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.

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

Unnecessary

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—Joe, Glens Falls

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

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

No War Is Good

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Being Canadian by birth and moving to the US in 1973, I spent most of the Vietnam War period safe in Canada. This war, however, was a huge topic of concern among many of us. There were large protest gatherings especially at university campuses and American consulate locations, with a certain number of counterprotestors who thought that Canada should help the US fight communism in Viet. The biggest visible impact was the very large number of draft dodgers and deserters who tried, and by-and-large succeeded (I believe), to emigrate into Canada--------a far easier thing to do then versus now. My own brother-in-law was in training to be a medic with the Green Berets. When he deserted and fled to Canada, (long story short) he married my sister, with the warm approval of the rest of my family, and recently retired from a successful career as a civil servant in British Columbia province.

Speaking of my family, my long-dead father was a chaplain with the Canadian Navy. During the Viet War he was mainly based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, home to the bulk of the naval fleet. He became a very-well-informed debater on the Viet War, arguing against this war, on local CBC TV programs. He incurred the wrath of many of his fellow naval officers who tended to be pro-US in their views, and I think this contributed to his eventual removal from the ranks of the navy.

For a while I too lived in Halifax and helped welcome and receive Americans fleeing the war---------and by the way, a good many of these were not young men under threat of the draft or already inducted into the US military. They were people who just felt they couldn't live in the US any longer on account of The War. Anyway, at that time any foreigner who arrived on Canadian soil and applied for Landed Immigrant status- and this could happen at any border crossing post large or small- could ask to be interviewed and examined then and there. If successful, the applicant could walk away with immigrant status granted and could not be arbitrarily deported. An exception to this applied to visiting foreign naval ships. If a sailor from such a visiting ship jumped ashore intending to desert, the long-standing protocol was that, if found and arrested by local military police, this sailor could be simply returned to his ship to face whatever punishment was in store for him. No chance here to apply for immigrant status. But this protocol was only in force while the visiting ship was still present in port. Once this ship had departed, the sailor-in-question could emerge and seek immigrant status as described above. Therefore, there was a local network of residents who undertook to hide such a deserting sailor until his ship had departed and he could safely come out into the open. The trick here was to let sailors know that there was such local support, without compromising to the wrong people the locations and persons involved.

My own particular contribution to the Greater Resistance was to join 5 other young people in a 6-day water-only fast held over the Christmas-New Year week in 1966 in Canada's capital city of Ottawa. Along with supporters, we took shifts standing in vigil out in the cold (I'll say!!!) in front of the US embassy. Our chief point was to express concern about the sufferings of civilians in all parts of Viet Nam. We organized this with involvement of the Canadian Friends' Service Committee.

Otherwise, I was present at many of the protest rallies mentioned above. You may guess for yourself which side I was on.


—Andrew, Pine Bush

Witness For Peace

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I was born in New York City. I turned 13 in 1967. In April of that year I went with my parents to my first anti-war demonstration. I remember standing in Central Park, in the middle of a huge crowd, the biggest crowd I'd ever seen, for what seemed like a long time and then starting to move as part of that giant mass. We walked slowly. The people around were old, young, male, female, black, white, well-dressed, scruffy; every kind. Everyone was not only courteous but friendly. In the middle of 5th Avenue, my dad boosted me up to his shoulders. It was wall-to-wall people as far as I could see up and down the avenue. I have never seen anything like it since, and I've seen my share of demonstrations.

I became an antiwar activist in my high school. With a like-minded bunch of students, I participated in a weekly vigil for peace across the street from the school's main entrance. I remember stomping my feet to stay warm in the winter cold. I remember being heckled. And I remember the glow inside that said, ""I'm standing up for what I believe is right."" It is a powerful feeling.

My political activism declined when I went off to college in New England. But my social consciousness has not disappeared. I joined the Quakers, a historic peace church, in 1990. And in April of 2017, I interviewed for the position of pastor at Adirondack Friends Meeting, in South Glens Falls. I mentioned that I had been in the 1967 march. One of the women on the search committee smiled and said, "I was there, too."


—Lucy, Pastor of Adirondack Friends Meeting, South Glens Falls

Bad Politics

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I joined Marine corps on October 4, 1964 as soon as I turned 17. I arrived at Paris Island and began constant training, after basic training at PI and infantry training at camp Gieger. Upon completion, I was sent to the West Coast on February 19, 1965 and assigned to the D Company 1st Battalion 5th Marines as Rifleman.

Our Battalion was rotated on May 22,1965 to the 3 mar Division in Okinawa and became the 2nd Battalion 9th Marines. While at the jungle warfare training camp, our training was cut short when choppers came and brought us back to the main base where the trucks were waiting to bring us to the transport ships in Naha. We departed for Viet Nam. We landed in Danang on July 5, 1965 with H Co 2 Battalion 9th Marines and were deployed in the areas surrounding Danang.

We lost our first man, a machine gunner from Texas, plus three were wounded, around mid-August. I was reassigned on November 20, 1965. I remained deployed in country with E Co 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines as gunner assault sec. until June 24, 1966 then returned to the states and finished my service with 1st batt 8th Marine.


—Tom, Schenectady

Education on Life

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Ken of Rotterdam was in the Navy during the Vietnam War, stationed on the USS Forrestal, an aircraft carrier. Lt. John McCain, now a U.S. Senator, was stationed on the same vessel.

“McCain always had a grin from ear to ear, like he was going out to play for the day,” Ken remembered.

Ken said he always wanted to be in the Navy because he wanted to travel. He served from 1964 to 1967 and was a boatswain’s mate.

In 1967, the Forrestal off the coast of Vietnam had an electrical anomaly and a Zuni rocket discharged. A fire broke out and 134 sailors were killed. The fire took place 50 years ago as of July 2017. Ken remembered seeing the deck of the ship lined with the bodies of those killed in the fire. “I couldn’t believe how many.”

“On anniversaries, I think about what happened,” Ken added. He said his time in the Vietnam War was like a bad dream but said it was safer than being in the jungle.

When he came home, he said he experienced some shell shock, where his body would tense up at the sound of a balloon popping or dropped silverware.

Ken, a former WMHT employee, said he would sum up his thoughts on Vietnam as it being an Education on Life. “My 20-year-old self thought we were there for a reason. Now, I think it was foolish.”


—Ken, Rotterdam

Unforgettable

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Amid the tumultuous reactions to the war, I was drafted, greetings from Richard Nixon, by the Army while in law school in Philadelphia. After a conscientious objector application, citing an illegal war, was turned down I was inducted in June of 1969 and entered with ambiguous feelings: strong love of country, but ardent opposition to the war. After basic training at Ft. Bragg, I was assigned to stay at Bragg as a clerk at the training center, the largest in the country.

Soon after basic at a seminar on racism within the military I was recruited by several members of GI's United Against the War and subsequently attended meetings of the group that were housed at a Quaker House in Fayetteville. I helped organizer anti war marches and joined the editorial board of their newsletter the Bragg Briefs, which had been subject of a Federal Law Suit for which the US Courts protected the publication under First Amendment principles. I continued my daily duties in a position that was stabilized, immune from being sent to Vietnam. However, soon after the brass discovered my name appear on the editorial board of the newsletter, stabilization was lifted and I was ordered to Vietnam. I re-filed for conscientious objector status on the grounds that the war was illegal, and hired a lawyer, specializing in constitutional law who himself was against the war and was helping other GI's with legal matters.

My activity with the GI's United intensified, the association with like-minded people being both inspirational and educational. On weekends I traveled to various cities to meet with nationwide organizers of mass protests for the war including the planning of a Counter Armed Forces Day protest at many bases throughout the country including Ft. Bragg where Jane Fonda, Mark Lane, Rennie Davis of the Chicago 7 and SDS were featured speakers. The rally on May 16, 1970 came just two weeks after the tragic Kent State shootings, and the national tension was at a boiling point. 5,000 people attended the rally in Rowan St. Park in Fayetteville, NC giving the movement steam and credibility. My observation was that by mid 1970, many in the military were opposed to the war. My commanding officer, a Major O'Neill, a lifetime soldier, veteran of several battles, basically confessed to me on the day after Kent State that he was ashamed at some of the actions he participated in during excursions in Central America. Thinking he was going to punish me for not wearing my uniform that day, he commiserated with my anti-war feelings and even got me out of trouble with my commanding officer who wasn't going to allow me to attend the May 16 rally, having restrained me to the barracks for missing a formation by two seconds. O'Neill told the officer that I was a damn good third baseman and needed in base softball game, and since I was okay to play in the game, I could also attend the rally.

The rally and the aftermath are still fresh in my mind. The crowd. The tension. The arrest of Fonda and Lane. The momentum gained for the movement, which included many officers who had returned from Nam. I lost my request for CO status, as well as an appeal to the US District Court. The brass attempted to ship me to Nam when they heard the decision, but my lawyer told be to "hold tight." Well, knowing they would ship me I was able to stay away for a day, and my friends hid my files needed for shipping me. A friend found me and told me my lawyer wanted me to call him. From a payphone in downtown Spring Lake, NC I was informed by my lawyer that the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed to hear the case and issued a restraining order prohibiting the Army from moving me from Ft. Bragg. The Quaker sponsored group assiduously worked on renovating a downtown Fayetteville property into an anti war coffeehouse that opened in July of 1970 and became a hub for citizens and soldiers to share ideas about the war. Fonda, Elliot Gould, Donald Sutherland, and Peter Boyle came to the grand opening. To say the least the coffeehouses's presence in a military town like Fayetteville, NC was controversial and I remember being nervous walking the streets to this bastion of sanity.

Eventually, my lawsuit became moot, as I was discharged honorably in June 1971, finishing out working as a legal clerk for a commanding officer who became my best friend in the Army. Many of the events of that period are vivid in my mind. The people. The roiling tensions. The rally (my first public speech). The meetings with nationwide protest leaders. Even now while writing this I take a deep breath and sigh, wondering if we're about to go through something similar.


—Al, Scotia

Friendship

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In 1967 I was 10 years old and in the 4th grade. My brother was in Vietnam, the driver of an Armored Personnel Carrier. A letter I had written to him went astray and ended up at another battalion: Company C, 9th Medical Battalion, 9th Infantry Division. One of the men wrote back to me asking how I had come to write to them. They also asked me to please keep on writing to them. My mother encouraged me to do so and I did. I kept up the correspondence over the year. As my mother and I would prepare packages to send to my brother, we would also get one ready for our new friends. I received many moving and heartfelt messages thanking us for thinking of them and helping to boost their morale. They spoke of how important it was for them to know that people back home had not forgotten them. I still have their letters and postcards. They mean a great deal to me. As a teacher, I have shared them with my students each year, either for Veteran's Day or Memorial Day. Keeping up the spirit, I have also had my students write Christmas cards with letters to servicemen and women overseas. The students would be thrilled if they got a reply.

I also have my POW bracelet from the early 70's. I wore it until the end of the war. I did find out that the soldier, Lt. Col. Daniel F. Maslowski, had been released on Feb 12, 1973. He had been held prisoner for 1017 days.

My own brother was fortunate enough to come home, but was emotionally scarred. Unfortunately, I lost a cousin, PFC George Sauls Jr. My husband lost a cousin as well, Patrick J. Sughrue.


—Carol, Troy

Peacenick

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I became a conscientious objector, and when I was offered to become a medic as alternative service (alternate service was required of COs), I refused; I counter-offered to work in a peace center, selective service refused. I persisted and became director of the Schenectady Peace Center, and there starts an amazing journey with clergy, students, protests in the Capital District, the White House, etc.

(Some of) the work was with the General Electric Production for Peace Project (working with a group in Lynn MA and another one in Texas), working with two other peace centers in the capital district - the Albany Peace Center (in the Friends Meeting House) and the Peace and Justice Center at RPI.

I was also the president of the student senate at Siena College where we closed down classes after the Kent State Massacre and offered alternate classes throughout the days - holding teach-ins, hosting debates (including one with Jane Fonda), and marched by candle-light to the Watervliet Arsenal where we left a coffin at the feet of National Guardsmen facing us with tears in their eyes, to represent dead Americans lost to the war.


—Victor, Schenectady

Peace

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I was drafted in 1969. I was 23 years old, a college graduate & had been an active opponent of the US invasion of Viet Nam since 1964. Through dumb luck I was not sent to Viet Nam. I had been trained at Fort Knox Kentucky as a tank driver, fully anticipating that I would be sent to Viet Nam, but I ended up in the lucky half of my training class. I spent the rest of my time at Fort Knox as a tank driver, then as a Company clerk, then as a Battalion legal clerk. I remained anti-war in the service as I had been anti-war prior to being drafted.

When the killings at Kent State occurred in May, 1970, while I was still in training, we had a Company assembly at which the Company Commander raised for discussion the issue of what had happened there. I raised my hand & spoke about how the students were exercising their rights to free speech as American & that they had posed no threat to the National Guard troops who fired upon them. The Captain responded in no uncertain terms against what I said. When I sat down, a young member of my platoon, barely 18-years old, a high-school drop-out from some rural community in the South, said to me, “I didn’t know people could have ideas like that.”

Also during my time at Fort Knox I got to know many soldiers who had served in Viet Nam who were just completing their tour of duty before they could be discharged. I heard all kinds of stories of their experience in Viet Nam, about the country, the people, about the things they or what their fellow soldiers sometimes did. It made me aware of how scared, & how overwhelmed they were by the experience. No one came home undamaged.

Many, perhaps most, of my fellow soldiers, were also against the war. Most would not have been in uniform if not for the draft, they were either drafted, or had enlisted in the hopes of getting a “better deal” & avoiding combat —it didn’t always work. Many, perhaps most, had no understanding, beyond the slogans, about why the United States was in Viet Nam.

In the years since, working for peace with other members of Veterans For Peace, I’ve become even more aware of the damage that war does, not just to those killed or wounded, civilians or soldiers, but to anyone who has experienced the horror of war. I continue to work for peace, attend weekly & monthly peace vigils, other rallies & demonstrations, & raise my voice in the community both as a veteran & as a poet.

It is important to remember that the history of the Viet Nam war is also the history of the resistance to the war & we need to honor the Peacemakers as well as the Warriors — they were often the same person.


—Dan, Albany

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

Memorable Moment

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Aim. Focus. Shoot. The fondest memories of being in a war zone are the few precious moments when you can forget you are actually in one. One of my most cherished photographs from my time in Vietnam is this picture of a rag-tag group of children that I happened on one day when I was out looking for my Pulitzer Prize winning photo. I was hoping someday it might become iconic and grace the pages of Life Magazine. It didn’t turn out that way. The photograph however has remained iconic for me. It was a tranquil, typically hot and lazy day in the war. It was a rare day off from duties in the Comm-center. Having been in-country for a respectable amount of time, I felt free to explore my surroundings in a relaxed and carefree manner. Armed only with my 35mm Yashica camera and a bandoleer of film canisters, I went out in search of subjects that I could document on film. My M-16 remained safely back in the arms room.

I explored the compound taking shots of the topography, bunkers, hootches, downed helicopters, guard towers and even a small improvised POW camp inside the base. I mostly wanted to document the images that I had tried to describe in my letters home. These pictures would be worth thousands of words. I finally ventured out of the compound into the countryside surrounding it. That is where I struck gold. I came across a group of kids who seemed to be part of a work detail. They were either on the way to work in the rice patties, or on the way home. I’m not even sure that the subject ever came up. My Vietnamese was very limited, as was their English and our communication was mostly physical. We shared a few pleasantries which would establish friendly intentions from both sides. Language is overrated. Smiles and gestures go a long way.

In the foreground are a group of kids along with their beast of burden either coming from or on the way to somewhere. The beast, and for the purposes of this narrative I will call WB, is a Water Buffalo. My mouth dropped opened when I first laid eyes on him. I had never experienced a creature of this stature in my life except in the pages of National Geographic. Here he was, right in front of me and directly in the viewer of my camera. WB is flanked by the obvious leader of the group, a young woman who seems to be in charge of the six beautiful children. She is dressed in traditional fashion, silk black pants, a loose fitting long cotton blouse, scarf and a large conical hat which would protect her from the hot sun. The kids wear a mishmash of non-traditional and mixed western style garb. She holds a forked stick in her hands obviously used to keep WB in line, as well as her entourage. She is not much older than them. They are all full of youthful exuberance. Their eyes have a look of promise and hope. Two of the boys though look slightly tentative and not quite trusting. As soon as I presented my camera they all fell immediately into place. They knew exactly what to do. I didn’t have to stage a thing.

WB looks genuinely happy to be able to take a break from his duties and join in the fun. As for the children, for the most part, the smiles are genuine. There is some posing going on. There is a sweet look on their faces. One boy is sporting a jungle hat, while another boy, in an olive drab soft cap, smiles effusively. The wardrobe is obviously courtesy of US military surplus. Two of the boys are saluting and another flashing a peace sign which went right to the photographer’s heart. The ladies with their signature conical hats hanging off their backs greet me with wide smiles that are trusting and open. There are two other boys who looked a bit perplexed and seem to be wary about the photographer and his intentions. They have subdued looks on their faces as they face the camera. They go along with the program in spite of their misgivings. Peer pressure, it’s universal. Overall the group seems to be happy for a chance to take time out from the war and most of all their work obligations for the day.

The day was hot. It was always hot. The sun cast its perfect light on the subjects in the photo. No additional light apertures were needed. You almost could smell the grass burning from the heat of the midday sun. The pool of water on the left of the photo was rife with mosquitoes and the smells of sulfur in the stagnant water. WB was giving off his natural beastly smells. He wouldn’t apologize for that. It smelled like Vietnam. It was as simple as that. In the background, you can faintly see some of WB’s relatives or at least his fellow species hard at work. Above, there was always the drone of helicopters which we all had gotten used to at this point. Nobody ever looked up and no one seemed alarmed. It was as natural as wind or thunder or rain or the faint sounds of artillery in the distance. It was a reminder that a war was still going on, but it didn’t warrant any special acknowledgment. We all stayed in the moment.

The children in the photo just wanted to be normal. They wanted the war to be over and for the photographer to go back home. But before they sent him packing, they wanted him to give them something for their troubles and for being the stars of his iconic photo. They weren’t in search of future royalties; they wanted to be compensated here and now. They weren’t interested in chocolate. That was a different war. A few piasters or some MPC would do nicely and would compensate them for their time posing. The war had taught them something. After all, they were part of the struggle against communism. Their missing fathers had joined in the fight. They wanted their fathers to come back home. Capitalism was what we were selling and that’s what they were buying.

I give them what I have, which is a some MPC and a few piasters that I had squirreled away in the deep recesses of my wallet. I was going to keep the piasters for souvenirs, but they were needed here. The MPC was as worthless as the paper it was printed on but it had buying power on the black market. These kids depended on the black market for survival. I wished I had more to give them. The look of gratitude and of genuine love and appreciation is the part that is not seen in the photo. That was the postscript. This is the aftermath of the story. That was their gift to the photographer. As I continue to study the photograph, I can only wish that they all had a chance to grow up, and maybe, just maybe, they would remember the photographer that they happened on all those years ago. He will never forget them.


—Leo, New York City

A War That Could Never Have Been Won

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From August 1969 until July of 1970 I was an Infantry Lieutenant in Vietnam near the Cambodian border in Trang Bang. The U.S. Army had sent me to Vietnamese language school at a program to train Advisors at Fort Bragg. I was part of a program called Mobile Advisory Teams or MAT Teams. My Team consisted of one Office - me and three Non Commissioned Officers or N.C.O.s. Their specialties were Medic, Communications and Artillery.

We were attached to, lived with and fought with the Vietnamese Military. They were part of the Regional and Popular Defense Forces of South Vietnam. We bought our food on the open market and when we went on combat operations and ambushes it was with the South Vietnamese military we were attached to. I well remember the first time we were ambushed. We were on a night ambush and, as we were setting it up, we were ambushed. Of the 30 South Vietnamese 12 were wounded and needed a medical evacuation by helicopter or what was called a " dust off ."

I remember my radio call on the PRC 25 to the nearest U.S. Military base in Cu Chi. The voice on the other end after hearing our predicament said "what do you need ? " I responded, "everything " and he said "it's on the way." It wasn't long before we got Helicopter Gunships and Medevac or Dust Off for the wounded an Artillery support.

I remember another ambush when the Vietnamese who were with us ran and left us - two Americans and our interpreter - alone. U.S. soldiers came and got us. It was precarious for a while. It was also obvious, sadly, that the Vietnamese were not able to fight that war on their own and could never win. Sadly it cost us many, many American lives before we figured that out and left. I knew than in 1969 and don't think we finally left Vietnam until 1974 or 1975.

It pains me to see us still in Afghanistan sixteen years after entering that war and increasing our troop presence. With all due respect to Generals, who set our policies - I never saw a General where I was in Vietnam. Had they been there they would have realized, as I did, the Vietnam War could not ever be won. The fact that it took us until 1974 or 1975 to figure that out cost us 58,000 precious lives all of whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial. The fact that we are doing it again in Afghanistan is a tragedy.


—William, Stanfordville

Spared

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As I was born in 1950, I was a prime candidate for both the counter culture movement of the mid 1960's, and for becoming an unwilling combatant in Vietnam. The personally life altering experience of my father's sudden passing in 1969 somewhat interceded in both my "hippie" lifestyle, and my eventual military service. While preparing for my freshman year at SUNY Albany, in fact the weekend before my father was to drive me up, he had a massive heart attack in our living room, and passed away. It tossed our lives into a hole of deep despair, and altered my personal path in a dramatic way. Having been a superior employee at our local supermarket, and having a mentor as a store manager; I was offered a position that would enable me to help support my now widowed mother. The counter culture experience kept creeping back into my now very responsible life, and so in the year 1970 - I quit my job, and hitchhiked to California with my best buddy Richie. Upon returning, and trying to straiten out my now obscure path I found myself a prime candidate for the military draft. I had for the previous year been awarded a 2F deferment for being my mother's primary means of support. The following year I had to appear before the draft board. I showed up with my teary eyed mother, and my tax return. In that dreary public school basement, I was informed that I did not earn a sufficient amount to claim that I was able to be considered the primary support of my Mom. I was, at the time, lost and confused by the tumultuous events of the day. Without the rock, that was my father, I was screwing up every where I went. Now the US Government was about to put a weapon in my hand, and send me off to kill or be killed. I believed at that moment, that I couldn't pull the trigger on a weapon that would kill any thing, least of all another human being. Fortunately, there was a poster in the hallway that read: "Enlist for 36 months, and you will be deployed in Europe for your time of service to your country." Despite the quotations that was the sentiment, I long ago forgot the exact words. On January 10, 1972, I reported for duty at Fort Hamilton, in Brooklyn, New York. I did indeed spend my entire time in Hanau, West Germany, and I was discharged on January 31, 1975. While I did learn how to fire a weapon, I fortunately never had to fire at anything or anyone.

Chapter Two. By 1981 I had graduated from Queens College CUNY, and against my wishes was recruited once again. This time was for graduate school. Having had a unfulfilled desire for to become educated, I absorbed my undergraduate teachings like a dry sponge in a puddle. I finished at the top of my class, and while I wanted to spend some time going back to Europe, I was convinced that I should go to the CUNY Graduate Center on a full fellowship. While there I was awarded a graduate assistant position with a professor who was doing a DOD study of Vietnam Veterans. We were to do surveys of Vietnam veterans, Vietnam era veterans (of which I was one) and the similar aged male population of the general public. My understanding of our work, and the lack of commitment to the subjects of our study turned me into a cynic. I believed, at the time, that too much of our funding was spent on the study, and that money would be better spent on helping those unfortunate veterans who had to fire their weapons into others, as well as watching their fellow soldiers fall. In the rear view mirror of my life, I believe that I was correct.


—Paul, Gardiner

Memorial Day

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—Michael, Capital Region

Anguish

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Within seconds of turning into the Princetown, NY Town Offices in August 2016, I could see it in the distance. I went to Information to get the location of the names of eight of nine fallen soldiers I needed to visit, then walked the slip of paper to the Virtual Wall. It is a half-size replica of the one that stands in Washington, DC. This one travels the country, touching the hearts of those who know, and the minds of those too young to know.

I needed no help to find Ken Fetter’s name: space 4E-line 38. He was my best friend in high school. A draft deferment allowed me go to college. I had no way to know the four-year delay would define my life. I was commissioned an infantry lieutenant in 1970, just as the cutbacks began. While I was reading Shakespeare, Ken was pulling leeches out of his skin and sleeping outside in the jungles and rubber plantations around Lai Khe in Binh Duong Province, north of Saigon, at the foot of the Ho Chi Minh trail. He was with the 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Ken was a rifleman, or grunt, as we were called: twenty-years old and serving a one-year tour. He was in his 10th month, a time when the fear worsens. Before then, in the middle months, you become resigned to anything that might happen. You’ve already watched it happen to so many others, you expect the worst. You let go. But with the end of the tour in view, being “short” as it was called, hope returns, and with it, the fear. Ken was short. But on 20 February 1968, in a firefight that became hand-to-hand, a grenade put his name on space 43E- line 38.

I could also tell Mike Petrashune’s story, or that of Lanny Ladouceur, or Jim McNeilly and the others I knew, but there are really 58,195 other ones, all tragic. The Wall’s black granite is polished and reflective on purpose. We are supposed to see ourselves in the names. It puts it back on us, saying: “Don’t forget how this happened. Tell the truth so it never does again.” It amazes me how little we know about the Vietnam War. We still resist knowing about it. Its truths are as hard and dark as the Wall itself. Americans are not so cruel as to disrespect returning veterans. Yet we did. We were hiding from what we didn’t want to know. The reality of veterans reminded us. It’s not unlike what sometimes befalls parents who lose a child. Strangely, rather than collapsing into each other’s supportive arms, they separate. Their partner’s presence becomes the very portraiture of their savage grief. They look away to survive. And so did we. Thankfully, Vietnam veterans are no longer pawns of our national denial. But to the average American, the details of the War are still a strange black hole. We can name famous battles of the Civil War some 150 years ago, but know nothing of Dak To, Pleiku, Con Thien, Ia Drang, or Hamburger Hill. We still hold the War away from us, but can learn none of its lessons from that distance. So there is no final healing.

When it comes to how we got into the morass in the first place, how we slid into one of the darkest periods in American history, we’re often left with the empty platitude that we were “protecting our freedom.” We only believed we were. The soldiers on the wall are heroes, no less than those of Gettysburg or Anzio, but Vietnam was a mistake. Even then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara came to admit it. We must come to terms with this before healing can ever really be complete, and we see the 58,195 names without seeing so much of us reflected back. Until then we will also remain vulnerable to making the same mistakes. The collapse of the Soviet Union dispelled the domino theory myth without our stir, but it seems we still believe that American military power can, if it is great enough, defeat anyone, anywhere, anytime. Not long ago a GOP nominee spoke of carpet bombing the Islamic State and nobody threw a tomato.Our President once suggested killing terrorists’s family members. We did both of those in Vietnam, and we did them a lot. We’ve been trying to find our souls ever since.

We still seem to subscribe to the notion that America can build nations to its liking. In Iraq, that cost us 4,486 more heroes, and nearly 150,000 innocent Iraqi lives. We still think we can defeat an enemy without first understanding him. Ho Chi Minh was foremost a nationalist. Vietnam was fighting the Chinese for its independence 2000 years ago, and continued to fight border battles with China after the Americans were long gone. Ho didn’t trust the Soviets either, and there was the French. Vietnam wanted to be free from foreign domination. So Ho reached out to Woodrow Wilson at Versailles, and then to FDR and Truman after WWII. His Declaration of Independence, drafted in 1945 was in part a verbatim version of our own. But he was rebuffed. He was a communist. The light of history tells us that left alone, he would have likely become like Yugoslavia’s Tito: nobody’s puppet.

Many today speak of 24% of the world’s population as the enemy, ignoring that three million loyal Muslims-Americans are right here, not counting those underground at Arlington, of course. Between 5,000 and 10,000 Muslims serve in our military. We’re not sure because many don’t dare admit to being Muslim, alone a national embarrassment. Try building a mosque in the wrong part of the USA and see what happens. To make America “great again” is what I fear.

The 58,195 heroes on the Wall did not die protecting our freedom, nor did they die because we’re not a great nation. They died because we believed things that were not true, about ourselves and about the world. It was a geopolitical, military, and cultural mistake. “America’s tragic flaw,” noted Vo Nguyen Giap, the great general who defeated both the French and the Americans, “is that it does not learn from history.” The names on The Wall know this. They want us to look at our reflections and know it, too, and then move on to help build a better world. Accepting our mistake, forgiving ourselves for it, vowing to do better, the healing lives there. Our greatness does, too.


—Michael, Albany

Tragedy

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In college from '69 till '72- took part in a draft office sit-in in Baltimore- made the front page of the Baltimore Sun having my hand stepped on by a Marine making his way into the building (Mom was proud; Dad was wondering what all the money he was spending on my college education was for...). About 50 of us were arrested- booked at the police station where we were fingerprinted and fed White Castle hamburgers! Released on our own recognizance, we ended up pleading nolo contendare (sp?) to trespassing. FBI was taking pictures at the sit-in- my prints may still be on file with them.

One thing I'll always remember is walking down the street a few months later with my roommate and encountering a very distraught young guy with a couple buddies coming our way- he was yelling that his brother was killed in Vietnam. What a waste that war was; tragic for our country and for the people of Vietnam!


—Fred, Albany

Pain

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My father was a Marine and served in Vietnam from 1968 - 1970. I was born when he was overseas. He met me for the first time when I was almost a year old. I didn't know that he served in a combat unit until I was well into my 30s and protesting against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. My father suffered from PTSD and it had a profound impact on my childhood, though no one ever spoke about it. The war gave us generations of pain that we continue to experience to this day. After he died in 2013, I listened to recordings of taped messages he sent to my mother from the front. It was an incredible experience for me to hear him try to reassure her that he wasn't in danger, statistically. I am grateful that my father returned home from Vietnam, but he returned home an irrevocably changed man.


—Corinne, Troy

Change

×

I enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school in 1962, just shy of my 18th birthday. In the fall of 1965, my C-130 wing was moved from Langley AFB, VA to Clark AFB in the Philippines, as part of LBJ's initial Vietnam troop buildup. We were rotating 16 planes and maintenance crews from Clark to Tan Son Nhut Airport in Saigon to do much of the in-country hauling for the US Army - mail, supplies, ammunition, entertainers, etc.

I went to Saigon as a C-130 radar/nav aids repairman from December 1965 to February 1966 and witnessed quite a bit locally, though I wasn't in the field. I returned unscathed to Clark - just missing a Viet Cong rocket attack on Tan Son Nhut by two weeks - but shortly developed hepatitis and was hospitalized for nine weeks. As my discharge date had passed and I had a college acceptance for September, I talked my way on to a medivac flight and spent another seven weeks in Chelsea Naval Hospital. I was released from the hospital and the service in August, on my 22nd birthday, just in time to go to freshman orientation. I only lasted one semester (disorientation and a little PTSD, I know now), and I got married and worked until I was able to get into a second college.

My experiences in the Philippines and Vietnam caused me to major in Asian history as an undergraduate at my second college, which, in turn, caused me have growing doubts about the War and colonialism. By the time I was a junior, I was treasurer of student government and co-leader of the 1969 October and November Moratoriums. For the former in October, another vet and I traveled to DC with our wives for the March on Washington. He and I were asked to join other vets and active GIs, and we ended up at the head of the March carrying one of wooden coffins with the names of the Vietnam dead. Somehow we found our wives by the speakers' platform at the Ellipse afterward in the crowd of 500,000.

That spring (1970), I had just been elected president of student government when the invasion of Cambodia and shootings at Kent State occurred. I was permitted to address the faculty senate, the first student to do so, and secured a peaceful, voluntary strike for the remainder of the semester. I also returned to Washington to testify before the congressional hearings on Cambodia and Kent State.

My experiences in Vietnam and the antiwar movement - coupled with what was happening in civil rights/Black power, feminism, and personal expression - further led me to graduate school in college administration, ten years directing higher ed programs for the disadvantaged and inmates, and another 30 years in New York State government. One way or another, I'm sure that people of all ages who lived through the 1960s and '70s were fundamentally affected. I know I was.


—Russell, Clifton Park

Trauma

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I'm a person now in my 80's, who was born and raised in England, and I was a child of 9 years when WWII started in 1939. We were shunted around from pillar to post to try to avoid being in a potential bombing area. My then husband, now deceased, and to whom I was married at the age of 23, and he being 16 years older than I, served in that war from 1939 to 1945, and when released had no counseling whatsoever. We both suffered the consequences.

I can still remember the details of that War better than I can remember what happened last week. I know that the Vietnam war was an undeclared and different kind of war, and even though it was not fought on home ground, the trauma of the homecoming veterans would be just as mind shattering.

I can still remember the details of that War better than I can remember what happened last week. I know that the Vietnam war was an undeclared and different kind of war, and even though it was not fought on home ground, the trauma of the homecoming veterans would be just as mind shattering.

I hope you don't mind me sharing my thoughts on the results of any war where young men and women are sent to become gun fodder.


—Mary

Appalled

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In the mid-1960s, as I became aware of what the U.S. government was doing to the people of Vietnam, I was utterly appalled by it. What right did the government of the United States (or any nation) have to send its powerful military forces and sophisticated war machines into an impoverished foreign land and massacre millions of innocent peasant villagers in pursuit of a Cold War "victory"? Starting in 1964, I participated in every peace demonstration I could, and didn't stop until the war finally came to an end. Approximately a half-century later, I traveled to Vietnam with a group of former activists against the war, and could still witness the vast devastation wrought by the American military assault: unexploded (and still exploding) ordnance littering the fields; people missing arms and legs; and children born with terrible birth defects from Agent Orange. The irony is that Vietnam (still ruled by a Communist government) and the United States are now friends. The war was not only disgusting, but unnecessary -- a disgraceful betrayal of humanity and common sense that should not be forgotten.


—Larry, Albany

My Country

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In 1967, I was a 26 year old rotating intern in Brooklyn. At the time numerous protest marches where being organized. I marched in two of them, Physicians against the War down Fifth Ave and the the March on the Pentagon. Many of my fellow interns and residents also marched. I did not get arrested or tear gassed so I was happy about that. But, I must be frank in telling you that I did not protest out of conviction or politics but rather I knew I would be drafted soon I was was frightened and concerned about being in a combat zone. I never felt any disloyalty to my country. So when the the draft notice came in December of that year with orders to fly to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas and from there to Saigon I simply obeyed. While there, as fate would have it I was found fit for duty but not in Vietnam as I had a lung disease and was immunocompromized and since tuberculosis was endemic there, the medical board decided that I should stay stateside.

In January, 1968 at Fort Sam, 350 doctors and dentists were undergoing a modified basic training course so as to prepare ourselves for any eventuality. It was at the height of the Tet offensive. These guys were literally the cream of American medicine. Most were young married guys who were in practice at the peak of their careers and did not resented being drafted and having to go off to war. Some would do everything possible to gum up the works like starting to march on the right foot instead of the left, thereby throwing off the cadence. But for the most part all knew what the score was and served admirably.

After basic training I was assigned to the induction center in Cincinnati. Now that was an experience! The staff consisted of personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines almost all of whom had spent at least one tour of duty in Vietnam. As an examining physician I was their "doc" and although not a CO and not a lifer we had a special relationship. If I were in Nam with them I have no doubt they would do everything to protect me. They were among the greatest bunch of guys I ever had the privilege to work with. Now you have to realize that although we were not in a combat zone, being in the Federal Building in the Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station rendered it fair game for the protesters and crazies. We had major bomb threats regularly but the greatest challenge was interviewing the draftees and volunteers daily and applying my medical knowledge as well as my sense of fairness to all. Recruiters would come in and present volunteers who obfuscated major medical problems so as to pass the physical as they were anxious to serve whereas on the other hand, kids would appear before me with reams of medical notes indicating all sorts of quasi disqualifying diseases. Doctors who were anti war would write up medical notes that bordered on outright untruths. One young man appeared with literally a one inch thick file of medical summaries so that I asked him whether he arrived via an ambulance! It was such a charade. Some kids while being examined by me and the other medical officer were asked to stand so that we could check for undescended testicles. On turning around one kid had "Fuck the Army" printed on his buttocks! It worked both ways, however. When I was examining a young man from Crab Orchard, Kentucky, I discovered golfball sized tumor in his left testicle. Upon asking him how long he had had said lump, he answered"what lump". He just wanted to fight in Vietnam. You had to be almost a King Solomon to discern to truth from the lie.

Some experiences at that time made me angry. If you flew in uniform, you could go standby and pay only $50 one way, Cincinnati to New York.

The only problem was that the way people looked you in uniform was very uncomfortable. No one smiled or thanked me with the exception of the airline personnel.

All in all, my two and a half year stint in the Army was very positive as I learned quite a bit about those who served; how they thought and felt about the war, the country, the government. Every Friday afternoon work we would meet at the Apollo Lounge for Happy Hour. Almost everyone in the medical section would meet and chat. It was a special kind of camaraderie. Men and women, black and white, affluent and poor but all honorable citizens trying to do what we thought was best for us and the country. As an added bonus for me, I met my future wife there! She was a Department of the Army secretary who booked consultations with specialists such as orthopedists and psychiatrists( of which we had many!)


—Harold, Niskayuna

Why?

×


—Jeremiah Horrigan, New Paltz

Catharsis & Closure

×

During the Vietnam War I was a 23 year old active duty US Marine Sergeant. My job specialty was "Counterintelligence Assistant" and more specifically, an Investigator in the intelligence and counterintelligence fields. I served with counterintelligence teams in Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam from October 1967 to September 1968. The work was dangerous because you were often in rural areas with one or two other Marines and a Vietnamese interpreter, exposed to assassination at any time. On major operations and small unit patrols, the perils were the same as an ordinary infantry soldier faced, including ambushes, snipers, booby traps, mines and direct combat engagements.

Having viewed the Vietnam war from this level, I can only say that many in the anti-war movement, including activists and war resistors, failed to acknowledge the atrocities and ruthlessness of the communists. They saw them as simply nationalists wanting to "unify" Vietnam, however, they failed to admit that millions of Vietnamese wanted no part of a communist dictatorship. The fact that the communists murdered Catholics, ordinary citizens, and anyone opposed to their ideology were realities the anti-war movement usually omitted discussing. In Vietnam, after the war, we saw thousands perishing in reeducation camps, and a half a million boat people escaping from a harsh communist nightmare.There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that the same arrogant hypocrites in our free society who enjoy being radicals and activists, and who worship Mao, Ho, Castro, Che Gueverra, and others....could never live under a communist dictatorship themselves.

In closing, I wish we had not sent our troops into South Vietnam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan as well. I have become more of an isolationist in my foreign policy views, yet this position is knowingly unrealistic. Wars go on. All we can do is pray to God and try to keep our own political leadership from drifting us into untenable conflicts. War must always be the last resort, and justified by extreme circumstances only.

UPDATE: As a follow up to a prior contribution under "Catharsis and Closure," I would like to respectfully add some concluding thoughts about the Vietnam experience. I was a Sgt in a Marine Corps field counterintelligence team from 1966-70, and served a combat tour in Thua Thien Province (1967-68).

After watching the recent Ken Burns PBS documentary, I was deeply moved by the breath and scope of the reporting. I felt a renewed and profound sense of betrayal listening to the actual taped words of Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, Kissinger, MacNamara and company...and how our unscrupulous political leaders lied and willfully kept our nation in the quagmire of this war for so long.

However, as an anti-communist, I see no redeemable virtues in the communist system, and the ruthless way in which they have heaped misery, bloodshed, and human suffering in every place they have conquered.

I can respect those who, in conscience, opposed the war and demonstrated against it, but I give no accolades to the violent leftist opposition, to the communist sympathizers, nor to the homegrown anarchists who used the war to create civil disorder, attack our police, and burn down our cities. However, so many Americans and innocent Vietnamese civilians died as a result of this conflict. We Americans must finally begin to learn from our history, and the first lesson is we must be very skeptical of the government leaders we elect. Since the media is also agenda driven and partisan, we must learn the truth from as many reliable sources as possible. Is it possible for this nation to avoid the mistakes of the past? I really wonder.


—John, Clifton Park

Gold Locket

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Operation Frequent Wind: The Evacuation of the last Americans and Endangered Vietnamese from Saigon

Thirty-four helicopters lifted off the deck of carriers in the South China Sea to begin the shuttle to and from the roof of our American Embassy in Saigon. A few days later I became a part of one of those families' chaotic departures.

In that Spring of 1975 I was a Caseworker to Congressman Bill Frenzel (R-MN, 3rd District), the war in Vietnam had become a major part of my work for our military and constituent families. The news of the decision to abruptly leave that long and divisive war was a relief, but we were soon to see the iconic pictures of the helicopters and the clamor of those reaching for safety. The ‘copters were taking all they could hold, the doors closed and headed to the carriers bound for the United States. Many would be left behind.

Some time later the Congressman received a message from Catholic Charities in Minneapolis forwarding a message about a Vietnamese child who had been evacuated from that roof, but when the father handed him up, the doors closed. The father managed to reach the USA on another helicopter and a refugee sanctuary church in the 3rd District. The message was from a Vietnamese woman, Loan Takala who was assisting with the resettlement efforts. Her request: “Could you help find the child?"

For the next 8-9 weeks, I started most days following up on the search for the boy. My only identification clue was his age, about 9 years old, and that his mother had placed a gold necklace with her picture inside around his neck, a very unusual piece of jewelry for a Vietnamese male child to wear. The Department of Defense Congressional Liaison was my focal point, as was the USAF Liaison. Telegram inquiries and telephone calls was all we had, no Internet and emails! Locating one unaccompanied boy was a challenge. Finally, in early July I received a call: “Are you searching for a Vietnamese boy wearing a gold necklace with a woman's picture inside?” The locket was key and the answer was “YES." A USAF airman had turned the child over to his parents until DOD could search transmissions to,hopefully, I.D. the child.

Hien Nguyen and his son, Huy Nguyen Dinh were reunited at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport on July 7,1975. I was there to tearfully witness the reunion.

Vietnam, with all of it’s terrible memories, I was so happy to have this beautiful one at its end.


—Elizabeth

Tragic

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I distinctly remember my husband, Paul, enlisting in the Army to be spared from being drafted and sent to Vietnam. He ended up being sent there anyway. He was 18 when he enlisted and not much older when he went to Vietnam. I was a 19-year-old new mom. His two children never knew what he was like before Vietnam. They couldn’t have known him. There was no treatment for him available when he returned. Fast forward, 15 to 20 years later, he developed symptoms of cancer from Agent Orange. He died 15 years ago. The Vietnam War affects multiple generations.


—Marcia, Colonie

Waste of Kids

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They were kids. No veteran wants to feel like they were wasted. Our function was to get out of there alive. When you see a veteran, don’t say ‘Thank you for your service.’ Instead, say: ‘I’m sorry you had to do that.


—Bob, Saratoga Springs

Controversial

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It was the first war that came into the living room every single night. You saw the blood in your living room. Because of that, it stunned an entire generation.


—Chris, Ballston Lake

Beautiful

×

Vietnam is a beautiful country with beautiful people who welcome us back and help us heal.


—Ed, Troy

Been to Dachau

×


—Walter, Poughkeepsie

Living In The Aftermath

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I was sent to Vietnam as a Military Policeman after five months of training, in March 1967. The public still generally supported the war effort at the time. My particular situation was to be stationed in Cam Ranh Bay, an area that was not under combat conditions while I was there.

Morale was a problem since other soldiers who rotated back from the fighting showed signs of psychological trauma, the fighting did not seem to be showing any signs of military or political gain, and we were aware that support for the war was steadily diminishing.

It was particularly hard for me to hear that Mohamed Ali had refused induction. At that time I was four months into my tour. Martin Luther King began making anti-war speeches at that time, and I was all too aware that about eighty percent of the men of my generation were not going to even serve in the military - then or ever.

To this day I do not have much trust or friendly sentiment towards my own generation. Churches changed almost overnight from being opposed to Communism to being opposed to a conflict that was purportedly stopping the spread of Communism.

I came home in May 1968 and learned to avoid telling people I had been in the Army. Only after forty years did I put veteran plates on my car and start wearing a hat that identifies me as a veteran.

I have tried to say as much in as few words as possible. A full narrative would be much longer. The main point I wish to make is that even those who never fought in actual combat have lingering issues.


—John, Scotia

Namastè

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I lived in Viet-Nam 1968-70. I was married to Jon Merkel who was an Air America pilot KIA flying in the PDJ Luang Probang Laos 18 Feb 70. I returned to Texas a CIA widow with PTSD.

We loved SEA & had planned to stay and raise a family. Living in the "zone of silence," I have written Z.O.S. as a reflection of my SEA experiences - burning a Buddhist body; snorkeling of Con Son Island where tiger cages were; teaching at Phoenix Study Group; packing to return home when a friend's child received a snake bite; being surreptitiously interviewed returning stateside, seeing a NYT headlines: CIA PILOT KILLED FIRST CASUALTY LAIN OF JARS; responding to the journalist asking if I knew the pilot: He was a friend; visiting the VN Wall where Jon's name isn't included each year, with Hockaday students; volunteering at the VA, creating short movies of war stories.


—Kay, Dallas, Texas

Napalm

×


—Lawrence, New Paltz

Survive

×

My father, Thomas, is a Vietnam war vet who served from 1967-1968. He served in the 2nd battalion, 26th marines and was in the entire Tet Offensive as a teenager.

He was a poor kid from the Bronx projects who had nothing going for him and dropped out of high school to enlist with the Marines at 17 years old. He now says that it was good he came from the projects when going to Nam because it was just another war to survive. He has two purple hearts and all the letters he sent to his late father.

He is a fantastic storyteller and a prime example of how the Vietnam War affected the men who fought for the rest of their lives... how they relate to their wives and family, the substance abuse that he had to battle as a young man coming home from Nam, the health consequences and disabilities as he ages, and the fear he finds in starting to feel emotions. Just recently my father started shooting at the local gun range, a big step because he never used to be able to watch fireworks. He came home happy, with a prize, and spoke of how "Yeah, everyone said it wasn't fair 'cause I was a marine... I said hey, I killed a couple in my time!" He then started talking about a man he killed and how he went up to the body afterward, pulled out the man's wallet and saw pictures of the deceased man's family inside. Telling this story, in greater detail of course, was the first time I ever saw my dad cry.

Following this I started inviting him over to talk about it and the raw stories kept coming, from friends dying in rice paddies, having a NDE after getting hit by a mortar, watching a friend (who later died from being treated too late) be told he had to stay on site even with a 104 fever, carrying a comrade's maggot-filled leg through miles of jungle just so a part of him would be sent home.


—Shannon, Coxsackie

I Served

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I served in RVN, Bien Hoa, Saigon, and Phu Bai, 4/1969 - 4/1970. Was called a 'Baby Killer' when I returned home. I don't talk about it.


—Ronald, Leeds

Horror

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—Walter, Poughkeepsie

Cruel

×

My first love was a young man who completed a year of college and then joined the US Marine Corps. He served in Vietnam during the late 1960s. One night he went out on patrol with his company, but only he and another Marine returned. All the others were killed. He never really got over it, and he spent much of the rest of his life in and out of mental hospitals before dying at age 49. The Marine Corps denied that his problems were service-related, though it seems clear he suffered terribly from PTSD. I honored him by setting up a scholarship in his name at the high school where we both graduated.


—Susan, Menands

Fiancée

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My husband, William J Dickerson, Jr (1940-2017) served in Saigon and Nakhon Phanom, Thailand in 65-66 as a weapons controller for the USAF. He was one of the first faces in Thailand. The base was small when he was first there and he often said it grew exponentially (over the war). I had graduated in college in 64. Some classmates got married their senior year so the men wouldn't be drafted. Bill was going to be drafted, he had gone to New Orleans to work as a geologist in 62 and he came home especially to make sure he didn’t get drafted and enlist. He didn't feel that two years in the army would be a good use. He was going to be another number - he left as a major.

My perspective was as a fiance, receiving daily letters, waiting for him to come home and get married, which we did. He stayed in the Air Force as a reservist. We had 5 kids and grand kids. It's their time now. He was proud of it (his time of service). So many people don't see that. I see their perspective, but it bothers me. if you look at his obituary, under the TU, you'll find much of what i told you. He developed a deep love for the Thai people and became good friends with the Thai priest who said Mass on the base and he became the priest's server.


—Mary Lou, Schenectady

Life Changing

×

Arthur Adams and I met after we were both assigned permanent duty at the Data Processing Service Center (DPSC) at Ft. Myer, VA. I processed civilian payroll while Art processed military payroll for the Military District of Washington (MDW).

After a few months of working together and spending free time discovering the sights in and around Washington, we felt a strong love connection growing and knew we would eventually marry following our respective discharges from the military.

Art was drafted in 1967 having to serve 2 years of duty, which was mandatory then, so in 1969, with only 7 months left before his discharge, he "came down on orders" for Vietnam. He was stationed in Long Binh performing similar duties as at Ft. Myer, VA. Even though he was not on the battlefield, the base was securely located, however, it was only a short distance from a small mountainous area where our military jets would dump excess amounts of Agent Orange used in the defoliation of enemy territories.

Unfortunately, no matter how slight the breeze, this AO would make its way from the dumping area into Long Binh's living area. No one had any idea how this would affect the rest of our lives!

Art was honorably discharged in 1969; as I was in 1970. We married October 24, 1970. Between 1980 and 1989, he was hospitalized 13 times always with no clear explanation for his symptoms or cause. He was mostly unemployable during this period and becoming more depressed and anxious. He passed away on September 26, 1989. During those final 9 years of his life, I saw the soldier I fell madly in love with, become a sad, depressed, helpless husband and father, unable to participate in his children's' lives as their father and literally wasting away, I truly feel that Arthur Adams " gave up" after so many years of hospital stays.


—Mary Ann, Saratoga Springs

Fortunate

×

I was drafted into the Army in May 1968, right after I graduated from college. Because I had already been admitted to grad school my draft board informed me that I would be permitted to attend the Fall semester of GS, but I would be required to report for duty in January 1969!

While I was in graduate school, I reviewed my military options and joined the USAF in October 1968, with an enlistment date of January 1969.

I married in December 1968, and reported for duty at USAF's officer training school in January 1969, and graduated as a second lieutenant in May 1969. I was in a class of over 1,000 cadets. I was selected to service as a missile launch office in the US's nuclear missile program.

My Vietnam experience was then to become a Vietnam Era veteran. I served, state side, as a missile launch officer until November 1974, when I left the service. While serving as a missile launch officer for the Strategic Air Command, I, obviously, did not experience the horror of personal battle, but I did experience the trauma, twice, of participating in situations where the launch of the nuclear missile was imminent, but the threat was downgraded before the situation got out of control. It was pretty frightening.


—Phillip, Loudonville

Why?

×

Two high school classmates were killed there. I still think of them and what they could have been and done for America. Their deaths sustain my peacemaking.


—Katherine, Summit

Honor

×

I spent my first year after Transportation School at Fort Eustis, VA, assigned to the Deep Water Port (DWP) of Sattahip, Thailand. After a couple of short stints in other offices, I settled in as NCOIC of the Backload/Documentation Office of Headquarters, Terminal Command-Thailand.

NCO - yeah! I arrived in-country as a Private/E-1 (PVT). After promotion to Specialist 4/E-4 (SP4) I even served at Staff Duty NCO at HQ on night/weekend duty. Funny thing was that after rising to Sergeant/E-5 (SGT), I never covered a real NCO position other than my office.

My primary job always seemed to be clearing USAF offerings of CBU (cluster bomb unit) containers for transport by ship back to CONUS for reload. We used to watch the B-52's take off from U-Tapao RTNAS from our open-air theater at Camp Samae San, just a couple of miles away; I knew where the CBU containers were being emptied.

After a month's leave at the end of my tour in Thailand, I reported to my next duty station, Fort Carson, CO (HHC 5th S&T Bn, 5th Infantry Division [Mech]). About a month or so later, someone came around asking if any E-5 (SGT or SP5) would be interested in 3 months TDY (Temporary Duty) in the Republic of Viet Nam (RVN). Both I and the SP5 I worked with expressed interest, and were told we'd be contacted later. As would happen, the day they came around for a definite commitment, I was the only one in the office.

I was in the RVN from 5/1/70 to 7/31/70, assigned to the 34th AM&S Grp (34th Aircraft Maintenance & Support Group) at Tan Son Nhut AB. As a member of QRAT5 (Quick Reaction Assistance Team 5), I was one of five SGT/SP5's on the team; we'd go out to subordinate units at Vung Tau, Vinh Long, Long Than, Phu Loi, Cu Chi, and Tan Son Nhut; our job was simply to find which units had excess aircraft maintenance parts before everything was turned over to the ARVN.

I returned to CONUS, took a week's leave to marry my fiancee, and spent my final year of service at Fort Carson before getting a 30-day drop to return to college.


—Ralph, Albany

Invasion

×

At dawn our big Sea knight helicopter lifted off from Dong Ha a few miles below the DMZ and headed north on Operation Hastings. The date: July 16,1966. We flew north for about 15 minutes and then our flight of several choppers took a hard turn to the southwest. Below was an unbroken green jungle laced with rivers and streams. Also below were 10,000 troops of the NVA 324B division that had invaded South Vietnam through the DMZ a month earlier. In a few minutes our chopper landed in a field near the 700-foot high pyramid-shaped Rock pile as it soon became known. Over the next 18 days 5,000 Marines battled the NVA along jungle trails, streams and on ridge tops supported be Marine artillery, dragon gunships and B52 bombers. By early August 324B had seen enough and retreated back across the Ben Hai River into North Vietnam looking to replace some 2,000 troops killed in combat below the DMZ. 126 Marines were killed and 400 wounded. A month later the enemy would be back - so would the Marines.


—Donald, South Glens Falls

Gratifying

×

I was a river boat (pbr) patrol officer on the back rivers of Vietnam for 12 months. We were part of the Brown Water Navy. I kept a daily journal so I have a story for most every day of my tour. My favorite is the first day of a 7 day operation on the Upper Saigon River. The US Army rigged slings on each of our boats and airlifted them and our sailors from our base on the Vam Co Dong River base to our new, unexplored outpost. We received all support from Army helicopters. Our mission was to interdict NVA by ambushing at night and patrolling during the day. After 7 days, the surprise element was gone and we set sail as a convoy moved ourselves to a new operating area.


—Jack, Hurley

1967

×

After graduating from Amherst College in 1960 with a major in philosophy, I had problems attending Albany Law School and the University of Michigan Law School because I had mixed feelings about becoming a lawyer. After working as a substitute teacher, as a claims adjuster, and as a personnel management trainee, I decided in March 1967 to escape from it all by taking my turn at seeing the world and finding myself. I signed up for an Amherst College alumni flight to Rome and Paris: Two weeks later, I gave up my return ticket in order to hitchhike across Europe with a backpack and an American flag. Arthur Frommer's guidebook, "Europe on $5 a Day", directed me to youth hostels in places like "Paris, London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Naples, and Athens. My ultimate goal was to see Greece and meet my relatives in both Athens and our ancestral village on the Island of Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea.

On April 21, 1967, while in London listening to speakers at Speakers Corner, I was shocked to learn that a junta of military officers had imprisoned Greece's elected political leaders and had abolished democracy and human rights in the land of my ancestors. Among the incarcerated were political leaders Mikis Theodorakis and Andreas Papandreou with whom I later developed personal relationships after their release from prison. It was through this experience of living under tyranny for one year from August 1967 through August 1968 that my political consciousness was raised, and which gave powerful direction to my life in the succeeding years.

Upon my return to the United States, I commuted to Western New England College three nights a week to complete my legal education, and the United States support for the military junta in Greece became a driving issue in my life. I relentlessly lobbied Congress and worked with the American Committee for Democracy and Freedom in Greece, trying to alter American foreign policy in Greece. This cause and the people I worked with during this period, mostly in New York City, became a major force in my life.

In the spring of 1970, I joined a group of Amherst College undergraduates in expressing our protest and indignation regarding a proposed Amherst College tourist flight to Greece. This was an outrage at a time when there was a world-wide tourist boycott in opposition to the military dictatorship. I felt betrayed by both my country and my college, neither of which seemed to comprehend the horror of what had been perpetrated upon Greece, both of them pursuing what was pleasant and convenient, oblivious to the strife in the country where democracy was founded. As a result, it was difficult to think of America as the land of the free and the home of the brave.

As Americans, we have been programmed to believe that our country is the "land of the free and the home of the brave". And we have also been programmed to "stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above".

On November 24, 1999, President William Clinton sought to heal old wounds by offering an apology to the People of Greece for our nation's support of the military dictatorship that overthrew the elected government of Greece and by acknowledging that the United States failed "its obligation to support democracy" when it backed Greece's harsh military junta from 1967 to 1974. However, the "old wounds" are still there and it is still difficult to think of America as the land of the free or the home of the brave.


—Peter, Albany

Remembrance

×

In 1967-68, I was a scrawny sophomore at Oneonta Senior High School, 15 going on 16, navigating my way through the intimidating presence of upperclassmen, where I teetered uncomfortably between childhood and looming adulthood. One of the faces I remembered from the busy and crowded hallways was that of one James Wheeler, an ordinary looking guy who didn't distinguish himself in any exceptional way at OHS. Just another face that I would never talk to or befriend, but I remembered the face.

Two years later, James Wheeler died in Vietnam as a U.S. Army soldier; I never learned the circumstances of his death, but it stuck with me for years. There were other people from Oneonta who died in Vietnam, but I only remembered James Wheeler, for some curious and inexplicable reason.

In 2004, I finally had the opportunity to visit The Wall while in DC for a convention. I found my way there and was overwhelmed by the names - the sheer number of names - on The Wall. I wanted to pay tribute to the man whose name I had kept safe in my head all those years, but had no idea where he resided on The Wall. There was a way to find where he was in that sea of names, but I had no interest in doing that..............James Wheeler would tell me where he was.

So I began walking the long, descending slope to the apex of The Wall, scanning the names randomly, hoping that, somehow, I would spy his name, and trying not to feel overwhelmed by the task. Without some sense of where he lay on that wall, my quest was surely doomed to failure, but I kept those discouraging thoughts at bay. Reaching the apex, I turned around and started to walk back up the way I had come, haphazardly scanning The Wall as I did. Suddenly, and inexplicably, my head turned and my eyes drew up and fell on the name "James Wheeler". It defied explanation that his name, out of 58,000, had revealed itself to me with so little effort.


—James, Mechanicville

Terrible

×


—David, Schenectady

Crazy Experience

×


—Joseph, Albany

Young

×


—Tom, East Greenbush

Scary/Young

×


—James, Colonie

Healing

×


—Ed, New York City

The Wounds We Feel at Home


Now streaming
 
Additional Airdates

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.
 

The Wounds We Feel at Home | Free Preview Screening

St. Mary’s Healthcare, Amsterdam | Carondelet Auditorium
380 Guy Park Ave, Amsterdam, NY

Screening followed by a Q&A with WMHT Producer Matt Rogowicz and Vietnam Veteran and retired surgeon Gus Kappler.
Monday, October 2, 2017 | 6-8pm
Click here to RSVP

 

 


Underwriting Provided By

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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 North and South Vietnam.

The Vietnam War Funding Credits:
Bank of America; Corporation for Public Broadcasting; PBS; David H. Koch; The Blavatnik Family Foundation; Park Foundation; The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations; The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; National Endowment for the Humanities; The Pew Charitable Trusts; Ford Foundation Just Films; Rockefeller Brothers Fund; and

Members of The Better Angels Society:

Jonathan & Jeannie Lavine, Diane & Hal Brierley, Amy & David Abrams, John & Catherine Debs, Fullerton Family Charitable Fund, The Montrone Family, Lynda & Stewart Resnick, The Golkin Family Foundation, The Lynch Foundation, The Roger & Rosemary Enrico Foundation, Richard S. & Donna L. Strong Foundation, Bonnie & Tom McCloskey, Barbara K. & Cyrus B. Sweet III, The Lavender Butterfly Fund

THE VIETNAM WAR Screenings and Conversations
Join us for one of our screenings of segments from Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s THE VIETNAM WAR

followed by special discussions.

Resources