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Nakhon Phanom During The Secret War 1962-1975


(Pronounced Tie-Ray)


Father Lawrence W. Khai at St. Joseph's School, October 1969

(50 clicks west of Nakhon Phanom)  Picture by John Sweet

Fondly known as "Father Khai" by the GI's because he held a prayer book in one hand and that of a small child in the other.  Retired as Archbishop in May 2004.  Deceased July 2007

A Brilliant Man Of God who grew up in poverty; spoke seven languages and was loved by all who knew him for his kindness charity and humility.  May God watch over him.

                                                    How It All Began
Every once in a while I would stumble across the old shoe box full of pictures while searching in the bedroom closet for something. My quest would then become of secondary importance, and I would spend a few minutes while sitting on the bed, pondering over the dozen pictures I always left on top. Pictures of NKP, Nakhon Phanom - or "Naked Fanny" as we all called it, and of the orphanage at THARE. Pictures taken just a couple days before Christmas in 1969, and the years would pass away as the flood of memories returned.

Another Buck Sergeant named Ted deserves the most credit, for he convinced me to accompany him to the orphanage at THARE almost fifty miles away from NKP near Sakon Nakhon.
To this day I have no idea how Ted first met Father Khai, nor how he managed to pull off teaching English to the children there during his R & R time, instead of being required to go to Bangkok, but he did!

Father Khai picked us up for the journey and returned us after dark that night, speeding in a cloud of dust over the twisting rut filled red dirt road through the jungle. We used to say "If you didn't believe in God before you got in Father Khai's car, you sure did by the time you got out." My one day visit to the orphanage was enough to convince me that Ted was right, the kids needed all the help they could get. So together we started a campaign to raise money.

The project "Operation Thare" began in October and took off like wildfire. The men stationed at NKP gave generously and gathered assistance from everywhere. By the time a week before Christmas rolled around there was $5,000 in cash, as well as everything from baseball equipment to fingernail clippers. Somehow, don't ask me how, there were over a dozen large containers each four feet square filled with personnel items for the children. Combs, shampoo, scissors, sewing kits, handkerchiefs, soap, socks and clothes. I was amazed because they were all brand new and individually packaged. It certainly was going to be a great Christmas for the kids!

The units were competing amongst themselves in a friendly way to outdo each other. The most astonishing gift was the first one delivered. A huge pile of snow from Colorado with a Colorado Spruce as a Christmas Tree stuck on top! The kids went wild because they had never seen snow before. But I have to admit, when Santa showed up in the 21st SOS Jolly Green Giant, piloted by Captain Robert Arnau, they had sure tied for first place! Father Khai had not been idle either.

The Bishop had come up from Bangkok for the celebration, which was an eleven hour drive each way. Somehow Father Khai had "found" a case of cold American beer and provided a feast on the verandah for Ted, several of the officers and myself. The older girls performed Thai dancing as entertainment while the other 1200 orphans watched, lined up behind them facing us.

Passing out those gifts to the children is the fondest memory of Christmas I have. As they passed down the row of boxes holding out their newly acquired shopping bags (with handles) I wondered who had connections with the bag manufacturer.

The faces of the children portrayed the true meaning of Christmas in ways I am not capable of putting into words. I always remember that day filled with joy in celebration of love and peace. I always wondered each time I viewed the pictures in my shoe box whatever happened to Father Khai and the orphanage at THARE.


The Christmas Party at Thare, December 1969 photo by John Sweet

Thare II