The humble character of Ngo Dinh Diem

Father Jack Keegan
SR #2416
Tape 878, Side 2
We're, ah, starting Cam , um, Sound Roll #2416. 2416 This is WGBH... um...Vietnam, Production T-883 (clapsticks) at the Mary Knoll Seminary. It's ah, May the 12th, 1981. There's a reference coming up minus ATB at zero (tone)... There's a, ah, hiss for alignment (hiss) (voices) We'll be coming up on Sync Tape 611 611 coming up... Give you the camera roll in a minute. Camera Roll 429 we're coming up. Sync 611 this is an interview with, ah, Father Jack Keegan 611.
Well, one of the things I remember about Diem was the picture of him doing dishes at the table which I guess to us as students was, ah it was kind of symbolic in a way that he that he wasn't a person of great importance he was like the rest of us, ah in those days we, we used to wash our dishes after we ate, at the tables, and somebody went in the kitchen and came back with a big basin and, ah, ah things you splashed around in the water with, and did them and you had to stay around and dry them well, the priests and anybody of any importance didn't have to do any of that. But here was, ah Diem we used to call him very affectionately, ah as one of us, ah, 'Go Ding Ding.' He would be at the table, ah, washing, ah, dishes with the rest us. So, it just sort of signaled to us that that he was not somebody of great importance, somehow or other he was just there living with us as anybody else.
Um... I also have some kind of fond remembrances of him... when he used to leave the room, the dining hall, afterwards, to go back to his little room over in Locke Hall it always reminded me of, a a a kind of a Chaplinesque figure I would have liked to imitated the way that he walked it was just this short little figure going down the road, and you'd almost want to put a cane in his hand the way he would go along like this, ah. Seen from the back it looked just like Chaplin. And so... he was, ah, looked upon with, I think, some affection by the students, ah just, ah, given that we were willing to give him a nickname, ah and ah, you know...
Although we couldn't get close to him because his Eng , his English wasn’t you know, that good. Ah... it it still somehow or other, he got through to us as a person that, ah, we had some affection for although he was... a mysterious kind of person because we didn't know quite exactly what he was all about. He didn't seem to us to be very important, he did dishes with us, and, ah, people of importance didn't do that students did that or Brothers did that, and here was Diem, you know, doing dishes at the tables with, ah, the rest of the students. So, he was kind of enig—enigmatic to us, ah but affectionately so.
We're starting, ah, 630 now Camera Roll 630. 612 coming up on, ah, Camera Roll 630. (tone)
Give us a description of Diem from your early days here.
Yeah, I first met Diem, ah, at, ah, Lakewood. Mary Knoll had a junior college there, and I was, ah, you know, just about eighteen, coming into Mary Knoll for the first time and Diem was already there he was, ah a certain lonely figure to us, ah, living in a room by himself, ah over in Locke Hall. Ah, I can remember my friend who was teaching him English at the time, Diem spoke French, ah, very fluently, and Bob Bouleverse , ah, ah, did speak French and so he was given the task of teaching him English, and I can remember once looking in his room and there was this pile of New York Times up, the up the side of the wall there.
But the fact that he spoke French and was not so fluent in English meant that we were unable really to get close to him, even though, as I say, he was a kind of an affectionate figure ah, a lonely man, ah we didn't see anybody ever visiting him particularly; he seemed to be pretty much by himself. Ah, we were impressed with his, ah, with his devoutness though, I know. This was in the days before Vatican 2 in the Church, and as seminarians we were up at 5:30 in the morning. The priests used to celebrate Mass over in the little chapel and called Cyril and Methodious, and you'd get over there at, ah six o'clock and Diem would already be in a pew, meditating, ah, reflecting; he would attend Mass every morning, ah you know, quite devoutly as far as we could see, and stay afterwards and pray. Ah, it was almost as though he were living the life of a monk. In fact, he was, seemed to be, (chuckle) much more religious than we were who were studying to be priests ah, at least initially. So, here was this, ah, little man, ah...that was very small in stature ah, as I said, almost Chaplinesque in his, ah way in which he walked. Ah, I always remember him, ah, walking by himself down the paths, you know, that's sort of the image that I retain of this single person, without a great deal of hubbub around him.
And then, suddenly, one day, you know, ah, years later, ah, fleets of limousines come pulling in and, ah, flags are waving, and secret service men are all over and here is this little man who nobody thought was ah really anything but a, ah, lonely person, ah really at the end of his life, and suddenly he's, ah, whisked away and becomes very important. It was a, you know, a complete mystery to us as students.
Is that it? Anything else?
Interviewer: us a wide shot now and then we can cut.
And then if I were talking to you and asking you questions you would be listening to me, and doing our usual sort of a fake number and so forth and so on...Whenever you're ready, Lloyd. Fold.