A local story of the Vietnam War
PROBUS got a visit from Pierre Durand who spoke about a special experience in Vietnam which included a near death experience, and a visit to a Leper Colony in the Port of Quy Nhon, over three days, late in 1971.
Pierre’s Ship arrived at Quy Nhon and anchored in the Bay just outside of the Port.
After the Ship was all secured, an Able Bodied Seaman named Eddie Moran, who was a friend of Pierre’s came off watch and told Pierre that from the ship at anchor you could see on Queen’s Beach a settlement of some kind.
Moran told Pierre that this settlement was a Leper Colony Hospital and Community. (Hansen’s Disease).
Pierre was interested because he was the Chief Purser / MPA (Medical Officer), and it caught his interest immediately having a long-time interest in this ancient disease.
Moran went ashore and returned with news that the next day was National Maritime Day and all seamen aboard ships in port were invited to a Special Day.
While at the Maritime day function Pierre met Mr. Como the Manager and Miss Lee, the assistant Manager of the Club.
They invited him to join them the next day for a visit to the Leper Colony to meet the Staff and see the Medical Facilities.
The following day, Saturday they all met at the Fleet Landing and set out, Miss Lee, Mr Como and Pierre travelled in a Toyota Ute, Sky Blue in colour.
Eventually they passed into VC territory and finally Queen Beach and the Leper Colony, arriving late in the morning.
Pierre was told that there was to be a luncheon at the Beach Bungalow, of various Military branches who supported the Colony. (Friends of the Colony).
Very soon they started to arrive, US Army US Navy, and US Air Force, and Medical people representing the American Red Cross, Australian and New Zealand Red Cross.
No weapons were allowed on Church property by the Orders of the Mother Superior of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, a French Order of Nuns.
About 40 people had arrived, lunch was held back until the Guest of Honour Lt. Colonel Robert Schweitzer arrived.
When he appeared all hands stood to attention, senior officers as well, with Mr Como, Miss Lee and Pierre the only three civilians.
After Lunch everyone toured the Colony, to determine what was needed to be done, finances and support.
The Leper colony consisted of 300 - 400 diseased patients, living in small houses, which were fabricated of stone blocks.
After the inspection all Military personnel collected their weapons and left in small groups, later Pierre, Mr. Como and Miss Lee left in case the Viet Cong forgot the truce!
When Pierre returned to his ship very late in the day, (Still lying at her anchorage in the Bay), he called for his own little ship.
Eddie Moran was recruited to pass the word throughout the ship to see Pierre.
There were seven different union representatives on his ship.
What could the American Ranger Crew do to help these people, sick and caught in the middle of a war with little or no money and Christmas was coming.
What finally happened was that four very large boxes (Cases) of cigarettes were emptied and filled with gifts, mostly Christmas gifts that they had purchased in Japan (their previous port) for their own families.
The Stewards and Cooks put in food supplies, others donated alcohol and cigarettes.
Boxes were sealed up the next day and ready for transport to the Leper Hospital after lunch.
At this time the Chief Cook went on deck for a breath of fresh sea air.
He was leaning on the ships rail looking out to sea and just glanced down and up popped a Viet Cong Diver (Sapper) getting ready to place a bomb on the side of the ship.
The diver looked all around but did not look up and see Joe the Cook.
Joe ran to Pierre’s office, Pierre took him to the Captain, who immediately contacted via the ships radio (Harbour Security 24 Hours).
Immediately the US Navy Port Commander despatched Armed Swift Boats to the rescue.
Arriving quickly they started a Bomb blast of concussion bombs all around the anchored ship.
While this was happening Pierre got the attention of Commander Ryan, who had come aboard and he explained about the four Boxes of goodies for the Colony.
They were safely deposited on the motor launch and off to the Fleet Launching, then picked up by Miss Lee and two Nuns in the Blue Ute and off they went to the Colony.
AB Eddie Moran, “The Religious Mystic”, was not surprised when it was agreed, the Ship’s survival and the four large boxes of Gifts for the Leper Colony was a priority for the Good Lord and no matter what happened it must reach those people.
So, that is the story Pierre has always been glad to be able to tell.