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Photos and Video :: The Early Years

Bill Kimball

The Early Years

(left) Bill Kimball the founder of Vets With a Mission. Bill now lives in Copenhagen with his wife Karin. Bill is retired, but peruses the arts as a sculptor.


One of our first medical projects was Northeast of Ho Chi Minh City in 1992, the Ham Tam Hospital. We donated $15, 800 for renovations to this facility. One of our earliest medical programs was sponsoring western doctors to train the Vietnamese physicians on the latest techniques in surgery and orthopedic procedures.


We also shipped numerous containers of medical supplies to the Ham Tam Hospital and the Center for Traumatology and Orthopedics’ in Ho Chi Minh City. Our medical work first began in 1992 in Ho Chi Minh City. It would later expand into rural areas near Da Nang and Hue. The picture to the right shows the welcome banner for the workshop on repairing Ham Tam Hospital on February 17, 1992.

The Ham Tam Hospital
Health station in Phu Ngoc
In 1993: We donated $41,420.00 towards the construction and operation of a major medical training facility in Phu Ngoc, Tan Phu District, Dong Nai Province and funded the first two satellite health stations linked to the main health station. This was a comprehensive rural health care project which enables us to bring in teams of doctors, dentist and medical specialist. In order to train the Vietnamese and to provide "up-to-date" health care for the entire province of Dong Nai with a population of 390,000 people. This project was developed and built under the supervision of Bob Means and his wife Juliet.
In 1994: Hanoi officially designated our health station in Phu Ngoc as the model rural health care center for the entire country.
In 1994 VWAM started building medical clinics in the rural areas of Central Vietnam, this was known as I Corps during the war years and was “off limits” to foreigners. Because we were a veteran’s organization we were allowed into these areas to work and build these clinics. This was a first for any organization to be allowed into these remote off limit areas. We were allowed to bring a building team of ten or twelve former veterans and non-veterans and live among the local villagers and worked alongside the Vietnamese workers building these clinics. The cost of these clinics was from $10,000 to $15,000 depending on the size and location of the project. Most of these clinics were difficult to get to. Our team members had to endure muddy roads, impassable roads, sleeping on the ground, bugs, rain and Vietnamese village food. Sounds like an adventure, well it was. Those were what we called the “good old days”. Now we stay in hotels with beach front rooms and western food cooked to perfection.  Not only have we changed our accommodations but so has Vietnam. During the early 90’s Vietnam had a shortage of hotels that met western standards. Now we stay in hotels with beach front rooms and western food cooked to perfection.  Not only have we changed our accommodations but so has Vietnam. During the early 90’s Vietnam had a shortage of hotels that met western standards. That is no longer a problem. Five Star hotels are abundant in Vietnam, especially along the beaches in Central Vietnam.
Trungphuc polyclinic 1995
When we first arrived in Vietnam in 1989 the only hotel to accommodate western businessmen was the ‘Floating Hotel” (pictured above) it was docked near the main square at the end of Dung Quy Street on the river. It was a five-story hotel built on a barge that was floated from Australia to Ho Chi Minh City. It served western food, had a pool (Right, Quelam clinic ground breaking) and above average service. Of course the “Rex” hotel was in operation. During the war years it was the headquarters for all the General Staff and journalist living in Saigon. It has since been remodeled. Ho Chi Minh City is a fountain of sky scrapers all offering accommodations at western prices. You can still find reasonable prices, but not like the old days of $15 to $20 hotels.
Opening ceremony for the Que Son clinic 1994
Opening ceremony for the Que Son clinic 1994
Trungphuc polyclinic 1995
Trungphuc polyclinic 1995
Quelam clinic ground breaking
Quelam clinic ground breaking
I saw Elvis in Ho Chi Minh City.
Not all of our time was spent in the field working. Our arrival and departure time was spent in Ho Chi Minh City. A city with its own life force, a city of ten million motorbikes and twelve million people. Ho Chi Minh city is like Alice’s restaurant, “You can get anything you want”. One of our team members asked a street vendor selling “T” shirts if she had a shirt saying, “I saw Elvis in Ho Chi Minh City.” The next morning every “T” shirt vendor in the city was selling the “Elvis” shirts.










In the early years in country transportation by air was via Aeroflot (our as we called it Aeroflop). They had a terrible safety record and on most flights upon boarding the plane I always take a look at the tires. On a few of those flights I thought I could see the air in the tires, they were so bald. I had a seat once that was not bolted down to the floorboard and upon fastening my seat belt my seat lifted up from the floor. The air conditioning system when turned on usually filled the passenger compartment with vapor and you could not see three seats in front of you. On one early morning flight to Da Nang the stewardess still had big rollers in her hair as she read the safety card. I’ve included a picture of one of the standard safety features of the Aeroflot engineering, a safety “rope” escape box. Notice the unique design of the box and handle. Put all these features together on these flights and you have a unique opportunity to start a “fresh prayer meeting”.



Today Vietnam Airlines has a new fleet of Euro Air Buses and flies the skies above Vietnam with confident, experienced pilots both Vietnamese and European trained. The flights are comfortable and most often on time and reliable if you don’t get bumped by a government big shot. Yes, no more escape ropes.





On that first flight back to Vietnam in 1989 as we stepped off the plane in Saigon we said together, “We’re back, we’re better and were bigger.” They say a picture says a thousand words; here is Big Mau from California standing next to a group of Vietnamese soldiers. All the children wanted to rub Mau’s Buda belly, as a token of good luck. Can you tell which one is the American in the photo? We were always bigger and we are back.

Big Mau
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