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Out of the Morgue
Fall of Saigon
otm vlc fall of saigon photo image
This iconic photo of the Fall of Saigon, taken by Hugh Van Es, a Dutch photojournalist who died in May, 2009, captures the scene. A CIA employee helps Vietnamese evacuees onto an Air America helicopter from the top of a building in Saigon, South Vietnam on April 29,1975. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

On April 30, 1975, the last US helicopter left the  US embassy grounds as Saigon, Viet Nam, surrendered to the North Vietnamese.  Marines had the job of evacuating as many Americans and South Vietnamese as they could in the final days, and headlines about the effort clashed with the comparatively mundane home town reports in The Great Bend Tribune.  
For the final two days of evacuation, desperation was apparent as Americans sought to acquire travel documents for their wives and dependents seeking to leave Saigon.  MGySgt John J. Valdez, Staff Non Commission Officer in charge at the American Embassy, Saigon, R. South Vietnam was the last off the roof of the embassy during the Fall of Saigon.  His account of the experience, shared by permission of Leatherneck magazine, can be read at
The wire story, “After three decades, the war is over,” described the surrender, and the looting of the embassy building after the final helicopter left.  
“The six-story U.S. Embassy, which withstood a determined Viet Cong commando attack in 1968, was no match today for thousands of Saigonese getting their last American handout.  They took everything, including the kitchen sinks and a machine to shred secret documents.
“A bronze plaque with names of the five American servicemen who died in the 1968 attack was torn from the lobby wall.  An Associated Press correspondent retrieved it.”
Back in the U.S., Americans weren’t openly embracing Vietnamese refugees, many of which had put their lives on the line to help U.S. soldiers and became family members.   “Chilly welcome for Viet refugees,” quoted several people who felt that the refugees should not be allowed to enter the country, but , “a recent Harris poll (said) 56 percent of Americans questioned supported the mercy flights of Vietnamese orphans to this country.  The poll said 32 percent opposed the flights and the rest were uncertain.
Lake safety reminder
Even though summer hasn’t arrived yet, warmer weather is making a comeback, and a trip to the lake becomes more and more inviting.  It was this week in 1975 that the Tribune ran a wire story out of Hays that should serve as a reminder to keep a close eye on kids and use good judgement around the lakeshore.
“Two children have been killed and another suffered serious injuries when large rocks and earth slumped into their play tunnel at Wilson Lake northeast of here....
“The children, on a camping trip with their parents, were using a small shovel to tunnel under sand rocks that border the lake’s shoreline, (Russell County Sheriff Milton) Galyardt said.  Some of the rocks and surrounding sandy earth caved in when enough of the support had been scraped away by the children, he said.  
“They were pulled from the ground before sheriff’s officers could reach the scene, the sheriff said.”
A search came up with no similar stories, so perhaps this was just a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
It’s easy to understand the attraction digging a cave would have for young people.  It holds the same attraction for adults too.   Ra Paulette of New Mexico has even turned it into an art.  He has created massive caves in sandstone cliffs that he calls “transformational places.”  See some of his work at

Camp Fire Girls
The Camp Fire Girls club moved into new headquarters this week to a new office at 10th and McKinley, having outgrown their location at 817 Main.  Three levels of Camp Fire Girl achievement were pictured in the photo that accompanied the news.  Kristi Willinger, an Adventure Girl, Michelle Wendler, Discovery Club members, and Brenda Bailey, Blue Bird, posed with the Camp Fire flag in ceremonial costume.  Camp Fire is still active today, though there are no longer any groups in Great Bend.  The organization has faced the same pressures other clubs have over the decades since families have continued to evolve away from the one-working-parent, one-at-home-parent model.  
Other clubs that met that week were the Sweet Adelines barbershop singers and the Blazettes, the firefighters women’s auxiliary.  Sweet Adelines practiced for upcoming shows at the Presbyterian Church in Larned, and the Regional Chorus and Quartet Competition.  The Blazettes attended first aid classes and made plans for a bake sale  and watched “The Firefighters,” a movie.  
Today, Sweet Adelines chorus is Hutchinson-based, but still claims members from Great Bend and other surrounding communities.  It is still considered one of the world’s largest singing organizations.  The Blazettes, however, have been doused, so to speak.

Senior privy prank
Signs that graduation was near appeared at the front doors of Great Bend High School this week.  From the sounds of it, the now dead tradition was a familiar one.  The front page of the Great Bend Tribune carried a photo with the caption, “ There was a new addition to Great Bend High School late Sunday and it didn’t take a bond issue to get it.  The old out house made its annual appearance, probably at the hands of several members of the Class of ‘75.  With such a sure sign as the privy on the front steps, graduation can’t be very far away.”
For the Class of ‘15, graduation is only 17 days away and counting.  The end of action in Viet Nam would have been particularly welcome to the young men in that class.  According to Andrew Glass, Politico writer, even though the draft ended in 1973, they and their counterparts in the classes of 1973 and 1974 had been issued draft priority numbers, just in case the draft was extended.  It never was.