You grew up in El Cerrito, just north of Berkeley, then attended Reed College in Portland. Reed was like a madhouse in the 60’s. Then you went to Berkeley, before heading to Vietnam for four years, during the height of the war. Did you transform from a hippie to a gung-ho grunt?
I was too poor, too conservative and too goy to fit in well at Reed. At Berkeley I ignored the anti-war crowd and graduated in math in 1966.
I went to Vietnam to get out of the Army. IBM needed people to support the State Dept. and military. But… my National Guard signal company was a “designated reserve unit,” first to go if called by Pres. Johnson. They were not letting communications people out.
My sergeant was sympathetic to my problem, and excited that I had the chance to go to Vietnam. He said “The Army ain’t gonna step on its own dick. How’d you like to be a cook?”
In Danang I developed a rapport with the Marines I worked with. Glad not to be one, but respected them as people .
I’m assuming Vietnam was your first foreign country. It’s certainly not ideal to experience any place in during a war, with all its social turmoils and distortions. Still, you stayed there for four years, and even married a Vietnamese. What did you like and hate about Vietnam? Shoot straight!
IBM literally had to throw me out after four years. I loved the work, the warm weather, the freedom, the Vietnamese people and the money. I accumulated $100,000.
All bachelors, we formed the Benevolent Association for Recreation and Fornication—BARFUP. Our mission was to make the most of the outstanding French, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants. We joined the elite French Club Sportif and Club Nautique.
The frustrations were tolerable: beggars, “I watch boys” who would vandalize your car if you didn’t pay protection, traffic cops who wanted bribes.
We developed what the French called la fièvre jaune, an appreciation of the beautiful young women. When one guy, who had divorced just to become eligible for Vietnam, brought his wife over we joked that he was “bringing a sandwich to a banquet.”
It is telling that despite the great availability of women, monogamy won out. Most settled down and quite a few are still married to their Vietnamese sweethearts. And why not? They love children, take pride in their bodies, and generally respect their husbands.
Vietnamese in French schools adopted French names, so my wife was Josée. Josée’s father, born in 1900 to the Bac Lieu province chief, studied law and lived in France. His firstborn of 12 came when he was 40. Mother, 20 years younger, was the daughter of the largest landowner. The incessant squabbles in their marriage presaged those in ours.
You ate your sandwich, and have apparently gotten over your yellow fever. You’re now married to a Ukrainian woman who’s 37 years younger! Can we assume she’d not have agreed to be your wife if you didn’t have an American passport? If so, is there anything wrong with that?
You can’t make that assumption. That would be the hard-up girls looking online to become “Russian brides.”
Looking for a place to practice English, Oksana dropped in on the Anglican church. My decade-older friend Mike chatted her up and squired her to Rotary and Toastmasters—where I also happened to be. Through conversations at their meetings she learned that I wanted to start a family. Mike escorted her to the Toastmasters Ball, where I danced with her.
She wanted to learn to type. My computer had a typing program. I put my arms around her and my hands on hers to position them properly. She still contends that the kiss on the neck came to her as a surprise, but I doubt it.
She played a weak hand well. Just as if she had read The Rules, she gave herself to me by slow degrees. She didn’t agree to marry until we had lived together for half a year. Encouraged by girls from her former dance troupe, she put my generosity to a one time test with diamonds and a fur coat. Satisfied, I heard nothing more. When burglars stole them they were not replaced.
While Oksana would like to see the United States, she has never had any desire to live there. Her family and friends are here.
We talk about our situation often in the context of encouraging mutual friends to get married. We were both somewhat unusual in that we were really committed to starting a family. The miracle is that we figured that out and were able to do something about it.
In between your Vietnamese and Ukrainian wives, you also had a Japanese one. How did you meet her?
I researched IBM overseas offices as my Vietnam tour ended. There was a sister office supporting the military in Germany. I booked an international telephone call—a rare thing in those days—to ask if they had openings.
I loved my time in Germany, learning the language and Spanish as well. I programmed what became an Army standard system—bit of a feather in my cap.
After Josée’s constant fighting led to our separation I discovered that my instincts had been right—the German girls were unromantic, hard-edged feminists. My one love was a Hungarian girl. Had I been wiser, I’d have married her.
When I returned from Germany in 1976, Washington was supposed to be a bachelor’s paradise—three women for every man. Yes, but each had read Sex and the Single Girl, The Feminine Mystique and Germaine Greer. They wanted careers and success—not families. The more attractive and intelligent, the more the corporate world would entice them. Those I met through church, the neighborhood and work were either uninteresting or uninterested.
I met this lovely half Japanese lady in my first week with Booz Allen just as short reconciliation with Josée failed. Within a month we were thrown together writing a government proposal. I had the expertise and the writing skill, Mary Ann knew Booz’ resources and how a proposal should be structured. I asked her out shortly after the victory party. She was surprised when “the bicycle guy” arrived at her door in a 450 SL.
She wasn’t sure that she wanted marriage or children, but gave it a try. However, she soon started her own company and career took precedence.
When you wed a foreigner, you’re also marrying her entire culture. How difficult was this? How did you get along with your foreign in-laws?
My Vietnamese, Japanese and Ukrainian mothers-in-law have all seemed happy that their daughters married somebody who could care for them. With minimal language overlap conversation was scant with the first two. Oksana’s mother and I talk easily about cooking, children and housekeeping. She can’t give me crap—I’m five years older and rather generous. Josée’s father enjoyed speaking of world affairs in French with somebody educated; subsequent fathers-in-law just weren’t interested. I’ve never gotten close to any of my wives’ siblings.
Josée’s friend My Linh and her French banker husband looked askance at the American husband. They didn’t trust America’s or American motives. In Germany Josée was the queen bee in the circle of Vietnamese rural wives, the one with savoir faire, the one who could negotiate in four languages, Vietnamese, French, English and German.
I didn’t form friendships with my wives’ friends until Ukraine. Oksana is extroverted. Her friends tolerate my Russian and/or are eager to speak English. Interest in the world is part of their culture.
What made you come to Ukraine initially?