At 8:00 o’clock Thursday evening, June 6, 1968, on stage at the Everett Civic Auditorium, over 400 seniors from Edmonds High School received their diplomas from school board member Mrs. Ramon (Sue) Gould.
Just over 50 years later, on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, from 6 to 11 p.m., a group of the surviving graduates of the1968 Edmonds Senior High School class will come together at the Embassy Suites in Lynnwood to celebrate their 50th anniversary reunion. In 1967 and 1968, they became known as the Flower Children — now, most are retired and on Medicare, no doubt with assorted aches and pains. Probably some have grandchildren—maybe even great grandchildren.
Looking back to 1968, our country was embroiled in a very unpopular conflict in Vietnam. The government had plans to send 50,000 more troops to Vietnam by June of 1968, to make a total of 525,000 troops in the jungle battlefields of this unfamiliar and far-away country.
At home, there was little understanding as to why we were even involved in what was considered a civil war in that country. Before the fighting ended, nine former students from schools in Edmonds, Lynnwood, Meadowdale and Mountlake Terrace had lost their lives to the violence in Vietnam: Anthony Michael Leach (aka Tony Warner), Gregory Phillip Moser, Ronald Wayne Parker, Jerald David (Rocky) Swan, Miles Gene White, Richard Edward Wilkins, Michael Noel Hoban, Philip Eugene Nickerson, and Ronald Page Paschall.
My daughter Marilyn is a member of the 1968 Edmonds High School reunion planning committee, and she brought to my attention that the seniors had a very special classmate that year. Her full name was Nguyen Thi Tuong Lyng and she was from South Vietnam. She spent her senior year at EHS as a foreign exchange student. Her fellow classmates called her Lynh—much of her story was told in the school’s 1968 yearbook.
At school she was dubbed the Temporarily American girl. Lynh came from Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, about 16 miles from Saigon. Upon arriving on Aug. 3, 1967, she made her home in Edmonds with Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Brakke and their three daughters — Lynh’s American sisters: Marta, Laura-Leigh and Heidi Brakke; and also, numerous Peekapoo puppies.
Before coming to America, some of Lynh’s knowledge of America appeared to have come from the movies, as she said, “When I came to Washington, I expected lots of Indians and horses, but Americans are so nice. Everything is so noisy and because of the appliances and canned food, American ladies don’t have to work as hard as the Vietnamese. I like American food, except for pizza! In Vietnam, we eat lots of rice with vegetables and no sweets.”
Lynh found that life in the United States was very different than in her country. Boys and girls did not attend school together in Vietnam, and dating didn’t happen until a girl was 18, and she was not allowed to date unless her little brother went along with the couple. She had to adjust to having boys in her classes at EHS. Before coming to America for her final year of high school, Lynh already had a remarkable education in Vietnam — she had studied calculus, trigonometry, physics and six years of English. During her year at Edmonds High School, Lynh was a member of the Torch Honor Society.
For Lynh’s first American Christmas, she showed her classmates how to make origami birds from paper for decorations on the Christmas tree — a gigantic fir tree located in the school’s cafetorium. The next day, when a snowstorm moved into the area, she saw snow for the first time. She signed up for nine weeks of the school district’s ski school, and although she became an avid skier, it may have been her first and last year on the ski slopes — Vietnam does not have snow.
For the Tolo dance, Lynh’s date was a boy named Andreas, who was a Kent-Meridian High School foreign exchange student from West Germany. The day before the dance, the school’s Association of Foreign Students (AFS) gave Lynh a surprise party to celebrate her 18th birthday on Feb. 9. There were a lot of cards and a gift of enough money to cover her Tolo expenses. The EHS student body gave her a camera with flash bulbs and film.
Lynh knew that after graduation, she would be returning to certain danger in her war-torn country. During an interview, she said, “Although I’ve never seen a battle, we can hear the attacks on the American Air Base near Bien Hoa. With the war continuing, it’s unsafe to go on trips. If we go by train; they blow up the railroads. The Americans have lots of money. If the Americans weren’t in Vietnam, lots of people would be out of work. However, if you work for the Americans, you don’t tell anyone. If the Viet Cong find out, they kill you. The Viet Cong are unknown. They may know us, but we don’t know them.”
Lynh had her mind set on becoming a pharmacist in her home country. Her plans were to attend the university in nearby Saigon, and then to finish her pharmacy studies in Australia during her last two years of college.
Finally, when Lynh told of her year spent living in the United States, she said “I love Edmonds. When I visited other school for exchanges, I knew Edmonds was my home.” After graduation, Lynh Nguyen returned to her native home in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, to join her parents and her ten brothers and sisters.
Update: My daughter recently made contact with one of the members of Lynh Nguyen’s host Edmonds’ Brakke family and it was learned there is now more to add to Lynh’s story. She survived the war and has become a married permanent naturalized American citizen with a home and business in California. Her family emigrated to the United States many years ago. Lynh will be receiving an invitation to attend this Edmonds High School hallmark reunion party.
To find more information on Edmonds High School’s 50th anniversary celebration in September, go to www.reunionswithclass.com or call 425-644-0691.
— By Betty Lou Gaeng
Betty Gaeng is a long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. She researches and writes about the history and the people of South Snohomish County. She is also on the Edmonds Cemetery Board.