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1975: First Vietnamese refugee arrives to settle

Published May 27, 2007


May 31, 1975

CLEARWATER - There is a deep sadness in Nguyen Thanh's eyes that you can sense even as he is smiling and shaking hands with those around him.

Thanh, who arrived in Clearwater Wednesday and went to City Hall Friday to receive the keys to the city from Mayor Gabriel Cazares, is the first refugee from South Vietnam to settle here.

He said he appreciates the warmth of the welcome he is receiving from local people but really does not want to be in the spotlight. He explains, in fluent English, that he is ashamed that he left his country.

Thanh, who is 30 years old and single, was a captain and fighter pilot in the South Vietnamese Air Force. He left Saigon on an hour's notice after he learned that his immediate superior had been killed - his throat slashed by the North Vietnamese. The man's widow came to Thanh and told him he had been put on a list of those who would be permitted to leave the country on an American airlift.

Thanh had no chance to let his mother know that he was leaving, since his hometown is about 150 miles from Saigon. He does not know what has become of any of his family.

This is Thanh's second visit to Clearwater. Five years ago, when he was in this country for military training, he came to visit a girl from his hometown who was an exchange student. That was when he met the people who now are his sponsors.

The I.H. Fortenberrys of 1008 Wellington Drive are only sorry they could not sponsor some of his friends who are still in California at Camp Pendleton. One of those friends is the woman who told Thanh he could leave Vietnam, and she is alone with three children.

Thanh was shot down twice in Vietnam. The first time, he was lucky. But the second time, he was over a city and tried to ride the plane back to the airport. He crashed in a clump of trees and spent nine months in a hospital.

Because all he has ever known is war, he has no special skills besides flying a plane. He wants to get a job and possibly attend vocational school.

In the meantime, he is assimilating well. But every once in a while, when someone mentions his family or his friends or the country he fought for so long, a haunted expression crosses his face.

MAY 26, 1931

40-gallon copper still found in trash pile

CLEARWATER - Lake Bowden, that beautiful sheet of water lying a little northeast of Safety Harbor, has again come into the limelight as the headquarters of the distilling business in that immediate section.

Deputy Sheriff Jack Strickland made a little journey out to the lake yesterday and his attention was attracted to what appeared to be an immense pile of trash a quarter of a mile from the water. The brush pile was placed around a house and inside the unique structure a complete distilling apparatus was discovered.

The distillery was being used to make liquor from mash composed of corn meal, sugar and various other ingredients, and had apparently been doing a fairly large and lucrative business. The alleged operator of the plant was invited to make a trip to town in company with the deputy, bringing some of his personal belongings like a 40-gallon copper still and five gallons of the potent liquid.

North Pinellas History is compiled by Times staff writer Theresa Blackwell. She can be reached at or 727 445-4170.

Looking back

Headlines through the years

A look back at the events, people and places that made North Pinellas the unique place that it is. The information is compiled from past editions of the St. Petersburg Times

[Last modified May 26, 2007, 18:11:47]

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