), one of the missionaries preached a dedicatory sermon, and then another prayed the dedicatory prayer. They served tea and cookies after the service.
After this, she added that we had all spent the evening together in the BMT living room playing chess—she and Dr. Dick focused on teaching me the game. It didn’t take!
Leprosy and General Patients
Effective treatments for leprosy have been available for a long time, and, contrary to popular opinion, leprosy is not easily transmitted; transmission requires extended physical contact. People with leprosy had traditionally been banned from their villages, as was the practice throughout much of the world.
The program of the leprosy hospital had several levels of patients. Highly infectious and new patients, and, especially, patients who already suffered from severe damage to their limbs, might be confined to the patient wards. Others under careful scrutiny would be allowed to live, with their families, in the “leper village” on the Leprosarium grounds. Then there were many others who were still under treatment, receiving their medications regularly, who were allowed to live in their home villages. Of course these would need to receive refills of their medications from time to time, for which they would either come to the leprosy hospital or meet the medical team at several remote villages in periodic mobile clinics.
At our general MCC clinic we saw all kinds of patients. Some came walking, some on bicycles, some brought by some kind of vehicle, and some, even, by elephant. And there were also quite a few times when villagers would come, usually by bicycle, asking us to go to a village to bring someone in to the clinic. One of us would take the Land Rover, often taking a nurse along just in case there might be an emergency. When there were deaths at the hospital, we often took the body, accompanied by relatives, back out to the respective villages.
We had regularly scheduled mobile clinics in several remote villages, both for meeting with leprosy patients and to try to meet general medical needs in the villages. Our small, 1956 Land Rover was equipped with a removable light wooden cabinet which took up the entire left side of the back. It was equipped with as many medications and medical instruments that might be needed as we could fit inside. The villages we went to usually had, themselves, built small thatch shelters in which we would set up our consulting table and chairs.
Leprosy patients would periodically be checked to ascertain the extent of loss of feeling on their bodies—this was one of the first tasks assigned to us new team guys. The patient would be blindfolded, stripped to the waist, and we would go over their body, systematically asking whether they could feel the touch of a feather. Those Ede words—thao mo? feel it?—were some of the first firmly secured in our minds.
We were all trained to help with the basics of seeing patients in the mobile clinics, including how to instruct the patients on taking pills and other appropriate practices, even giving injections. There were situations when we were asked to use the pliers we always had on hand to pull an abscessed tooth—without anesthesia, of course. I really didn’t like jabbing the butts of little babies with the big needle, used for what I remember to have been camoquin in oil for malaria, so I worked hard at learning the language quickly so that I could be the interpreter for the doctor.
In addition to whatever else might have been ailing them, almost everyone had malaria. With the small children it was very easy to detect the enlarged and hard spleen. This created a bit of a problem for the physicians, who usually only worked at the clinic for short periods of time, not long enough to become familiar with the terrain as many of the nurses did. American physicians prefer to treat only one thing at a time, and our nurses sometimes had difficulty persuading doctors that “you have to treat the malaria as well.”
What Happened to the Leprosarium?
Alan was transferred to Nha Trang to launch the building of a residence, warehouse, and medical clinic building in cooperation with the Evangelical Church of Việt Nam in 1960, and, then, after having completed the residence and warehouse and begun the clinic building, because of lack of funds, he was transferred to Korea to complete his term supporting construction there. Lee and I left Banmethuot in August of 1961. By that time, guerillas were already showing up and threatening the team at the Leprosarium from time to time.
Then, in May of 1962, Daniel Gerber—Lee’s MCC replacement—together with Dr. Ardel Vietti and missionary Archie Mitchel, were kidnapped by the guerillas, never to be seen again. Evidently they died in the forest. Shortly after that, apparently, the MCC residence/warehouse and clinic buildings were demolished.
During a trip back to Việt Nam in 1997, without any kind of permission or permit, our hosts in Banmethuot took Alan and me out to the site by motorbike. We found that, in spite of the destruction of all of the MCC facilities, the Leprosy hospital and the two wards Alan had built were still there and were still being used. As far as I know no other former MCC/VNCS volunteer has been able to visit the site since. Indeed, contact with former Hill Tribes colleagues in this area has been very difficult, even for the very few Hill Tribes who were able to escape to the U.S. or Canada.
Thanks to contacts provided to me by Steve Parker of Friends Of the Central Highlands in the United States (FOCHUS), which has recently gained access to work with Jarai villages near Kon Tum, I learned recently that the Leprosarium continues to operate under the supervision of the Đắk Lắk Provincial Health Services under the name of Leprosy Camp of Ea Ana with support from some Ede volunteers in Banmethuot and, especially, the Catholic Sisters of Peace (Nữ Vương Hoà Bình), who provide a Center for Long Term Care for elders and former patients. Assistance is being sought for expansion of that facility.
There are, of course, many, many stories; stories about elephants, wild and domestic; stories about hunting and about getting ammunition for our 12-gauge shotgun; etc. I told others in my 2019 book. Here, I include primarily those which involve Alan.
Village Fire and First Relief Distribution
The first week of December we got our first exposure to material aid and its distribution. We had quite a bit of material aid supplies in our warehouse, including clothes, blankets, some food supplies, and the famous MCC canned beef. People from the nearest village came one day to tell us that there had been a fire and that all but four of the houses of the village had burned. We were skeptical, but went up to the village and found it to be far too true. Fourteen houses had burned, including seven rice granaries and seven traditional residences, longhouses. 79 people had become homeless in just a few minutes of fire. It was a terrible sight to see the people sitting out on the ground, completely stunned, having lost all of their possessions. They had been out working in their fields when the fire started, so they hadn’t had a chance to do anything to stop it or save some things.
We took a large supply of blankets out to them. The following day, we went up again to try to find out what more we might be able to do. We had some clothes and food available in our warehouse. We soon found out that the people engaged in a ritual to appease the spirits. The ritual included animal sacrifice, the drinking of large quantities of rice wine, and the beating of gongs throughout the night. We supplied 79 blankets, 115 pieces of women’s and girls’ clothing, and 90 pieces of men’s and boys’ clothing, not to mention food supplies.
Yang Prong—Ancient Chăm Remnants in the Highlands
We had known for some time that there were some ancient Chăm ruins somewhere near Ban Don near the Laotian border, more or less to the west of where we were located. We learned that the local Ede and Jarai people considered the area to be sacred and dangerous, hence the name Yang Prong, Ede for Big Spirit.
Alan and I had frequently talked about trying to find the ruins. On a visit back to Banmethuot in late March of 1960, soon after I had been moved to Sài Gòn, we decided to take Alan and Lee’s motorcycle to see whether we could find it. The excursion went badly, very badly, and we didn’t even find the site. I quote extensively from my letter from April 26, 1960:
Last Sunday Alan Hochstetler and I decided to go on a little excursion on the motorcycle and didn’t get home until nearly 24 hours later because of trouble of all kinds unimaginable. During that time we hardly ever had enough water to drink, ate only two lunchmeat sandwiches and three bananas, and walked and walked until we could hardly push ourselves anymore...
In fact, I should take that excursion up as a separate topic of this letter and tell you all about it. These people (Chăm) were closely related to our tribesmen but during one period of history they developed quite an advanced civilization here. There are still a few relics of the days of their glory and the most important are what are now called “Chăm Towers." These towers were built by them evidently as places of worship, and were made of burnt brick laid upon each other without mortar. Some of these towers are at places that are accessible by car, but there is one that is supposed to be some 80 kilometers from the Leprosarium and that is right out in a very thin jungle. The nearest village is about 10 kilometers away and that is the end of the really poor road.
Well, you guessed it, we decided we wanted to see that tower and figured that if we went by cycle we could get to it. When we got to the village we found that the people were Jarai, not Raday, but fortunately most of them could speak Raday. At first they didn’t know where the place was, a usual tactic that they use to keep themselves out of trouble and responsibility with a stranger. However, when we saw the village chief and he started to talk, then they all knew where the place was and offered to tell us how to get there. They told us there were two roads, one passable only by elephant or on foot, and the other supposedly passable by car but about 20 kilometers long because of the river it had to go around. They said that immediately after noon two elephants would be going in with supplies for some Vietnamese who were camping there, trying to catch some kind of deer for the zoo in Sài Gòn, and that we could go along if we wanted to. Well, we knew what “immediately” after noon meant, so we decided to go on our own, taking the jeep road. Incidentally, the elephants didn’t leave the village until about 5:00 PM!! As it turned out, the road wasn’t a road at all, but there were faint tracks of a jeep that had been driven in about three times and back out again, often taking a different route, and consequently confusing the whole thing for us. We tried to follow these tracks and got lost more than several times. When we lost the track we would follow our own track back to where we again saw the jeep track. Often then we couldn’t determine where the jeep had gone from there so we would walk around with our noses nearly on the ground trying to find it, and usually did. Finally, at 2:00 PM we decided that we must be very near the tower but also decided that we had lost the track for the last time and must start home—so we gave up our adventure. That was only the beginning, though, because we had trouble with the Cycle like I have never seen before. The handle-bar with the throttle control broke off, the clutch broke so that we could not use it any more, the battery cable came off and it wouldn’t start, the plug became fouled and it wouldn’t start again, finally the voltage regulator went hay-wire and burned out the headlight. Well, all of these things hadn’t succeeded in stopping us, but when the engine finally refused to start anymore we left the cycle and walked about 6 kilometers to a road-building camp in pitch dark. We arrived about 11:00 PM and slept there until 4:30 AM when we caught a truck going in to Banmethuot, got there at about 5:30, took a car out to the Leprosarium, changed clothes and ate breakfast and I was back in town at 6:45 to catch the bus to Sài Gòn, arriving here at about 1:30.
As I remember it, the clutch cable was the first to go. Without a clutch, to start I would push the cycle, and then, when it was moving, Alan would be able to shift it into first gear, and, from there, by manipulating carefully, he could shift from gear to gear as necessary. I would, of course, jump on once the cycle was moving. Stopping was complicated. The next to go was the attachment of the throttle cable to the throttle lever on the handlebar. Alan could still manipulate the throttle roughly by simply pulling on what remained of the cable by hand, but that, together with not having a clutch, made driving the cycle quite a feat. Those things occurred while we were still out trying to find the site; later, well on our way back, we began to have additional trouble with the fouled spark plug and, especially, what ultimately was failure of the voltage regulator, the loss of the light, and, finally, the complete loss of spark so that the engine itself simply wouldn’t run.
Not included in that letter was that, because both Alan and I had to leave early the very next day, it fell on Lee to take one of the MCC vehicles to retrieve the motorcycle the next day. He also had to see to its repair.
To Đà Lạt and Back by Motorcycle
During the first weekend of March, 1960, Alan and I made a trip to Đà Lạt and back by motorcycle. There was a conference of pastors working among the minorities, which included minority pastors, Vietnamese working among the minorities, and American missionaries, such as those located in the CMA compound in Banmethuot. Leland had already taken a load of folks there on the International Travelall.
Alan and I decided to make a trip to Đà Lạt to attend whatever part of the conference we could. Rather than take the main, but circuitous, route—which went down to Nha Trang, then to Phan Rang, and then back up into the mountains, the one Lee had taken with the vehicle—Alan and I decided to take a much more direct route through the mountains. However, rather than taking the Kinda Piste route, which Duane Swartzendruber and I had taken back in 1958-59, we took a trail that passed by the “Lak,” or “Lake,” of “Đắk Lắk,” the current name of the province, and which ended up on the road up to Đà Lạt about half way between Di Linh and Đà Lạt (probably what is now QL 27).
On the way there things went relatively well, except that Alan, who was driving all the way, had to be very careful to stay on the trail. Under French administration, the road had been a trail traveled by vehicles, probably 4-wheel drive vehicles, so there was still evidence of the two parallel tracks of motorized vehicles; however, it was clear that, for many years already, there had been no such vehicles on the trail, only people walking on foot or riding bicycles. These somewhat bare and visible trails would follow one or the other of the vehicle trails until they suddenly deviated off to the right or the left of the main trail. Following these quick deviations could be devastating for folks on a motorcycle, including us.
At first the villages that we passed through were Rhade, so we could speak with the people along the way. It didn’t take long, though, before we began to encounter people who not only didn’t speak Rhade, but didn’t understand it at all. Who these people were, exactly, I don’t know. It may have been the border between the Malayo-Polynesian Rhade and the Mon-Khmer Koho language group, which is the one that was common in the area of Dalat and DiLinh.
In my letter of March 14, 1960 (No. 48) I wrote:
Last weekend Alan and I got a brain-storm and decided to ride his motorcycle to Đà Lạt. There was a conference in session for all of the Tribes preachers and Lee had taken a load of people from here in our International. We wanted to travel a new mountain road that was just recently re-opened and is the shortest route to Đà Lạt. It was closed because of an un-bridged river. We heard that there was a new ferry so we went, left at 12:00 noon and, after crossing one ferry and passing the only Lake in this part of the country we came to the river in question. There was a ferry all right but on the other side of the river and there wasn’t a soul around to bring it across so I stripped down and swam across, hanging on to the cable to keep from going down-stream. I got the ferry started but it was always getting caught on to the cable that keeps it from going down stream so Alan had to come over and help me. We got to Đà Lạt (215 kms.) at 7:30 PM and got in swing with the ceremonies.
The return trip was horrible. We encountered rain soon after getting on the mountain trail from Di Linh, so spent a lot of time with the poor motorcycle slipping and sliding in the red mud of the sub-tropical mountains.
Vehicles and Vehicle Maintenance
MCC had, in total, six vehicles, four of which were primarily based at the Leprosarium and two based in Sài Gòn. At the Leprosarium, we had two vehicles which had been purchased by MCC and two that our preceding MCC workers had obtained from the withdrawing French Army. The latter were a 1940s Dodge 4x4 with a wench and a 1938 Citroen five ton truck. The latter were a 1956 Land Rover and a 1950s or so International Travelall, also a four-wheel drive. In Sài Gòn there was a Lambretta Scooter and a Willys Jeep Station Wagon truck.
The Land Rover had, mistakenly, been purchased with the driver on the right, and, when driven off the ship at the port, the engine had been damaged because the oil was apparently stolen during transportation. The engine was repaired, but we were stuck with the driver always being on the wrong side; this may have contributed to the fact that, prior to our arrival, the left front fender had been destroyed in an encounter with an army truck. The Citroen truck had also had an encounter with an army truck, resulting in serious bending of the rear axle that caused serious tire wear—one of the several things we had to resolve.
The first case of vehicle maintenance was immediately after our arrival in Sài Gòn, as Duane Swartzendruber was making major repairs and alterations on the Jeep Station Wagon. It had, apparently, been parked at the 94/3 Võ Tánh street MCC house for some time, and some of the valves were stuck. Duane was also removing the guts of its four-wheel drive. Then, at the beginning of April, 1959 Duane and I took on a project of rehabilitating the old 1938, five-ton Citroen. The entire rear axle assembly was taken apart, and the housing was taken to a large French machine shop in Banmethuot, where it was bent straight. We also welded breaks and cracks in the cab and repainted the whole cab. The engine also needed work, so, long after Duane left, Lee and I were able to get replacement rings locally, install a new set of rings and “lap” the valves.
In the middle of 1959, the International Travelall crashed with a broken front axle while Lee and I were returning at night from taking a patient who had died at the hospital and his family home to their village. We were quite a distance from the Leprosarium. We eventually got it back to the Leprosarium, where it was parked there for some time. In the meantime, we took the axle into Banmethuot to have it welded for at least a temporary repair. Ultimately, though, we ordered a complete new axle complex from the U.S. and, when it arrived, we installed it.
In early 1960, about the time that Alan was leaving and I was being transferred to Sài Gòn, the 1956 Land Rover was leaking oil out of what appeared to be the transmission, getting on the clutch, and causing it to slip and chatter. When Lee and I pulled the transmission, we saw that there actually was no oil seal. Evidently, the transmission bearing itself was supposed to prevent the transmission grease from getting through. Fortunately, we were able to get an oil seal which fit the shaft and which we could fasten firmly to the front of the transmission. About the same time we took on the job of cleaning up and repainting the Land Rover.
After I had already moved to Sài Gòn, Lee and I did a major engine rebuild on the Citroen, including replacing the main and rod bearings and installing new, replaceable cylinder walls. The only thing we needed which we couldn’t get in Viet Nam was new valve guides, so, even after our rebuild, it still burned a lot of oil, the oil evidently seeping in through the valve guides. On trips to Nha Trang with loads of lumber for the construction project we would have to stop along the way to add oil. This gummed up the spark plugs after a while.
Another time someone got a hold of a rebuilt engine block for the Power Wagon, as its engine had been showing a lot of wear. We had brought the new block up to Banmethuot on one of our trips down for supplies with the Citroen. Lee and I were able to take out the old engine, strip it of the head, carburetor, manifolds, etc., and install and reassemble the new one. Since what we had gotten was only the block assembly, we had to use the old head, which also meant that we needed to do something about the valves. Not having a device for actually grinding them we simply “lapped” them with grinding compound. The results were completely successful.
Later, long after I was transferred to Sài Gòn, the letters indicate that Lee ended up having to do major repairs on one of the diesel engines which drove the generators which provided all of the electricity at the Leprosarium.