Auburn residents assist 700 orphans

Veteran says returning to Vietnam was way to seek solace from ‘demons of war’
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Several Auburn residents, some who are Vietnam veterans, are fighting to ensure better lives for orphans in the country they fought in decades ago. Last year alone they raised $95,000 for their cause. The orphans are descendants of those who helped United States troops during the war. Friends of Vinh Son Montagnard Orphanage is a nonprofit organization officially formed in 2005, although its efforts began in 2001. Auburn resident Dave Chaix, co-founder and board president, served with the Army 4th Infantry Division in 1967 and 1968 in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. In 1988 Chaix went to the dedication for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Capitol Park in Sacramento. “That kind of got me thinking, and I wanted to go back (to Vietnam), but it wasn’t until 13 years later in 2001 when I did go back,” Chaix said. Chaix and organization co-founder Pat McKee, also of Auburn, visited the town of Kontum in the Central Highlands, and it was here the two men were inspired, Chaix said. “We went to this old wooden church that had been there (during the war),” Chaix said. “Behind the wooden church we found this very, very poor orphanage called Vinh Son 1. After touring it we saw it was so very poor we had to do something. We had about $50 apiece, and we left it.” The two started fundraising when they got back to the United States, and the organization was born, Chaix said. The children in the orphanages are descendants of the Montagnard, or “mountain people” in French, who assisted the United States troops during the war. The Montagnard people now live uneasy lives, Chaix said. “They are not treated well,” he said. “They are very poor. They live in very difficult conditions. The orphans are the poorest of the poor, so we have been able to take conditions and significantly upgrade the lives of these children.” Members of the board live in different areas around the country, and five of them are Auburn residents. Although the group started out supporting one orphanage with 100 children, it now sponsors six facilities with a total of 700 children, Chaix said. The orphanages are run by The Sisters of the Miraculous Medal. Friends of Vinh Son Orphanage offers assistance in education, medical needs, dental work, clothing, food and life skills, Chaix said. Chaix said the organization paid for two heart surgeries and one kidney surgery last year. “Those children are doing very well,” he said. The orphans hadn’t received any type of dentistry until the organization was able to pay for the service, Chaix said. Auburn resident Bart Ruud, project manager for the charity, said he knew Chaix in the 1960s, before Ruud served in the Army in Vietnam in 1971 and 1972. “When I returned from Vietnam in 1972 I discovered, as most veterans discovered, that no one wanted to hear about it,” Ruud said. “You just didn’t disclose you were a Vietnam veteran. I was having real adjustment problems, and I was searching for any kind of healing I could find.” When Ruud got back in touch with Chaix he didn’t think going back to Vietnam was a way to start finding peace. “Dave told me about the Friends of Vinh Son Orphanage, and he told me one day I would return to Vietnam, and I said, ‘No, never,’” Ruud said. Ruud ended up going back with Chaix and others in 2007. “I was scared to death,” he said. “The days were wearing on me, and the emotion was catching up to me. I fell apart, but those guys were there for me. The bottom line is you go there because you are seeking solace from the demons of war, and you are seeking a way to give back to a country that, in my opinion, has never recovered from the war.” Auburn resident and board member Hank Gonzales, a Korean War veteran, said when he heard about the organization, he donated right away. “It’s just something that needs to be done,” Gonzales said. “It’s unbelievable when you see the buildings we built, the food. They had some things, but not what they have now. It’s one of those things, it’s a miracle.” Chaix said the best way for the community to get involved is to donate what they can. Board members pay for their own operating costs, such as plane tickets, so all money donated goes to the orphans. Chaix said organization members can definitely see improvements in the children’s lives. “I think when we first went they fed the children by begging in the market place, and that has stopped,” he said. Ruud said one of his favorite parts of working with the organization is the relationships members develop with the children. “It’s fun to watch the children grow up from little tykes, and Dave goes back or I go back, and they remember us,” he said. Reach Bridget Jones at ------------------------------------------------------- Friends of Vinh Son Montagnard Orphanage What: A nonprofit organization raising funds for 700 children at six orphanages in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Website: Information: E-mail To donate: Mail donations to P.O. Box 9322, Auburn, CA, 95604-9322