William Bruce’s memories of the 1970s are filled with the strain and trauma of being an army doctor at the height of the U.S.-Vietnam war. But amid those memories is a wistful sweetness for a dark-haired woman he met during a brief break in Chiang Mai.
The wartime army physician, now retired in California, is now looking to find the long-lost love that he nearly married 51 years ago during the Summer of Love before, at least until duty pulled him away. To rekindle an old flame? Bruce says he’s been happily married 30 years and just wants to “find out what happened to her” and offer any help, if needed.
“She was a beautiful and gracious lady and had a great influence in my life in spite of our short relationship,” Bruce said in a message. “I love the country of Thailand and will return there once this pandemic has been brought under control.”
Bruce, 79, doesn’t have a lot to go on. A nickname: Mai, and photographs of her grinning brightly from behind long bangs in the height of 1969 fashion. He sent what he had to a private investigator and, after some weeks passed without any luck, decided to make the search public in case Mai, her friends, children or anyone recognizes her.
“She does speak English and is likely to be in her 70s now if alive,” Bruce said, saying the turmoil that followed the war left him with no chance of finding her back then. “I want to make contact with this Thai lady and find out what happened to her and I am in a position to help her should she need that help.”
Bruce was a 28-year-old army physician assigned to Camp Friendship, where the Korat airbase stands today. On Dec. 5, 1969, he took a short weekend trip to Chiang Mai and met Mai at the hotel where she worked as a tour guide. He said they visited the city’s “beautiful temples” and took an elephant ride.
He was enchanted by her beauty and gracious personality and filled his camera with her image.
He had to return to Korat on Monday, but their time together didn’t end just yet. A week after Bruce’s return, she came to his rented home off base. Unhappy with its poor facilities, she stayed at the Siriwattana Hotel. They had a fun time together, with him driving her around the city and to many nearby places.
But a day before Christmas, after just two weeks together, the war separated them. Bruce got urgent orders to report to a border medical facility in Laos where a number of personnel had just been killed.
He wanted to marry Mai, but his peers told him it was a bad idea.
“My commanding officer and fellow physicians advised against the marriage … due to cultural differences but I had fallen in love with her,” he said. “The last time I saw her was in Korat.”
Anyone with information can contact Bangkok Investigators at 082-542-7064.