Evacuation to Bangkok
The 1960s Proved to Be a Transitional Decade for Dalat School, a Growing School for Missionary Children and Other International Students, in Vietnam.
Tensions in the country spiked as a civil war between communist north Vietnam and the southern part of the country (where Dalat was located) began to escalate. Despite the political instability, Dalat continued to grow, adding children from military families in the early 1960s.
The school’s facilities were soon outgrown, so a gym, a new boys’ dormitory, and several classrooms were built to accommodate the influx of students.
As conflict began to grow in the region around Dalat School, 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 the school that it could no longer guarantee its safety. Dalat was given 48 hours to pack up and leave.
It was Easter weekend. The school choir sang its cantata as planned on Sunday morning, but the rest of the time was spent sorting, packing, and crating. 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.
On Monday, four C-123 U.S. military planes safely transported the entire student body with its 11 tons of belongings to Bangkok, Thailand.
Dalat School was moved into the American Club in Bangkok. But the facilities didn’t work well as a school setting. Nine students were housed in many rooms — which worked until the electricity went off, and there were no fans or air-conditioning. Only three bathrooms were provided for 50 boys in the dormitory. The teachers and students would often face flooded classrooms.
Six months later, Dalat administrators announced they had found a better place — in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. The Cameron Highlands had much in common with Da Lat, Vietnam: cool weather, a rainy season, waterfalls, mountains to climb, and trails to explore.
After eight difficult months in Bangkok, the school was moved to the Eastern Hotel in Tanah Rata. The new setting looked like paradise to students and staff, but there were challenges. Everyone studying and working at Dalat lived in the hotel rooms. The school held classes in hallways and in a tin-roofed quonset hut — when it rained you couldn’t hear, much less think.
Gradually, small chalets were built for classrooms and housing. The students grew to love the environment surrounding the school, and had lots of hikes, cookouts, and picnics.
Helping the ‘Bruised and Broken’: Alumna Carolyn (Cathey) Castelli (1968)
Carolyn (Cathey) Castelli remembers the rocket blasts vividly. Shot off behind Dalat School, they arced or soared overhead and exploded into the valley below. Carolyn moved quickly, with other young students, to a lower, more protected area of the dorm. They huddled together, praying to get through the night in one piece.
Though they survived this close encounter, the school soon had to evacuate to escape the escalating Vietnam War closing in. Carolyn was 14 years old at the time.
“I was anxious at first,” she says, “but then I felt a deep abiding peace that could only come from God. I knew He was in control of every situation and nothing could happen by accident without His knowledge.”
This understanding of God has been a beacon for Carolyn from her early teens — when her family moved to Vietnam — until now. Looking back, it’s clear that nothing in her life has happened “by accident.”
Today, Carolyn is a psychiatric nurse living in New York. It’s a career that’s been more of a calling, shaped significantly by her early experiences.
“Due to my parents being in the ministry and caring for people in crisis, I was curious about why people behaved in ways that required intervention. I also had some fears and anxiety symptoms as a child, and was curious about that as well.”
Carolyn’s curiosity, combined with a strong belief in a loving God, ultimately led to a lifetime mission to help the “bruised and broken” in this world.
As a teenager, Carolyn packed up and moved with her family from New York to Saigon — right when the Vietnam War began heating up. Her father was called to pastor the International Protestant Church there in 1964.
Within four months of enrolling at Dalat School, Carolyn and other students and staff were evacuated to Bangkok. After another semester, Dalat moved to Tanah Rata, Malaysia. Carolyn moved with the school to each new location, and it was in Tanah Rata that Carolyn eventually graduated.
During Carolyn’s senior year, she was again devastated by the war not so far away. Five missionaries were killed during the Tet Offensive, including some whose children were studying at Dalat.
“I remember feeling so badly for our fellow students who lost their parents, and so inadequate in knowing what to say or how to comfort them,” she says.
Those difficult times were balanced by Carolyn’s memories of “wonderful classmates.” She was deeply involved in campus life, even being editor of the school newspaper Eagle’s Eye, and serving in the Student Court and on Student Council. Each experience increased her leadership skills, preparing her for the future.
After graduating from Dalat, Carolyn began pursuing her life-long dream of becoming a nurse. Most of her work experience has been at the New York Hospital (now known as New York-Presbyterian Hospital), one of the largest freestanding psychiatric hospitals in the United States.
On the job, Carolyn has worked mostly with patients who have personality disorders — many are very challenging, with abandonment issues and self-destructive behaviors, she says. One of the best parts of the job is “seeing patients rescued from great emotional suffering through the common grace of good treatment and caring staff,” Carolyn says.
Carolyn has worked in a variety of roles, and is now focused on nursing administration, including teaching and mentoring nursing students and new graduates.
Carolyn emphasizes that often God himself provides the counselor, therapist, friend, or support group to help us get through difficult times: “God’s gifts of mercy and encouragement are key to advocating for and supporting those who are ‘bruised and broken’ — which is all of us, when you think about it.”