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Round Lake native publishes book about his work in Vietnam

FAIRFAX, Va. -- A rural Round Lake native who spent nearly 30 years working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has published a second edition of the book he wrote while working in an amnesty program in Vietnam from 1968-1971.

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David Garms, a native of Round Lake, poses with the second edition of his book, “With the Dragon’s Children,” recently published. Submitted Photo

FAIRFAX, Va. - A rural Round Lake native who spent nearly 30 years working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has published a second edition of the book he wrote while working in an amnesty program in Vietnam from 1968-1971.

David Garms said some recently declassified information from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) led to the second edition of “With the Dragon’s Children,” a true story of a Minnesota farm boy sent to rehabilitate Vietcong - and instead learned the truth about a way of life and war.
Garms grew up on a diversified farm about five miles east of Round Lake. He attended then-Worthington Junior College and Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, where he studied sociology and social work.
After college, Garms joined the Peace Corps, spending two years in India in the mid-1960s helping to teach people about poultry and maize production.
“It was rather difficult (implementing programs) because I was in the poorest state in India,” Garms recalled. “We did have some success, particularly with poultry farming.”
While in India, Garms applied for the USAID, hoping to settle into a career with worldly experiences. When his stint in the Peace Corps ended, Garms returned to the U.S. briefly to work in a Peace Corps training program in Missouri. It was while there that he was selected to join a six-month extensive language and cultural training program in Hawaii to prepare him for work in Vietnam.
By the time his training was complete, the war in Vietnam was well into its second year.
“It was really in full scale by the time I arrived in the province of Go Cong,” shared Garms.

Garms worked in an amnesty program through the U.S. Military, Intelligence and Civil Operations Advisory Team in Go Cong. Stationed at the Chieu Hoi Center, his work included political orientation, vocational training and resettlement.
In the book, Garms describes the program and offers insights into the returnees’ reasons for leaving the Vietcong, as well as their plans after graduating from the two-month program.
The more Garms worked with the Vietnamese, the more fluent he became in the language. The more fluent he became, the easier it was to gain the trust of the Viet Cong.
Garms said he chose to go to Vietnam through the military program because he didn’t want to join the U.S. Forces in the war.
“I have a strong view about not killing someone,” he said. “I found out I could go to Vietnam and I could do something good instead of go out with a rifle and kill somebody.
“I also had some questions about the war and I thought if I went as a civilian, I could do some good,” he added. “I think I did.”
Garms’ first stint in Vietnam lasted a year and a half. He returned home, only to be asked to return to Vietnam on an internship with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“The intern program came with the idea I was permanently with USAID,” said Garms. “Before that, I was on a limited assignment.”
While in Vietnam, Garms interviewed 1,000 former Go Cong soldiers with a wide range of backgrounds. Some were carpenters, some grew rice and vegetables.
“I just found the people super,” he shared. “Language was a big reason why I was able to get along with the Vietnamese. They were interesting people - they were industrious, friendly.”
Through Garms’ book, he shares information about the amnesty program he worked in while in the Go Cong Province, as well as stories of the Viet Cong.
“The book is about the Vietnamese, their preferences, their culture, their habits, family structure, their women, their humor and family life,” Garms said.
He explained that he started keeping notes about different people he worked with, and those notes became the basis for the book.
“They just sounded so interesting and this experience was so overwhelming I decided to write about it,” he said, adding that he began writing the book while still in the Go Cong Province.
Garms published the first edition in 1973. The second edition, published in late summer, includes additional information about some of the people he worked with, as well as details from recently declassified documents.
The book offers a reliable retrospective on the Vietnam War - understanding and appreciating Vietnam’s rich culture, traditions and history.
Vietnam was Garms’ first experience in USAID, but he went on to serve with the agency in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Malawi, Sri Lanka and Italy.
“During 32 years, I spent most of my time overseas,” Garms said. “When I was in the U.S., I was looking for a place overseas.”
After retiring from USAID in 1997, Garms and his wife settled in Virginia.
“With the Dragon’s Children” is available at davidgarms.com and other online outlets.

Related Topics: FAIRFAXROUND LAKE
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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