Dalat History: Vietnam
It all began 80 years ago in the central highlands of Vietnam. The campus, known as Villa Alliance, had been purchased in 1928 with the idea that a school be developed for the children of missionaries whose parents served in Indochina. In 1929 three students and one teacher held classes in a rented house while a large two-story home and servants’ quarters were constructed. From 1929 until 1949, the student body remained small. Auntie and Uncle Jackson served as dorm parents for 20 years.
During World War II, the French Vichy government placed the missionaries and students under house arrest for three months. Later in 1943, they were transferred to a Japanese internment camp in My Tho, a city south of Saigon. Franklin Irwin, a high school student at that time, said classes never stopped.
His teacher taught him in the morning, and he taught the younger children in the afternoon. After the war, the school returned to the Villa in Dalat. During the 50s, Vietnam had a lot of political changes. The French were defeated and the country was divided at the 17th parallel.
Dalat School, however, kept growing as new missionaries were appointed and high school students from other countries in Southeast Asia arrived at Dalat to study. In the early 60s, we had several U.S. military families living in Dalat and their children attending as day students. We were fast outgrowing our facilities, so a gym, a new boys’ dormitory, and several classrooms were built to accommodate the growth. With the escalation of the Vietnam war, missionaries who worked in neighboring countries questioned the wisdom of sending their children to Dalat. Was it safe? Then on Friday afternoon, April 16, 1965, the US. Embassy in Saigon notified us that they could no longer guarantee our safety. We would have 48 hours to pack up.
It was Easter weekend. The choir sang their cantata as planned on Sunday morning, but the rest of the time was spent sorting, packing, and crating. Of course everything couldn’t be taken. The librarian was allowed to choose 100 books. All file cabinets had slat crates build around them. The children’s bicycles and pets were left behind. Four C-123 U.S. military planes transported the entire student body with its 11 tons of belongings to Bangkok, Thailand.