WMHT is in the process of collecting Vietnam experiences for a regional storytelling project leading up to the September 2017 release of Ken Burns The Vietnam War. Click below, to share your story of the Vietnam War era and one summative word from that story. We aim to collect the stories of many of the different groups that were impacted by the war – you don’t need to have been living during the era.

We recognize that the Vietnam War is still a complex and emotional topic and we are seeking input from as many people as possible to make this project effective. Please join us.

Do you have questions? Would you like to share a picture, too? Email jbaumstein@wmht.org or call 518-880-3553.

Click on the words below to read, listen, and watch Vietnam Era stories from our community.
Note: Some of the stories below contain graphic language.

Brotherhood

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I served as a combat infantry medic in Charlie co. 2/8th 1st air cav div. 69-70 wounded in action March 1970. My company was chronicled in the books blackhorse riders and firebase illingworth both by Phillip Keith there 2 photos of me in Blackhorse riders.... in 2009 President Obama gives the presidential unit citation to the unit who rescued Charlie co. one week later firebase is attacked and almost over run charlie co and echo recon defend base Peter Lemon earns Medal of Honor ... the Obama video is on YouTube Charlie co. had a reunion in 2015 and we have a closed Facebook page so we can still talk to each other.


—David, East Greenbush

Senseless

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Siena College, the small men’s college I attended on scholarship, had mandatory ROTC for freshmen and sophomores. ROTC wasn’t hard but I was uncomfortable with the idea of killing and very confused as to why our country was at war with Viet Nam. After two years I told ROTC in May 1971 that I would not be continuing. After 6 weeks of summer employment I returned to my mother’s apartment in Connecticut to find a notice from Selective Service of a required “pre-induction” physical exam scheduled for me. I called the number on the notice and was told that because I had declined to continue ROTC they assumed I was dropping out of school and no longer qualified for the college deferment from military service. The physical exam would be in August and I would be inducted into the Army in September. That I had a scholarship didn’t matter, if I wanted to stop the process I had to provide copies of my registration for Fall semester courses. My college was so small course registration occurred the day before courses actually began in the Fall. Defeated, scared and young I caved and notified ROTC that I would continue. And the induction process stopped. They had achieved their goal.

Fast forward to college graduation and a continued deferment allowing me to complete a masters degree in social work at Syracuse University. My doubts about my entering the military persisted. At one point I learned about the Central Committee on Conscientious Objection and counseling that was available at Cornell University to learn about what other options existed. Since I had no religious beliefs in my life I couldn’t see how I could claim I had anything that prevented my being in the military. I entered the Army as a first lieutenant with a wife and child in tow. My father-in-law had served in the Marines and would not entertain any discussion other than completing “my obligation” to serve.

My basic officer training was in San Antonio, TX with the medical field services school since social workers were considered medical staff (along with psychologists and psychiatrists). One afternoon I was in a lecture about wounds that occur in the field. It felt surreal since I could see no connection to social work services and freshly wounded soldiers. During the lecture there was this persistent thumping sound that occurred every minute or so directly outside the lecture hall. I was relieved to be summoned to the administrative services unit to be briefed about my field assignment after completing training. While leaving the lecture hall I was aghast to find that the persistent sound I was hearing was the shooting of goats to create flesh wounds that the officers in the lecture would be required to practice suturing on. The non-commissioned officers performing this function showed no emotion, it just had to be done.

I was stationed at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama, home of the Women’s Army Corp Training Center and the Third Army Chemical Engineer Corp. My assignment was administrator of the base’s mental health clinic. While I still had doubts about being in the military, the reality was that I had a good paying job, I was stationed in the States and had good, inexpensive housing on base for me and my family. Additionally I was running a mental health clinic and helping people. What was there to complain about?

At the clinic I would see enlisted young men and woman that had entered the military not out of a desire to serve but more wanting to get away from their desperate lives in the community. Officers (non commissioned and regular) rarely used the clinic services. Those that did come were from families with multiple generations of military service. One morning I had an intake session with a woman married to a Sergeant who was in Viet Nam. She informed me that she had three young children, lived on base and parenting the children alone was stressful. Prior to his current assignment, her husband had been in Korea and a third combat zone in the last 6 years. I responded with a question: why would you stay married to a man who wasn’t staying around? She stared at me in utter silence, rose from her seat and left the clinic. The next morning I was summoned to the office of the base Commandant. He made it clear to me that I needed to support the family of the soldiers who were fighting in combat zones so that they could do their jobs. What I got from this perspective was that while I wasn’t pulling the trigger and killing anyone, I was participating in the process to make it possible for someone else to kill.

This realization that I was indeed participating in killing people lead me to a series of other awarenesses. If it was okay for me to kill someone, then it okay for them to kill me. In essence participation in war could be considered a suicidal act. In essence this was the justification of why I couldn’t be in the Army. At my O3 hearing I was assured that I would not be sent outside the country and that completing my required minimum service time would mean I would be promoted to the rank of major by the time I left. They just didn’t get it. But I got it and needed to leave. Five weeks later I was released from the military as a conscientious objector.

It’s been very difficult to see the Viet Nam experience repeated in other wars that the United States has perpetrated. Young people still flock to the military with the hope of a better future as opposed to having the government take on social and economic disparities that drive their unhappiness. Now at the age of 70 I am at peace with the actions that I took during the Viet Nam war.


—Charles, Albany

Leadership

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My war began in Baltimore. I was graduating from the Army Intelligence School when my orders were changed from Atlanta, Georgia and domestic security to the Defense language Institute to study Vietnamese. I spent eight months learning the language before being assigned to the 4th Infantry Division near Pleiku to run intelligence agents. I arrived in country as the Paris Peace Talks began, May 12, 1968. My Captain welcomed me saying "We put in for one of you." I asked what that meant and he responded "an intelligence agent who could speak Vietnamese. I was stunned, thinking that the was ending and they did not have agents able to communicate with the Vietnamese. Then he told me not to expect anything I wrote to accurately make it back to Washington DC, that they were "cooking the books" in Saigon. That statement made me a potential wittiness in the latter CBS-Westmoreland 60 Minutes libel trial. Former CIA agent Sam Adams, the 60 Minutes source, had recruited me to testify but the case was settled out of court.

My work in Vietnam was first related to base security and then to work in Pleiiku City and with the CIA in The Phoenix Program, the secret assassination initiative. I exposed that program at the Overseas press Club in April 1970.

When Bobby Kennedy was killed on June 6, 1968, a month after I arrived in Pleiku, I wrote to my brother, a high school teacher, expressing my opinion about the war, its stupidity and the corruption and the need to resist it nonviolently through the electoral process. This letter was later published in the book, Dear America, Letters Home from Vietnam and used in the HBO movie by the same name, for which we won an Emmy.

In June 1969, I was assigned to do intelligence work in Washington DC and began protesting the war while I was still in the military and also was assigned to monitoring major peace demonstrations.

The day after i was discharged I joined the peace movement, helped expose military spying on the peace movement and became an organizer for Vietnam Veterans Against the War. My Vietnam War continued through the peace movement, exposing war crimes, developing one of the first PTSD programs for the VA, serving as Deputy Director of the NYS Division of Veterans Affairs; was an advisor to the federal court on the Agent Orange Class Action case and eventually returning to Vietnam in 1991 for the UNIDO, United Nations Industrial Development Organization's Investors forum, meetings with government leaders and a Buddhist pilgrimage. I later led humanitarian, business and environmental delegation to Vietnam. I have had three photography exhibits at the NYS Vietnam Memorial related to my times in Vietnam,. The first was Vietnam Lives in My Soul. The second was On the Road to Dien Bien Phu. The third was a joint exhibit with my daughter Zoeann, now a visual journalist with the Washington Post, called Vietnam A Country Not a War which we then published as a book, Vietnam Our Father Daughter Journey.

I continue to speak and write about how the Vietnam War has shaped my generation,on the needs of veterans and about American engagement in the world.


—Ed, Ballston Spa

Memories

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I lived in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1974-75 as an eight-year-old child, daughter of a CIA employee. It had been decided after the 1973 cease-fire, that the city was "once again safe for families." Looking back, it was anything but that. A Vietnam Veteran friend once told me that "that was the most dangerous time to be there--there were no American troops guarding the city." A chill ran up my spine at that simple statement. It brought back a question I had asked my mother as a teen, "Why did you take us there?" She had said that no one knew what was going to happen, and I guess that's true enough; no one sees over the horizon of time. But there were clues.

In 2012, I decided to begin writing about everything that Vietnam meant to my family. The only problem was that none of my siblings had any cohesive memories and both my parents had already died. Luckily, they left a treasure trove of letters and notes. My father had even left written documentation of his last-minute effort--and a triumphant effort at that--of getting nearly 1000 South Vietnamese out of harm's way.

The story is too long to relate here but know that I am hard at work, living in the past, writing from another time, striving to bring you the what-was, the memories that might have been, and that which will change your perspective on the Vietnam era forever.– Kat, Round Lake.


—Kat, Round Lake

Misunderstood

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My personal story is quite inconsequential. I first heard about Patriot Flight when Bill Peak started it in 2007. How many WWII Veterans had never seen the WWII Memorial because it was built nearly 60 years after the war ended? Mr. Peak saw the importance of helping those Veterans get to DC to see the memorial, but many of those veterans were in their 80’s and 90’s and would need assistance navigating the airport and Washington DC. Volunteering as a Guardian seemed like a pretty easy way to just say, “Thank You”. The Patriot Flight has expanded to include other Veterans from other wars, but the message is the same…”Thank You”. This October will be my fourth trip to DC as a Guardian (if accepted) and I am grateful to have another opportunity to personally thank another group of men and women who gave us so much and ask for so little in return. The reception and gratitude that these Veterans receive in the airport and at these monuments is overwhelmingly beautiful. I am always humbled to stand by and watch them experience it. I am also endlessly impressed with the volunteers that run the Patriot Flight organization and all the behind the scenes efforts that go into figuring out the costs and logistics of these flights. I would encourage you to support them in any way that you can.


—Joe, Halfmoon

Heartbroken

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—Arlene, Troy

Overkill

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—Frank, Albany

Life-Altering

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I served as an Army trauma surgeon at the 85th Evacuation Hospital, Phu Bai, Vietnam ’70-’71. I witnessed first hand the devastation of war on body, mind and soul. I would have not chosen to abandon my wife and children to serve in Vietnam but the Army controlled my destiny and I did go. However, that year became the most influential determinant in the development of how I engaged and interacted with my wife, my children, my friends, my patients and society.

—Gus, Amsterdam

Extraordinary

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I was in the US Air Force Nurse Corps during the end of Vietnam, stationed at March AFB, Riverside CA. I was one of the nurses selected to care for some of our returning Air Force POW's - 54 of them to be exact. It was the largest contingent of Air Force returnees to a single location. I was also stationed in the Philippines during Operation Babylift where we cared for hundreds of Vietnamese refugees. One of the nurses with whom I went to Nurse Flight School was killed on the C-5 aircraft that crashed while evacuating babies from Vietnam; another one of my flight school colleagues was injured during that same flight.

—Maryanne, Ballston Lake

Sad

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My husband was an officer in the Marine Corps. He served one year in Vietnam & left on his birthday. he has suffered from PTSD. He is 100% service connected disabled and resides in the nursing home unit at the VA Hospital in Albany. I am happy with the care he receives and the recreation provided. During the "war", I worked evenings so was out of the loop. It was not until John was there that it became real. So unlike World War II when every aspect of life was affected.

—Mary Ellen, Wynantskill

Winding Down

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I was stationed at DaNang AB (Camp Stokes), 72-73, serving with the 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron, when the cease fire became effective, ending US military involvement (feb 73). NVN already controlled the vast majority of the country as there were very few Army and Marines left in country. That was the end of the war for me, and it was a harrowing barrage of incoming for several hours, right up to the minute of the cease fire.


—Ed, Latham

Peace

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My story is of the “three recent journeys to Vietnam to find the location where my brother was killed in 1968. This quest and pilgrimage ultimately covered about 5 years (of his life) and allowed me the opportunity to meet many Vietnam war vets; men and women that shared stories with me about their tour 'in country' and life after”.


—Stephen, Chatham

Can Do

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We were informed Vietnam is being evacuated and the Philippines doesn't want them so they were coming to Guam. We needed to prepare for 10,000 refugees per day were to be processed by our 600 man unit. So the dozers cleared the overgrowth and we began setting up tents we worked 12 hours on and 12 hours off - meals, transportation, personal hygiene were done during off time. Everybody did what they were best at, and the uniform regs were relaxed. Everything was put to its max performance - man and machine.

I needed to adapt quickly to the environment, I was amazed at looking up and seeing planes line up in the night sky landing every 2 minute. Buses were making pick-ups at the planes and bringing them to intake and immunization [Where] we would feed them and assign them a tent and cot, pillow, blanket.


—Will, Albany

Awakening

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For a time, I was an infantryman who served as a NIGHTHAWK. I was the first NIGHTHAWK in my division, I believe. As a NIGHTHAWK, I went out each night on a helicopter armed with an M-14 rifle with a Starlight scope mounted on it so that I could see in the dark. The helicopter was my firing platform.

One night we were ordered to go to these certain grid coordinates and when we got to there, it was a small "ville" that was being barraged with CS-gas mortar rounds to drive the people out of their houses and into the open where they were clearly illuminated by parachute flares. I can see them down there to this day. Women and children.

I can still hear the "voice" coming into my head over the helicopter's radio from the Battalion Operations Center back in the big base camp that was in "control" of what the mission was going to be that night. "KILL THEM ALL!" That was "THE MISSION". To gun down each and every one of those people. A machine gunner next to me and my rifle. Start firing, gun them down, kill them all. The aircraft commander, a Lieutenant, countermanded that order. My memory of that event is that he drew his pistol on me and the gunner, and he told us not to fire, or by God, he would. And in the meantime, the "voice" continued, "KILL THEM ALL". Now, that "voice" was my chain of command, not the Lieutenant. However, on board a helicopter, the aircraft commander outranks everyone on board, and besides he was there with a pistol drawn and aimed. WHOP! WHOP! WHOP! WHOP!

Like in slow motion, the rotor blade spun around. The people on the ground were still running and milling around, trying to escape the gas. The flares continued to hang there by their parachutes to turn night into day. And there we all were on the helicopter, EN TABLEAU. For what seemed like forever. By not pulling the trigger, I was disobeying a direct order from my battalion command staff. If I pulled the trigger, I was disobeying a direct order from the AC. The AC prevailed.

No shots were fired. No women or children in that "ville" were killed by us that night. But the Lieutenant was not just leaving things there. It wasn't enough to him that we did not fire our weapons. That did not end anything. It began something instead, a REVOLT. A REVOLT by that OFFICER of the U.S. Army. Shortly after that, he was VECTORED into the path of our own outgoing artillery, and he was shot down out of the sky in flames. They burned all the way down. Helicopters burn real hot. They were murdered because of that REVOLT by that Lieutenant.

I know they were vectored into the path of that artillery because I was monitoring the radio that night they died. That Lieutenant was going to make a FEDERAL CASE out of that mission that night, and so he was eliminated. And three other people on that helicopter that night went to their fiery deaths with him. One of them, my friend whose life I had previously saved in another episode was still alive when the helicopter hit the ground. We know that because he was found so many feet away where he had managed to crawl before he died. His legs were burned off up to his knees.

It's funny how a simple little word like REVOLT connected to Viet Nam can trigger a release of memories like that. Just like I was still sitting there in that helicopter with my finger still on the trigger. Suspended in time and space. That pilot and crew were from the "Little Bears", the 25th Infantry Division Aviation Battalion. They flew out of Cu Chi base camp in Viet Nam. The year they died was 1969.


—Paul, Averill Park

Disillusioned

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My father, John E. Cartier, was a reservist sent over to Vietnam. He did not want to go but he was an extremely valiant man and knew he had to go when called to fight for his country. He came back to the U.S. seeing images on television of Americans spitting in soldiers' faces. He was deeply hurt by this sight. He also suffered with PTSD terribly. On family vacations, he would be driving, and he would have panic attacks any time we drove over a hill, because he didn't know what was on the other side. He had grown accustomed to hearing the bombs go off right by his barracks, and it was going to affect him throughout his life.

My father passed away in 2009. His memories of Vietnam haunted him. He saw men killed on the side of the road while he was there, and he was horrified by what he witnessed. Many Americans were not there for him, and neither were the politicians.

My father repaired jeeps and guns in the war. He came back with huge scars-not on his flesh, but to his spirit.


—Christopher, Rockville Centre

Formative

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I taught English and worked for a social welfare organization, the Shoeshine Boys Project, in Saigon from 1972-1975. On April 22-23, 1975, I returned to Saigon and took out three Vietnamese friends. My book of Viet Nam short stories, was published in 2013.

—James, Glenmont

Life

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—Thanh, Troy

Sad

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The Vietnam War represents a sad era in American History. A war that had an estimated 60,000 brave American heroes who were killed in action. A war that lasted over 10 years. A war that seriously divided our great country. A war that showed tremendous courage by our troops. Sadly a war where the American public criticized, degraded and ignored the returning troops. Was it worth it ? GOD I hope so.

—Roy, Lansingburgh

Forgotten

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Over thousands of years, many dynasties came and went, and many cycles of peace and war shaped the Vietnamese culture. Many ancient legends and beautiful tales are still been told by the old generations, reminding us of who we used to be and where we came from. But there is an event, despite happening less than 50 years ago, rarely talked about in Vietnam today. Growing up, bits and pieces of Vietnam War were everywhere. National holidays on calendars celebrated the glorious victory, poems and songs in textbooks praised national heroes whose ideology led us to progress, and the blood red Vietnamese flag in the sky continued to remind us of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. However, despite of all the shards of Vietnam War still scattered everywhere in the society, to my generation, the Vietnam War seemed so surreal and removed. And even my parents’ generation, who experienced the turmoil of war first hand and witnessed the defeat of America by the Vietnamese people, Vietnam War is rarely a topic of discussion. To the nation, the Vietnam War seemed so vital and celebrated, yet to the people, the Vietnam War felt so distant and forgotten. Today, with a different perspective on the war, I begin to understand why some refused to talk about the war. For those who experienced the war, the war was more than just a war of win and loss; it was a war where brothers fought brothers, fathers fought sons, and Vietnamese fought Vietnamese. To the generation that lived through the war, it is a war they refuse to pass on to the next generation, and it is a war they want to forget. In their heart, there are still memories of war. But for the next generation, they want to leave behind a society where the hardship of the war is forgotten, an ethnic group undivided by the scar of the war, and a nation where all Vietnamese are one.

—Mia, Vung Tau, Vietnam

Despair

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—Mike, Nassau

Buried

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See www.buriedgems.com - it's difficult to tell my story briefly, but my website shares info about my memoir. Or check the opening pages from my memoir by looking up "Unearthing the Ghosts: A Mystery Memoir" by Linda Mary Wagner on either Amazon.com or www.tbmbooks.com


—Linda, Albany

Inspired

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I still have the essay I wrote for 6th grade in 1966 titled "Why We Should be in Vietnam." I thought our soldiers would bring democracy to that far away country. My essay was posted on the bulletin board and Mrs. Arnold read it to the whole class. Some time later, I remember staring at a newspaper editorial on Thanksgiving that said "God Bless Our Boys in Vietnam." I felt something special for those boys. Then, 3 years later, by chance, I came upon a free concert--a guy named Pete Seeger, with a guitar singing "If you love your Uncle Sam, bring 'em home. Support our boys in Vietnam, bring 'em home." My whole body shivered. I saw smiling faces of draft age kids waving peace signs. I felt I was undergoing a change like I had never experienced before. I dedicated myself to creating a more peaceful world and to become an anti-Vietnam war activist. Ever since then, I have done whatever I could; joining protests, organizing peace groups, meeting with congressmen, writing to newspapers, photographing people in struggle, campaigning for peace candidates in election years, raising money for causes, helping refugees fleeing from war, and more. I don't plan to stop.


—Paul, Delmar

Betrayed

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It made my husband an orphan. We are hoping to visit the country we were born in next year or so as our first time going back in about 40 years. We are hoping to be able to visit his mom's grave if it's still there. Was that war necessary or is it just a struggle of power between some of the most powerful countries. You have not only sacrificed your young men and women but so many of our people died for not much that was gained. Maysoua chose four words to define her experience: sad, angry, betrayed, and hopeless.


—Maysoua, Hartford, WI

Blind & Dumb

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I am a US Navy Vet, spent 1968 & 1969 patrolling the coast of Vietnam giving gun fire support to those forces inland. Watching the fire fights up in the hillsides was not a sight I will never forget. Working with the river patrol boats and helping them with gun fire support. We also did boarding and inspection of various types of watercraft looking for contraband. We saw our aircraft spray agent orange on the jungle on the shore and the wind carried it out over the water. The ships fresh water making plant used that sea water to make fresh water. That process made the agent orange only stronger. I now suffer from Ischemic heart disease and have been trying to get benefits from the VA. As I served my time on a TinCan I felt I was lucky. If the French couldn't do it 20 years what did JFK think he was going to accomplish? At 70 years old I am very bitter for what for I and many who suffered worse then me for a war that did not mean a Damn thing. Only to be called baby killers, and worse. Every time I hear the name JFK I want to throw up!


—Charles, Coxsackie

Secret

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I was in country between November 1969 and November 1970. I was assigned to the 372 Radio Research Unit in Cu Chi, Vietnam. Radio Research was a cover name for the Army Security Agency that was not allowed in country. Our units existed throughout the country. We all had top secret security clearances and engaged in electronic information gathering using a variety of measures. It's only recently that some of our work has been declassified and has been published. A good example is the book Unlikely Warriors by Lonnie Long and Gary Blackburn (2013) published by iUniverse. My story is that of all members of Radio Research units, complete silence. We could not talk about our work or experiences outside a secure compound and even then, it was on a need-to-know basis.


—Duane, Albany

Waste

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I was sitting on one side of a small stream in a hot foreign country, drying off after a dip – the water was brown but cool. All my clothes, helmet, flack jacket, boots, M-16 were strewn on the other side – talk about being out of uniform. Across the bank in an open area on a gradual uphill slope, there was a lean-to type open-air market with old mama-suns, kids, and maybe a few old papa-suns, where you could get most anything we weren’t issued already, like drugs, (gals), etc. You could also get some things you really didn’t want – like VDs, or I guess they’re called STDs now, that didn’t even have names yet. I did try to get to know one nice young gal from this open-air market. There didn’t seem to be any young adults in the female population, but this gal seemed to have a pleasant manner and was old enough to be a friend. A mama-sun put the nix on that and offered to get me a whore. We service guys were perceived to only want one (or two) things, which was not always the case.

So anyway, I’m sitting on one side of this muddy creek, drying off in the sun in the wide open and I started to hear these “zips” or “zings” over my head. “Holy f---! Some bastard is shooting at me!” The shots were coming from the slope above and to the left of that little open-air market. His elevation was off because he was shooting downhill…lucky for me. The SOP when you can’t see who’s shooting is to put your rifle on automatic and spray the area with bullets as you get to better cover and put another magazine in. I always thought, and still do, that the innocents caught in the middle are the major losers in these type deals. As I pondered all these likely responses with my lightning swift mind, this guy stopped shooting and that was that. I’m not sure what I would have done if the whole thing lasted much more than a few seconds.

We moved our Battalion from An Khe to Buon Me Thuot, two nowhere places in the central highlands, which put us precisely in the middle of nowhere. As our fairly large convoy of trucks, etc. was rumbling through a small village, one guy who was riding “shotgun” in a jeep saw something barely move in the brush so he put his M-16 on automatic and emptied it in that general direction. It still makes me cry to think that it was most likely kids in the bushes trying to see what was going on.

So, anyway, back to my dip in the creek. I do remember thinking afterward that I wouldn’t mind talking to this guy and saying I didn’t want to be there any more than he wanted me to be there…and that we both probably had families that we loved and loved us and were looking forward to seeing again…and that we probably had higher aspirations for the rest of our lives than trying to kill each other…and that if he left me alone, I’d leave him alone and we both could wait till this whole deal was over…and maybe we’d say we didn’t feel like we had a choice in this whole deal. That’s what we were dealt.

Do you remember the conflicting arguments over our involvement in Viet Nam? It was hard to know what to think. I, too, wasn’t sure what to think except that I had to fulfill my military obligation and Viet Nam was where most of us did that at the time. So to help me figure out what I was doing there, I took an unofficial survey of mostly NCO’s (we enlisted guys don’t talk to officers), and everyone said there’s absolutely no sense in being here. Have you ever heard an overused cliché so many times that you could scream if you heard it again? – At the risk of going crazy, I’ll say it just one more time…” it don’t mean nuttin.” Subsequently, history proved that almost immediately after we declared “victory” and left the country.

We (U.S. service guys) were easy to spot, in or out of uniform. All the Vietnamese looked alike to us, and you couldn’t identify the good guys from the bad guys. Anyone other than “us” was viewed with distrust. As far as I could tell, no one liked anyone very much. We didn’t have an opportunity to get to know each other. There were some major stress factors going on, so we stayed with our “own kind” and we really didn’t want to make friends with “those kind.” Wherever there is a noticeable difference between groups and a perceived or real danger involved, and not much of an opportunity to relate with one another on a personal level, there’s a good chance racism will appear in one form or another.

A couple of other things I learned from my sabbatical in Viet Nam are that the military will do just about anything to not look bad, and you can’t believe much of what you hear from a war zone. If you research reports from different sources, you usually get conflicting information. I believe there are similarities of the Viet Nam era and our current foreign affairs. It’s not fair to ask our troops to perform an unachievable mission. The troops are identifiable and a real danger and they can’t tell who the “bad” guys are. They will be stereotyped, feared and disliked. And when it’s all over, it “won’t mean nuttin.”


—John, Troy

Sorrow

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I got on a plane, at last homeward bound, Leaving misery and death all behind. Back in the States some kissed the ground Unaware how their lives would unwind. --but there were no marching bands --there were no clapping hands --there was no ticker tape --no one in the stands.

I traded my gear for Army dress greens Queued up for my final pay call. In the mess hall ate steak, C-rations unseen There was even a clean shower stall. --but no cheering crowd --no shouting out loud --no yellow ribbons --to make me feel proud.

The time finally came one late August morn To line up for one last inspection Six medals and brass, on a uniform worn With pride for my country’s protection --not one waving hand --no Army brass band --no flying flags --all over the land.

I’d signed all my papers, at last ETS Rode a bus that was bound for Seattle. A civilian at last – no more Army stress Only memories of war and of battle. --no one came out --no one gave a shout --and none really cared --what it was about.

So I boarded a jet that was headed back east The lone soldier boy on that flight. And the rest on that plane didn’t care in the least I was just coming back from a fight. --none really knew --what I’d just gone through --none gave a damn --not one “How are you?”

Two years had gone by since I’d left my home At a time that could hardly be worse Now luckily far from that dreadful war zone Coming back in a jet not a hearse. --no more bivouac --no bullets, no flak --but no one in sight --to welcome me back.

Next morning came early, an eastern time zone I woke in my bed. Was I dreaming? Somewhere in the house the ring of a phone But no sound of bullets, no wounded, no screaming. --on Pacific white foam --briny seas I did roam --and now safe in the States --seemed I’d never left home. ©js Albany, NY February 2007


—Gerald, Albany

Compassion

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The year was 1977. I was a lonely seventeen-year-old high school student. A social misfit. I was a square peg in a sea of round holes. Passionate about social justice, animal rights, and the state of the planet, I was misunderstood by my teachers and bullied by "friends" and classmates. I withdrew, taking solace in writing and protesting.

One day, I saw a news report that would change my life. The newscaster was standing by a boat in Thailand, reporting on the "Boat People" and the refugee crisis that was unfolding after the Vietnam War. Thousands of refugees from war-torn Vietnam were escaping in droves, looking for solace, for safety. For home. I stood in front of the television, riveted, filled with emotion. I knew I must do something. But what could a 17-year-old girl do? I called the television station that aired the broadcast, was directed to the United Nations, who ultimately directed me to the International Rescue Committee. I made a phone call that would change the entire course of my life.

I spoke to a refugee resettlement counselor who offered me the position of "friend" to five families of Vietnamese "Boat People" in the Bronx. I arrived on a Saturday in November 1977, armed only with a Vietnamese/English dictionary, two bags of donations and a smile. I stayed for seven years, visiting every Saturday. After college, I became a Resettlement Counselor with the IRC working with clients from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos until 1986, when President Reagan cut the non-profit budgets and I lost my job.

Devastated, I moved to the Berkshires, MA and became an ESL teacher, and eventually a writer, chronicling this story in my novel. I could be the poster-child for teen volunteerism, as I can attest that doing this work turned my life around.


—Jana, South Egremont, MA

Life-Changing

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While I currently live in Montana, I'm from New York. I was born in Schenectady and graduated from high school in Greenwich, NY. I dropped out of Potsdam State in December 1967.* I joined the Army in January 1968 at the Albany recruiting center. I enlisted to be a paratrooper, infantry in Vietnam. My recruiter said he could make that all happen--and he did. I served as a combat infantry sergeant with both the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne in 1969/1970. With the 82nd Airborne, we searched enemy tunnel complexes, and with the 101st Airborne we operated in and near the A Shau valley. I was one of the lucky ones and came home more or less unscathed.

While I am dealing with Agent Orange exposure, I count myself blessed to have lived a wonderful life for the last 50 years while so many of my brothers never came home. For the last 10 years I have worked with a nonprofit organization here in Montana helping post 9/11 veterans. I do it because I do not want them to be treated like we were when we came home.

*A week after I left Vietnam in 1970 I reenrolled in college at SUNY Albany and graduated in 1973--Magna Cum Laude!


—Larry, Whitefish, MT (formerly of Schenectady)

Televised

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"Televised" as in Walter Cronkite brought the war into our living room at 6:00 o'clock every night .It was real and it was frightening to wonder whether your loved one was in or near that village.


—Mimi, Troy

The Wounds We Feel at Home


Premieres Monday, September 18 at 7:30pm
 
Additional Airdates

Tuesday, September 19 at 7:30pm, Sunday, September 24 at 11am & Sunday, October 1 at 10am

The Vietnam War is over, but the damage it left behind continues to encompass our nation - including the Capital Region. WMHT's 30-minute documentary, The Wounds We Feel at Home, shares stories from local residents who were affected by The Vietnam War. A Gold Star mother, a trauma surgeon, and a homefront psychotherapist treating PTSD tell their stories and search for healing in the aftermath of this terrible conflict. Learn more.


Underwriting Provided By

St. Mary's HealthcareSt. Mary's HealthcareSt. Mary's Healthcare

The Vietnam War
A Film By Ken Burns & Lynn Novick

Sunday, September 17 - Thursday, September 21 at 8pm & Sunday, September 24 - Thursday, September 28 at 8pm

In an immersive narrative, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick tell the epic story of the Vietnam War as it has never-before been told on film. THE VIETNAM WAR features testimony from nearly 80 witnesses, including many Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as Vietnamese combatants and civilians from both the winning and losing sides.

Resources