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Jack Heslin  

Leprosarium in Kontum – Christmas 1967

In November and December of 1967 I was living at the FOB 2 camp just south of Kontum. I was a flight platoon commander and was air mission commander for a number of Special Forces missions across the boarder into Laos and Cambodia. At the time it was a top secret mission and it was known as SOG.

During that time there was a leprosarium/hospital run by I think a Belgian nun who had other nuns working with her. The leprosarium was located about 10 -15 kilometers west of Kontum City. From time to time the SF FOB camp commander would ask me to help the nuns with the use of one of our helicopters to pick-up supplies or even small animals. The camp Commander was also very helpful in providing whatever he could to help the nuns.

On Christmas of 1967 the camp commander and I were invited to the leprosarium for dinner. It was amazing. We drove out in a jeep. It was late afternoon and when we arrived we were brought to a small open patio area where a small table was set-up. The nuns waited on us and just the two of us had a wonderful meal. We asked the sister superior to join us but she declined saying this was just for us.

After the dinner we were taken into a large room and given seats in the middle of the room. In front of us were maybe 20 -30- beautiful little children dressed in white dresses and the boys in white shorts. As we sat there the children sang a series of Christmas songs in English and finished with “Silver Wings Upon Their Chest” a popular song at the time about the SF paratroopers. They sang in near perfect English. When they finished, we were given two large bags of toys to hand out to the children -- the toys had been donated and flown up from Saigon.

It was such an amazing sight. Each of the children came forward one at a time with the youngest coming first – big bright smiles on their faces and an English “thank you” when they received their gift.

These were the children of the lepers who were in the shadows in the back of the room. When the children were finished they also came forward to thank us – in Vietnamese. You may have seen lepers and the ravages of the disease on the faces was a site to remember. I will never forget that evening.

When we left the leprosarium, the sister superior insisted on riding in the front seat of the jeep to take us back. It was now dark and although I had my pistol with me, as did the camp commander; neither of us thought we would have enough fire power if we ran into an ambush on that little dirt road that night. The sister’s waving white robe was clear to see even in the dark as we drove through the night with our lights on. On several occasions we saw VC troops come out of the darkness with their AK’s in hand and then just step back into the darkness.

It was a memory that I will not forget. There were other occasions in the time that I was on that mission where we could provide limited support for the nuns and we did.

Jack Heslin <>
Chester, Virginia USA - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 16:32:35 (PDT)

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