Thap Bao Tu School

Ben H. Swett
Colonel, USAF (retired)

Thap Bao Tu was a housing area for Vietnamese Army dependents just outside the south perimeter of Phan Rang Air Base, near the main gate and the Cham Temple.

In early 1969 four Buddhist monks from Phan Rang City started an elementary school for orphans and dependents of Vietnamese soldiers in desert ground near the housing area. The original building was a very small structure of scrap sheet metal.

The 315th Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (CAMS) adopted the school as their Civic Action project in the summer of 1969. Soon, planning was underway for the construction of a new building. The RMK Construction Company (a civilian company under contract to the Vietnamese government) provided a bulldozer to grade a new road and level three acres of land. They also put in irrigation ditches that enabled the monks to turn the area into a highly productive garden.

The monks selected the site for the new building, and CAMS volunteers built the wooden forms for a cement floor. Due to a heavy workload, the base civil engineering squadron was unable to assist in pouring or finished the cement, so again the RMK Construction Company volunteered, and the floor was laid in August 1969.

In September 1969 CAMS volunteers obtained permission to use an empty building they found on the base. As I was told the story, three sergeants from CAMS made an appointment with the U.S. Army Colonel in charge of the 101st Airborne unit at Phan Rang -- subject: Civic Action. When they walked into his office and saluted, he returned their salute and asked, "What can I do for you gentlemen?"

One of them said, "Sir, we want your building."

He said, "What?"

They said, "Not this one, Sir. That Jamesway out there," and pointed out the window at an empty building. Then they told him about the Vietnamese dependents and orphans school that was being run by Buddhist monks with nothing but a scrap metal shack for shelter, and said that was what they wanted to do with the building.

The Colonel looked out the window and said, "What building? I don't see any building out there." And by sundown, there wasn't any building out there -- it had been disassembled and trucked to the site of the school.

CAMS volunteers completed construction of the building in November 1969. Then the monks built a dividing wall that made it into a two-room schoolhouse. They decorated the inside of the building with pictures and posters, and put flowers in the windows.

CAMS personnel continued to support the school. While the school construction was being completed, they brought almost 100 children from the school to a party on base, and provided a tour of the base that included visiting a C-123 Provider of the 315th Tactical Airlift Wing and an F-100 Super Sabre of the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing. In December 1969 they hosted a Christmas party at the school, complete with Santa Claus and presents for the children.

In January 1970 they presented the monks with a flagpole. In April they installed a playground swing set, constructed by the CAMS welding shop. Then they set about finding scrap lumber and building school desks and benches for the students. This part of the project was completed in August, and CAMS hosted a cake and soft drink party at the school. Along with refreshments, each child was presented a bag containing candy, chewing gum and school supplies. The children entertained the men with songs and dances.

From the time they started working at Thap Bao Tu, CAMS personnel furnished the monks with boxes of school supplies, clothes and shoes for the children. These supplies were donated by individuals and church groups in the United States. The First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis, Maryland, was the most active contributor.

Christmas 1969. The children and the monks liked Santa Claus.

April 1970. Some of the children with Maj. Ben H. Swett and 1st Lt. Wayne Bridges

1970 Log