Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s ten-part, 18-hour documentary series, THE VIETNAM WAR, tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history as it has never before been told on film. Visceral and immersive, the series explores the human dimensions of the war through revelatory testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides—Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam.Ten years in the making, the series includes rarely seen and digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th Century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies, and secret audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. THE VIETNAM WAR features more than 100 iconic musical recordings from greatest artists of the era and haunting original music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as well as the Silk Road Ensemble featuring Yo-Yo Ma.
WCNY Productions traveled throughout Central New York to learn from a range of voices speaking to the legacy of the Vietnam War. We bring you this series of interstitial shorts that explore stories of hope, healing, camaraderie, opportunity and understanding as a way to process this chapter of history in our region. We are grateful to all who participated in this series to offer such a wealth and depth of perspective and hope that you are as moved watching as we were producing and editing.
1) Art Therapy for Veterans and their Everson Museum Exhibit of Work
2) Benefits of Non-Governmental Organization Exchange Programs with Post-War Vietnam
3) Syracuse Vet Center Readjustment Counseling Services
4) How Stickley Furniture changed the Vietnamese Refugee Experience in CNY
5) How Music of the Vietnam War shaped an Era and how its influence on music today
6) LBJ’s rally to war at Syracuse University
Featuring John Robert Greene, Cazenovia College History Professor and longtime Ivory Tower panelist. Professor Greene describes the moments leading up to the historic Gulf of Tonkin speech and announcement at Syracuse University in 1964.
Bob Decker was a twenty-something soldier who, though serving stateside, was ignored by girls and sometimes spat upon and taunted because of his military service. “Although military life wasn’t all bad, the way we were treated stuck with me, affected me, and even was part of the reason I married later in life,” he explained. Bob was in college when he enlisted figuring he’d do his duty and then return to school. He was all set to ship out, until it was announced that the trial of Army Lieutenant William Calley for the 1968 slaying of civilians in My Lai, was going to happen at Fort Benning, Georgia where Bob was stationed. Instead of heading overseas to Vietnam, he and just about every other available soldier were quickly made MPs to handle the security demands of the court-martial proceedings. What he carries with him are vivid memories of the many nights in the Army barracks being awakened by screaming soldiers and jumping up to hold them down and calm them with cold compresses placed on their foreheads and whispered reassurances. “There wasn’t a name then for what we call PTSD today,” he explained. “But we did know one thing for certain – we wanted to keep these guys out of a psych ward and make sure they got honorable discharges when the time came.”
Vinh Dang arrived in Syracuse, New York in 1996 after years of trying to get from Vietnam to the United States. He entered the South Vietnamese army in 1965 and served for 10 years. In 1975, during the collapse of Saigon, he was arrested by the communists and spent over seven years in a concentration camp – they called them “re-education camps.” The treatment was horrible and many of his friends in the camp died. After his 1982 release he spent 10 years working as a farmer, while his application to come to America sat in a cabinet. When he finally arrived here he realized that in some ways, American and Vietnamese veterans had something else to share beyond the war itself – tough times when the war ended and feeling they were not accepted in their countries. Mr. Dang sums up his life this way: “I was a soldier and our old flag’s motto was “country,” “honor,” and “responsibility.” We lost as a country. We lost as a republic. We lost everything. But we practice our country’s freedom right here in our second country, America.” For over 20 years this now 88-year-old has been volunteering with the Syracuse Vietnamese community and is dedicated to honoring the culture of Vietnam, especially through his art.
Dr. Linda Townsend
Dr. Linda Townsend isn’t a Vietnam veteran. But her efforts to right the wrongs of the past – the lack of honor and appreciation for service rendered by Vietnam veterans – has been a driving force in her life. Three years ago Linda received a WCNY Maker Award for her outstanding efforts in education, as a social studies and psychology teacher in the Port Byron School System. But she’s equally passionate about her work with Chapter 704 of the Vietnam Veterans of America in Auburn, NY. She was a driving force in the organization of a four-day (24/7!) The Wall that Heals event earlier this year, an event that involved people of all ages to respectfully gather at the half-model of the Wall to pay tribute to the fallen and to learn. She tried, unsuccessfully, to get Ken Burns to the event; she was successful in getting a letter to share from Gary Sinese. Rear Admiral Richard West, a Vietnam veteran attended and Major General Hilbert flew in from Washington, D.C. to speak and conduct a pinning ceremony. Her efforts have been acknowledged by the Vietnam Veterans of America who in October, 2016 awarded her honorary life membership.
Robert F. Stryker
Two veterans from two different wars were the inspiration for the name of one of the Army’s most important armored vehicles, the Stryker, unveiled in 2002. Both men were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for their heroism; Pfc Stuart Stryker during WWII, and SP4 Robert Stryker, for service in Vietnam. A native of the Auburn area, SP4 Stryker saved the lives of at least six of his fellow soldiers. An annual graveside memorial service is sponsored by the veterans organization that voted to have their official name be the Robert F. Stryker Memorial AmVets Post 513.
President Lyndon Johnson
President Lyndon Johnson came to Syracuse on Aug. 5, 1964 to speak at the dedication of the new Newhouse Communications Center on the Syracuse University campus. Only a few sentences of his speech, however, dealt with the dedication – the rest of his remarks focused on the Communist threat in Southeast Asia and the Gulf of Tonkin incident. On Aug. 2, 1964, the U.S. destroyer Maddox exchanged shots with North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. Two days later, the Maddox and another destroyer reported once again coming under fire although most historians have concluded there were no attacks on Aug. 4. But whether they occurred or not, the attacks provided the reason for an American response – air strikes. It has been said that this is the speech that launched the Vietnam War.
Meet Tom Grace
As a teenager, Tom Grace, accompanied his parents to hear the President that day. He came away excited and confident that President Johnson was following in the footsteps of the assassinated President Kennedy. Tom graduated high school and enrolled at Kent State. The Vietnam War was dragging on. Richard Nixon had been elected president, proposing to invade Cambodia. Grace appeared at a campus protest against Nixon’s plan, a protest that ended with National Guardsman opening fire on students. Grace tried to run and was shot in his foot and ankle. Last year he authored a book about his life-changing experiences.
They Called Me Doc
Jim Scaravillo was working at a Syracuse grocery warehouse when he received his draft notice. Although he had no medical experience, he was put into a medic training program at Fort San Antonio, Texas and then assigned to the 26th Engineers Combat Battalion in Chu Lai, Vietnam. One of his duties was to go out with mine sweeping crews to make sure the one-road entrance to the base at the top of a mountain was useable. “I thought I’d be scared,” said Jim. “But I liked being a medic, taking care of people. They called me Doc.” He compares his experience to that of the MASH unit portrayed on the popular TV show with Alan Alda, although he never dealt with any soldiers with life-threatening injuries. His memories include the always-anticipated air drops of supplies and mail, the good guys he served with, and the friendly Vietnamese he encountered including Nuk, the housekeeper for the tents. He missed home and pizza and didn’t like all the rain. One day a 2 ½ ton dump truck loaded with sand that was part of a convoy blew up, throwing him in the air. “I didn’t realize at first that I had sliced my arm until one of the guys pointed it out, then the pain set in. They patched me up and I was back at work in a couple of weeks, with a scar to remind me what happened.” He was “tickled pink” when he was discharged. “Stepping off the plane in California, the first stop on my return home, was like going back to the world,” he explained. “My heart was going 90 miles per hour!” His job, where he worked on the warehouse dock and took care of customers, was waiting for him, along with family and friends. “I went right back into my life here with no problem, but I didn’t want anything to do with medical stuff anymore.”
Glenn Brooks is a pastry chef these days at Clear Path for Veterans who pays attention to the details, like making his own candied orange peel to put on top of his freshly baked orange cake, destined to be enjoyed by fellow veterans. But after serving in Vietnam, he held a variety of jobs: clown, professional magician, and eventually a substitute school teacher. “I have been married three times and my first wife and kids didn’t even know I had been in the service,” he said. “For awhile I lived in my car, travelling place to place making money as a magician. My counselor pointed out to me that I was technically homeless but I never thought of myself that way since I was making good money and the car was just the place I lived.” Diagnosed with PTSD, there have been times he has been suicidal, but as he and the veteran across the table explained, Glenn has learned how to cope when the symptomatic triggers of his PTSD appear.
Louis not Louie
Louis Pascarella has a great mustache and a smile to go with it. He has two things he wants to share. The first is in response to the question, “have we learned anything since Vietnam?” He sadly shakes his head “no”. “History just keeps repeating itself…but wait, yes, we did learn something ….veterans today are treated better than we ever were and that is a good thing.” The second thing involves a more personal wish from this bear of a man who is never a “Louie”. “There were more local guys killed in Vietnam from Syracuse’s Henninger High School than any other school in the city. There was a plaque that listed the names, although not all of them, that hung in a place of honor at the school. Then it got moved to an office somewhere.” Louis would like to see that plaque back in a place where it is a visible reminder of the sacrifice made for all. (Editorial Note: the new principal at Henninger High School is a veteran himself and has invited Louis to come see the plaque)
“I ended up not being old enough to serve. But my whole childhood was filled with fears of thinking I would. I saw my older siblings and friends go off to war. I remember some of them coming back dead. I thought my fate was sealed. As a boomer at the end of that era it consumed my childhood. Born in 1959 I was spared the agony but not the worry.”
March on Washington: Nov. 15, 1969, to Bring All the Troops Home Now!
Around 5:30 a.m. my friend Heidi picked me up in her Ford Maverick. Half an hour later at the University of Delaware we boarded one of several large buses chartered by the Newark New Mobe, the Delaware chapter of the New Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam. On each bus were two New Mobe marshals. I think they were Quakers. Their job was to spend the trip training the riders in the nonviolent principles and tactics that we would need to know and use in Washington that day in order to make an effective antiwar statement. Given that the Weather Underground had dumped a ton of terrible publicity on the whole antiwar movement less than six weeks ago with the senseless “Days of Rage” in Chicago, the avowedly and typically peaceful New Mobe was especially careful to ensure that this day would be peaceful enough to garner us some good publicity for a change….
When we got to Washington we walked to the Mall from where the buses parked a few blocks north of Pennsylvania Avenue. The air was bitter cold. Most of the morning we just huddled on the Mall, shivered, and waited….Finally the marshalls began organizing the march itself, from the Capitol up Pennsylvania Avenue to encircle the White House, then to disperse peacefully back to the buses to go home. The march was fun. We chanted, sang, yelled slogans, and generally had a great time….We could not get close to the White House because of the perimeter barricade of buses, cops, and Secret Service agents. Rumors flew that Nixon was not there anyway, or if he was, he was watching football and not paying attention to us.
Toward the end of the march, in the vicinity of the White House, I heard someone say that some of us were going over to the Justice Department to show support for Bobby Seale….I decided to go. When I got there, I realized that I was a latecomer. Thousands of people who had already surrounded the building were chanting “Free Bobby Seale!” There was no violence….I noticed a handful of guards between the crowd and the building, mostly near the flagpole. No one was attacking anyone.
Some demonstrators tried to lower the U.S. Flag. The guards pushed them back and re-raised the flag. More people then tried to lower the flag. Again, the guards intervened, but our side managed to get it down. Someone threw what might have been a water balloon filled with blood-red dye at the building. It hit and burst about 20 feet up the wall. That did not hurt anyone. It was just a symbolic act. It did not break a window. Two skirmish lines of D.C. cops in full riot gear advanced with batons at the ready, one from the north, the other from the east. There may have been more but those two were all I could see from where I was. When they had blocked our possible escapes…they lobbed at least three tear gas canisters into the middle of the crowd, all the while maintaining their slow, deliberate advance. No one had attacked them first! They attacked us!
The stinging, searing effect of the gas was immediate. I would endure bleeding, open sores in my nose and mouth for the next two weeks.
Coughing like crazy, nearly blinded, and scared that I was about to get my skull bashed in, I pulled the front of my coat collar over my face…leaving only a slit for my eyes. Images of savage beatings that other cops had inflicted on other innocent and unarmed people at other antiwar events flashed through my mind. I got out of there. I made it back to the bus on time. The marshalls and others with cold compresses and assorted makeshift remedies helped those half-dozen or so of us who had been gassed. Heidi dropped me off at home around 10 or 10:30 p.m.
ABC, NBC, and CBS each told a slightly different story (of the event) but each got it wrong. Each blamed the violence at the Justice Department on the marchers. Each said that we attacked the cops before they used the gas on us. … The Sunday, November 16 New York Times headline was: “250,000 War Protesters Stage Peaceful Rally in Washington; Militants Stir Clashes Later.” The rally was indeed peaceful, but there probably closer to half a million of us, and it was not any “militants” who had stirred the clashes. It was the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department. (Told by local author Eric v.d. Luft from his book, Die at the Right Time: A Subjective Cultural History of the American Sixties)
Submitted by Ed Guzylak
I was nine years old when my brother served in Vietnam. I knew it was a terrible thing and understood that he might not come back. I’m 57 years old now and after watching many documentaries and movies, I have a much better understanding of the war. I feel worse now than I did as a kid with what he had to experience. While I was playing wiffle ball, and hide and seek, he was dodging bullets, snipers, and booby traps. Sometimes I feel guilty for what he had to endure and I didn’t.
I’ve also wondered what it would have been life if he had never made it back. In July 1970, a man from Western Union came to the door with a telegram. My heart was pounding really hard, afraid that something had happened to him. It was my grandmother in Germany who had passed away instead.
Every night at 6:30, the world news would come on and it was reported how many GIs had been killed that day. My parents and I wondered if one of them was my brother.
He came home in August 1970. I remember vividly how thrilled my family and I were – even the dog raced around the house in continuous circles!
My brother passed away in July 2002 from cancer. I’m very happy to receive the Vietnam Vet family member pin!
I came home from Vietnam but never really made it Home.
BOB the Marine made it thru the war, bOb the man didn’t.
I wonder why,
I love music, I love life.
But I don’t live life.
I got to rap groups, sometimes two.
I take my meds, I work out too.
But I’m stuck within,
always looking out but afraid to reach out.
Alone and breathing for not.
Soldier’s Heart I’m told,
Make the best before your old.
Gross Stress Reaction
Rail Road Spine
Neurosis Hell Pain is real!!
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder That’s it.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder For Sure….
It’s bOb Fighting “BOB the MARINE” within ME…
I live, but only for the shadows.
I can’t live in the Sun, it’s too dangerous.
The shadows are warm, protecting like a lovers arms.
Afraid to go out, and afraid of what?
The shadows are in my mind, look around, do others see shadows or only me?
Does it sound ok to be around only the shadows?
The only time I’m free is in the night. When the shadows roam.
Pain it black, they say. It’s not a color but escape.
Even in the dark, light makes shadows, some small some large. For Me alone.
So again I ask what’s a man to do, to escape?
Move at once, back into the shadows.
(a letter he sent his dad long ago)
In an email you asked me if I had written down anything about my time in the military. The answer is no. I do not have as much free time as I thought, and I have found that it takes time for me to get my thoughts together. In places I wrote “dad”, but you can read that as “you”. Here’s a start. I may add things as they come back.
I grew up in a relative time of peace, and only knew of conflict through the TV/movie shows I watched, and that my mom & dad and others we all knew had been involved. I kinda romanticized the concept of being in the service as a child, the hero thing (Audi Murphy, etc.) I remember “playing” soldier a lot, always coming out on the side of victory.
The Korean “War” was going on at this time too, but I seemed removed from it. Not paying attention to the news reports on it (unlike today!), it was something that’s going on far away with people I didn’t know.
I remember when President Eisenhower’s (former General Eisenhower) term was ending, and Kennedy was taking office. I was in junior high/high school preoccupied with girls and such, so apparently was not paying attention to world situations too much. I do not recall much except bits and pieces about the so-called cold war. This was during the time of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), so the thoughts of small time conflicts took a back seat to “hiding under desks”, fallout shelters and such. I never had thoughts of going into the service during this time.
After high school, the situation in Southeast Asia began to make the news more and more, or at least I heard about or paid more attention to it then. I do not recall if the draft was still in effect, left over from America’s earlier involvements. It may have been reinstated in this time frame because I got a letter from Uncle Sam requesting my presence to get a physical to see if I passed muster. I remember jumping down the stairs two or three at a time at Crouse Hinds when I worked there thinking I might be able to damage my bad knee just a bit more so I wouldn’t pass the physical. I was not interested in going off to a place where I could get killed defending the USA as I didn’t think this country was in any real danger of being over-run by the communists.
Well, I received my “Greetings” letter soon after that. I remember coming home (Manlius) from a night of drinking (probably) and seeing on the kitchen counter a rather thick envelope addressed to me with a government return address. I don’t think I opened it then as I was fairly certain what it was. There no longer was a way out except by skipping country which was not in my options package. I rationalized the situation by thinking the both my mom & dad and dad’s father and brother had been involved in the military conflicts of their time, and maybe it was just time for my generation to go to war because humanity hadn’t learned a thing.
July 1st, 1966. Dad drove me down to the induction center on Salina Street…the old Chimes Building in Syracuse. I had water in my eyes as I walked across the street. Inside were a bunch of young men like myself that were there for the same reason…to raise the right hand and take an oath thereby becoming a government-issue. Once that was out of the way, we walked over to the train station which is in Armory Square. The train took us down to the NYC/NJ area as we were going to Fort Dix.
I don’t remember how long I was there as were put on buses and driven to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This was my first trip south of Hackensack, New Jersey where I was born on April 6th, 1945. It was a different countryside then rural New York, and I remember seeing my first shanty type shacks for people that were not as well off as us. My world was expanding.
Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne, was where I took my 8 weeks of basic training/indoctrination. Sand, heat, sweat, scared. Sergeant Gainey was our African-American drill sergeant. He was a nice guy and wasn’t too hard on us. Through him and the other cadre, I learned the basics of being a soldier. I gained weight and became much stronger physically.
The various written tests all GIs take indicated to the army that I might have some engineering skills they could utilize. My next training phase would take place at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. I think I had a few days before I had to be there, so came home to say “Hi”. Then it was back to this new life of being a soldier.
At this post, I learned the skills to be a combat engineer. These were the boys that built temporary quick assembly bridges where none had been before. We learned to fabricate small airfields using inter-connecting steel panels. We assembled small buildings of pre-fabricated panels. Mine detection/removal/de-activation and the handling of explosives were a couple of other specialty skills a combat engineer had to have some knowledge of. This was on top of some infantry training as it was very possible that we would actually have to deal with hostile forces intent on shooting at us. It was here that the army saw some potential leadership traits in me, so assigned me to be the platoon sergeant for a group of trainees. I think I had mixed results in this, but I soon got a call to go to OCS, Officer Candidate School. I was 21.
Before slots opened up at Fort Bolivar in Maryland for OCS, I and some other candidates were moved to a special area where we had our own “dorm.” I put quotes around dorm because it was no more than a large storage shed that had some bunks placed in it, and heated by a pot-belly stove…this in the fall of 1966! I can remember we used to stoke that sucker up pretty good, trying to get the upper half of the stove and the flue red hot. We succeeded a few times. Looking back, that was so stupid as the entire building would have lasted maybe sixty seconds if a fire started…and those little red water pails that we kept full of water to throw on a fire wouldn’t have done a thing except turn to steam. It was here that I learned how to butter a piece of bread one handed using not-so-soft butter, all the while trying to keep a stone face, pretty much at attention while sitting down. The non-com cadre at the table peppered us with questions too, and we did a lot of pushups when we missed one. We did a lot of pushups waiting to get in to the mess hall too.
It was here that I began to question the concept of being an officer. I had heard that 2nd Lieutenants didn’t have a good life expectancy in Vietnam, and we all knew that’s where we were headed. I was tired of doing pushups and having someone right in my face yelling…that’s what they all did, yell commands and tell you what a poor excuse you were for a soldier. Being an officer also meant some additional time in the military, and I was kinda eager to get back to blue jeans and longer hair. I spoke with the company commander about this, and he understood where I was coming from I think. He said it would be off to Vietnam next, and I said I understood that and was willing to go over and get it over with, whatever get-it-over might have meant. Orders were cut, and a pleasant surprise was that I was going home for a week or two before heading to San Francisco and farther.
It was now early 1967 when I came home on leave. Snow was on the ground, and I remember taking a ski trip to Canada with my folks and the Harrison’s, some friends of theirs. I remember the place was different than most ski areas as the lodge was at the top of the mountain, and it was bitterly cold. The “lifty” would give you a blanket as you got on the lift. Twenty below rings a bell. Not too many runs that day.
I had to leave to catch a plane to New York City, then on to the west coast. Dressed in my military clothing, my step mom Dzidra drove me and the son of their friends to the airport. He was off to military school, so was dressed in that type of clothing. I can remember looking out the car window at the scenery wondering if I would ever see something like that again. It was a quiet ride to the airport.
I don’t remember the flights, but do remember a bit from the short time in San Francisco. I met up with a buddy at the airport, and we took a cheap room in town. We spent most of our time walking the streets of San Francisco. We ate at one of the upscale steak houses, took in Fisherman’s Wharf, and if my memory serves me, went to a “night club” (AKA strip club). Morning and it was real time again, so we were off to the airport to catch our flight to our destiny.
I don’t remember much about the airport or airbase or what happened to John except we were flying out on a cargo plane that had simple seats installed in the cargo bay. You could hear the noise of all the hydraulic systems and other mechanical systems too. No windows, so nothing to do but sleep. We touched down on Guam (familiar?) for a leg stretch and refueling. Getting off the plane, I was struck at how humid it was. This was my first experience with that much humidity, so was a strong image I have been able to retain.
Back on the “bus” and on we went, finally landing in Vietnam in the evening sometime after dark. The smell of that place was alien to me, hot/humid/human waste or something like that. I knew then it wasn’t “Kansas”. We were hustled onto a bus where I noticed there was very heavy duty screening over all the outside of the windows. I finally figured out the screen was there not to keep whomever on-board inside, but to keep hand grenades from being dropped into the windows by VC as the bus drove along. I knew then this was all real, and the game was for keeps.
We got something to eat and stayed on the airfield overnight. I think it was the next day each of us got our assignment (orders) and were picked up by personnel from the units. My new home was going to be with the 19th Combat Engineers, 18th Engineer Brigade. We were based near Qui Nhon on the coast. The compound was pretty secure being with other units in a fairly secured area. There were actual buildings we were bunked in, wood, screen, sheet metal roofs. The bathrooms were actually toilets. Not too bad I thought. I was going to be assigned to the S-2 Intelligence section of Headquarters Company as a driver/draftsman. Maybe my years of taking mechanical drawing in high school was paying off. I got my near term gear, camo fatigues, boots, helmets, backpacks, etc. We were not “frontline”, so we were issued the heavy M14 rifle. I thought it a bummer to get one of these, but they turned out to be much more reliable than the M16’s issued later on. The CO was from the Central New York area, a Captain Vernon Lloyd I think.
What we did was to go out via jeeps and recon the major route north/south in Vietnam, Route One. The battalion was charged with keeping it open and making improvements for the heavier traffic it was seeing amongst other tasks. Consider something like the farther sections of the road to Stillwater in the Adirondacks. It was dirt, not much wider then two smaller vehicles. Most bridges on this had been blown by the VC, so we would take pictures of whatever abutments were left. I took measurements of this and that, made sketches, then returned to base and drew up more detailed drawings using a very crude drawing table. We also provided on-the-road security whenever any brass was taking a tour of the roadway.
About our jeeps; They were standard issue units, but an upright bar was welded on the front so if any wires were strung across the road, the bar would hit them instead of the occupant’s neck being the impact point. A center post was welded into the vehicle such that a machine gun could be mounted there. There were no back seats, but a wooden box was fabricated to replace them so the “gunner” could sit down unless he was actual utilizing the weapon. This box held various things that might be required…first aid kit, food/water, fuses, detonation cord, clothing, ammo, whatever. Windshields were removed (no tops either), and a wooden box was anchored to the front of the jeep in place of the windshield. These actually were boxes that held large 155mm shells for the artillery units, and normally would be discarded (we were “green” before it became fashionable ;-)). In this box we would place our explosives, smokes, matches, etc. Now, you might think having the explosives right there was asking for trouble, but we used something called C4. A substance like silly putty in texture, this could take a direct hit from virtually anything and just sit there. We used to tear off chunks, light it with a match and used it to heat coffee. On the other hand, it would explode if a fuse went off. This was why we kept the fuses in the rear box.
Drivers were required to do preventative-maintenance each day on the vehicle they were assigned to. Notice I said assigned to… the vehicles were more important than the human driver… it was easier to get a replacement driver than a replacement jeep. Hmmm………….
For the most part, this is what we did while based in the Qui Nhon area. We did make a number of forays into the boonies on roads that were even less than Route One, some no more then two wheeled tracks leading into the bush. A few times we even had to leave the vehicles behind with a few guys around to secure them, and hike deeper into the boonies. We were working with maps that predated this conflict, so basically it was just a trail between such and such. The brass in Brigade HQ wanted to have any potential routes scouted out, so we were it. In times like this, we went with the Special Forces guys and their indigenous Montagnard warriors. These guys were so cool, even though I could hardly communicate with them. Very dark skin, slight of stature but very wiry, trustworthy…or at least I thought so. Most of them carried the carbine rifle from WWII/Korea. Come to think about it, so did a lot of the Special Forces guys. Maybe they knew something we didn’t. I do remember seeing what amounted to a sawed off M16 type weapon a couple of times with these SF guys too.
My first firefight was when we were out with these guys on a “hike”. At some point, my choice of weapons to carry was the M60 light machine gun. I use the term “light” only to denote it was a small caliber weapon compared to its heavier kin. On this day, it proved to be a decisive measure. Walking along in single file on this narrow trail, we encountered heavy fire coming from the bushes on our left flank. The training I had taken in basic caused an instant/instinctual reaction where I swung my weapon in the direction of the firing even as I was dropping to the ground. The safety was tripped off and I was pulling the trigger aiming from the hip at the smoke emanating from the barrels of whoever was firing at us. It was easy to aim from the hip because every fifth round was a tracer. Scared beyond anything I had ever experienced, I mentally figured that if there’s smoke that means there’s someone firing a weapon in that area. I blasted that area pretty good figuring that’s where the “bad guys” were. No more smoke was seen in this area, so I let up on the trigger. There was still firing going on, but I couldn’t see anything out there to fire at. Someone mentioned they might be getting behind us, so I peeled around to set up facing the other way. This side of the trail was a little higher then where the first firing came from, and I became aware that I was much more vulnerable on my backside. I remember thinking there wasn’t much I could do about that situation, and wondered if I would get shot in the back. I didn’t see any real movement over here, but could have sworn someone out there fired a M79 type grenade at us as I followed visually something coming towards our position followed by the sounds of a concussion. Just to be safe, I opened up on the general area I first saw the shape coming from. We never did investigate that side of the trail, so I don’t know.
Our Lieutenant was moving down the trail nearby and got hit, so I turned around and saw the earth near my feet churn up a bit. Thinking this was incoming, I pulled the M60 around again and once again started firing into the general area where we first took fire. Nothing more seemed to be going on, so I stopped firing. During all this, our Special Forces guys called in a spotter plane soon followed by F4’s. They found where Charlie was and proceeded to drop a few bombs. Now that was exciting…watching the bomb falling, seeing the trees move and crap blow into the air, watching the concussion race across the trees/plants towards us, then feeling it and the sound. Maybe 150 yards away. It was a “WOW!” experience and being very glad not to be on the receiving end of that. Meanwhile, we secured an area and brought in a Medi-vac for the lieutenant and a couple of the Montagnard that had been hit. Once he was airborne, we set out to sweep the area the firing was coming from. As I entered into the area I had directed my first blast, I found two quite dead men. Their bodies didn’t appear worse for wear, but from the shoulders up was not very pretty. They didn’t have any weapons on or near them, so their com-padres must have taken them. They did have their bandoliers of rice still wrapped over their shoulders. I moved on. I do have a picture somewhere someone took of them. No one actually saw them get hit, but I am quite sure it was the results of my quick response at the initial engagement and by the extensive damage incurred. I may have been the one that took the lives of some parent’s offspring. It is something I still think about now and then……
As we searched the area, I remember our first sergeant commenting that he thinks he may have shot one of the Montagnards by mistake in the melee. He was visibly shaken, and rotated out soon after this.
We didn’t find much on this sweep except the scars left by the bombs. We returned to our vehicles where the fellows guarding them were very happy to see us. I don’t know whatever happened to the bodies of the deceased. The Montagnards took care of those things.
This event opened up my eyes to everything from that moment on. It was so noisy, but I could hear what anyone was saying, I could smell everything, I could feel the soil and all. I had never experienced such a flood of sensory input before, or afterward either. The mind operated at a speed race car drivers would envy. I remember passing gas as I lay there firing…I guess you could say I almost s**t my pants. All other times of conflict after this were less bombastic to my psyche I guess.
Our unit moved north to a little area on the Bong Son Plain, near a little town called Tam Quan on the coast. We were now alone as just the battalion, four operational companies, a light equipment company, and headquarters. Here we had to build sandbagged bunkers to sleep in, or take shelter in as needed. We built a “bar” on the end of our “hootch” where everybody would congregate for a beer at the end of the day if things were quiet. Even the battalion CO and staff would come over and quaff a few once in a while. Of course they didn’t drink quite as much as us enlisted guys did. I will say that one of our lieutenants put away a few though… I remember once we were late getting back to the compound (LZ English North), and I was driving with this lieutenant riding shotgun. Now when you get to any base/compound, generally you have to stop and give the day’s password for the guards to open the gate and let you in. Passwords are not general knowledge, but on a need-to-know basis. They are given out earlier in the day to non-coms and officers generally, so we enlisted guys don’t know them unless it’s in our interest. Well, my man either forgot or didn’t get one before we left the compound. “Halt, who goes there?” was yelled by he guard. After a second or three which seemed like a lot longer time, the lieutenant yelled back he didn’t know but gave his name. The guard stood his ground and asked again. The lieutenant was suddenly very pissed off and started calling the guard names and yelling he was going to report him. The guard must have called The Sergeant-of-the-Guard for that day who then came to the gate and asked the lieutenant to please get out of the jeep and come to the gate. At that point, rank does not matter if you are on the outside looking in. A moment or two past, and I could see the sergeant matter of factually telling the lieutenant that he had screwed up. The sergeant then opened the gate and we could pass into the compound. The lieutenant got back into the jeep not saying a word to anyone as we drove back to our area. I don’t recall seeing him at the bar that night.
We did a lot driving on Route One during this time escorting the battalion CO as he inspected how things were going. It was rather dull and boring because the line companies did the dirty work of clearing any mines/booby traps on the road itself. There was one time where we drove out to inspect, then on the way back I hit a mine that must have been planted after we passed the first time. It was a small anti-personal type mine, so only the tire/rim was ruined. There was a lot of dust thrown up though, and the lieutenant (a new one named David Paddock from McGraw, NY) and I got pretty dusty. The whole convoy came to a stop and everyone piled out and took defensive positions while I struggled to get the jack to work so I could change the wheel assembly. Being occupied with this, I didn’t have a weapon in my hands which always made me feel a little naked.
A couple of months after I rotated out, Lieutenant Paddock had moved to a line company. He and his driver were killed when they rode over a much larger mine.
One of the tasks we were charged with was finding out where any tunnels went that were discovered by our unit. This was a very spooky job, and to today I don’t know why I took on that task. Stripping off all gear except a pistol and flashlight, I’d enter the earth very carefully. It is amazing how loud your heartbeat sounds when you do that kind of stuff. You can really feel the thumping too. Fortunately I never encounter anybody or tripped or found any booby traps. Once out of the tunnel, we would get some C4 explosives, set it and blow the entrance to the tunnel so it would collapse sealing it.
I seemed to be the one the officers would ask/order to take the point whenever we were on foot. I seemed able to spot abnormalities in the nature of things out there. Maybe it was because of that, or I was considered more expendable than others. I never asked. I was “enlisted” to lead a 1st Cavalry Infantry Company through our area of operations as twilight was falling once. Trying to keep from falling into a paddy while being on the lookout for the abnormal (whatever that was) as the light was diminishing made for an interesting walk.
Another time, we were on Route One, but walking because this was new section. The infantry was going along because this might be an area that Charlie was operating in, and while we could fight, we were not the pros. It was very hot, and it became apparent some of the infantry troops were having some trouble (they were burdened down with more gear then us engineers). Some of them were lifted out while the rest of us ended up on a section of beach we had passed where some APC’s (armored personal carriers) had dug in for the night. Our backs to the South China Sea, we ate and prepared for the night. One thing we did was place Claymore anti-personal mines out in front of our beach head. Then I was told I would be leading three other men out to establish a listening post, out beyond the Claymores.
We had to go out after dark to dig in because you didn’t want your enemy to know where you were. You had to do this as quietly as possible too. It was in sand, but still quite a task. Then we split the sleep/awake cycle, two people awake for two hours while two slept. I remember vividly that after waking from my first “nap”, I found everyone else asleep. No one seemed able to stay awake but me, so I stayed awake the entire night. It was here that one of my scariest moments occurred. Every once in a while I thought I heard a rustling out there, but I couldn’t see anything moving (had enough light to “see” 20-30 feet out). I remembered from my training that the VC were very good at hiding on the ground almost in plain sight, so my heart was really in high gear. Every time I heard the sound I was close to panic. I then made a wonderful discovery. Every time I heard the sound I was moving my head ever so slightly, and my day-old beard was scrapping against my collar. What a relief. I did see something approaching once though, a wild dog was coming straight at us when it suddenly realized there was something there. It turned around and beat-feet.
There would be days where your assignment would be different. Up until the time I made E-5 buck-sergeant, I might find myself on kitchen-patrol (KP). It wasn’t bad duty at all, and you got first dibs on the food. Almost everything we had to eat was good…almost everything. I always loved a cool glass of milk with my meals stateside. This was something that didn’t make the journey overseas. The powdered stuff passed off as milk should have had an EPA or FDA warning label. We did get liquid milk later on, but this too was bad. Kool-aid or water sustained me.
Another duty was not quite as “pleasant”. Until one goes to a third-world country, the thoughts on what one does with human waste is not a major issue. Then throw in one that has high water-table levels, and this issue really become paramount. What to do… we would burn it in 55 gallon drums that were cut in half. These drums sat under the “seats” in the latrines, and they would get dragged out to the burn area where kerosene would be mixed with the “effluent”, ignited, then kept in a continual mixed mode via manual motion provided by the GI whose turn it was to be on latrine duty. At the end of that day, the lucky fellow usually stripped off the clothing he was wearing (save boots) and placed it into the still burning drum(s). There wasn’t any way for us to clean that odor from our clothing over there. Then off to the shower for a long one. Yes, we usually had hot showers in the compounds so we could remove the accumulated stench and other that would stick to/with us when we were on field duty. Almost human…………
One of the things the GI could count on was a week’s R&R while in Vietnam. There were a number of places where you could go, but they were always a relatively short distance away and didn’t really appeal to me. I kept thinking it wouldn’t be such a good idea to get away, and then have to come back to hell either. Then Australia was offered, but only for one person per company per week/time. This changed my mind as Australia always was a draw for some reason. There was also the potential of seeing a female that had “round eyes” too, which today is something I’m thoroughly ashamed of thinking of then. I should also say at this point that there was a time or two where I had the pleasure of a female companion for the “night” while in Vietnam. Perhaps there was some correlation in these two memories.
Anyway, I was the first soldier in Headquarters Company to put my name in for Australia, and was given an OK. I was really looking forward to this opportunity when suddenly rank was pulled on me. The major in charge of S3 operations wanted to go, so I got bumped out. I was told I could go to one of the other locations, but no shot at Australia. I was so bummed I decided not to go anywhere. I didn’t have very good feelings for this major from this point on either. It wouldn’t have bothered me if this guy happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is the only GI I ever had this type of thought about.
Around this time, I began to think that perhaps we were not really helping the people of Vietnam. It appeared to me that they just wanted to get on with their lives, and it didn’t really matter who was in charge. Sure, the upper levels had some stake in the outcome, but to me it seemed the people that “farmed the fields” just wanted all the interruptions to end so they could go back to trying to make their meager living. Yes, there were many that ”enjoyed” the new-found income they could make catering to the needs of the GI’s in one manner or another. Sometimes I wonder how they made out when the last helicopter left…
This observation and the major’s action really soured my thoughts on my time in country. One buddy and I would talk about re-upping in a different type of unit once in a while as we would automatically move up in rank. Suddenly I began to really think about going home and getting out. I was getting “short” (time left in rotation). I had purchased a radio from the PX, and suddenly heard a different type/style of music from the states being played. I realized something had happened back home, and I wanted to be a part of it whatever “it” was. I also realized that at the time of my rotation out of country that I would still have some time left in “service to my country” that I would have to spend on some base stateside, likely in the training of new “quirts” that would be sent over to Vietnam. I didn’t like that concept as that would have made me a part of the military establishment, and I had grown tired of it. I was not interested in the “spit and polish” routine either. I had heard that I could extend my time in Vietnam to such a point where I would be inside of three months of my normal discharge from active duty time. I elected to do this even though this increased the potential of being in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time. I knew what was expected of me in Vietnam, and was pretty good at what I did.
I was in the field when they flew out food to us (very common except when under siege), and they asked for me. My orders had been cut and I was going home. I barely had time to say good by/good luck to my fellow engineers before I was gone. Back at the compound I turned in my gear, squared away my area, and was driven back to Qui Nhon to catch a flight down south to Cam Ranh to leave the country. I remember being quite concerned that I no longer had any weapon with which to protect myself even though this area was considered safe. I flew out of Cam Ranh via a commercial aircraft, with windows! We flew up to Japan where I was able to glimpse Mt. Fuji sticking up through the clouds. I remember feeling more relaxed at that. I was hoping to spend some time on the ground there, but it was just a refueling stop.
Landing at Fort Lewis in Washington, all of us rotating out GIs filled out paperwork and such, then waited. I remember them saying that anyone that had logistical type problems would be red-lined. Yep, I was red-lined. They wanted to usher me out of the active duty service, but I was three days short of the ninety-day early out. I just went a bit numb while papers were passed back and forth between desks and staff until an officer took the papers, read them and said to OK the release. I was on my way to Manlius!
Someplace out there I caught a civilian flight east that had to go to Chicago (hazy memory of certain details). At O’Hara field in Chicago, I had to wait until morning to catch a flight to Syracuse. I wandered through the terminal all night long as I couldn’t sleep. and noticed a couple of airport cleanup personal trying to open something, and as I got closer realized it was the camera case. They looked up and realizing they had been caught, made some feeble excuse saying something like “You shouldn’t leave
Finally I was aboard a plane with a stop in Syracuse, seated on the aisle but on the right or starboard side of the plane. The window seat was occupied by some young fellow wearing wingtip shoes (what I remember sometimes!). I was left alone in my thoughts as we made no conversation. I actually think he was a bit uncomfortable with me sitting next to him. The flight went well, and I remember very well our approach to Hancock. The pilot said something about the approach, we started to slow and drop, and I could see the land out the window looking over my “seatmate”. The sun was out shining brightly when it suddenly was being reflected of off something on the terrain. I suddenly realized it was being reflected off the Finger Lakes just west of Syracuse. My eyes got wet as I fought back real tears. Touchdown soon after that, and I joined a bunch of other travelers in a taxi ride to the old bus stop on Montgomery Street. I was riding in the front seat, and I remember the cabbie said he was willing to take me to Manlius. I said no because I didn’t want to spend the money! I think I checked the bus schedule, maybe not finding one running soon enough because I took a pen and wrote “Manlius” in big letters on my orders envelope. I walked out to Erie Boulevard East with my bag, my destination envelope, and stuck out my thumb. There I was, dressed in my mustering out attire on a fairly warm spring day in 1968, waiting for some kind soul to take pity on this GI and help him on his journey home. It might have been the first car. Some guy I thought in his thirties drove me all the way to Manlius. I told him where to drop me off as I declined his offer to take me to the door…I wanted to walk down Candy Lane to the house I left almost two years earlier. I didn’t even know if anyone was home as I decided to come home unannounced. It was a short pleasant walk down the slight slope to 4854 where I walked up to the front door and rang the bell. The door opened, and my step mom Dzidra’s eyes opened wide and her jaw dropped. She called out to my father who was downstairs with Brendon Sammons who was building some new stairs. Dad’s eyes got pretty big too when he saw me, and he had to go out the back door and come up from around back to greet me…or maybe I went around back. Whatever, I was home, just in time for my dad’s 43rd birthday.
I think my time in the United States Army and South Vietnam changed me in ways I cannot even comprehend. I do know that I became much more focused on other people and their thoughts and actions. I became more aware of this planet Earth, and realized that most citizens of this country don’t know what they’ve got and how lucky they are to have been born here. Things taken for granted here are not even on the horizon for a huge percentage of Earth’s inhabitants.
Things haven’t changed much, or so it seems sometimes……………
Syracuse VA Hospital Resident
I’m a Vietnam veteran originally from Buffalo. We signed up because it was our patriotic duty. We thought we’d go be in the war like John Wayne.
I watched the whole series. I felt a very indescribable sadness, starting out from the top with the political leaders down to the last man that left Vietnam. As an Amerasian orphan, one of the children of the American soldiers left behind to endure the war effects long after the war ended, until I came to America in 1991. There are few of the Americans left in Vietnam but the most important ones are the sons and daughters of American soldiers. I really hope the U.S. government allows them to find a home in America to live out the rest of their lives without the humiliation they experience now as children of the enemy.
My Twilight Zone Story
I call this the story of my “Twilight Zone”, a show produced by Rod Sterling in the 1960’s. My story begins on February 8th 1967, the day I arrived in Vietnam. I had been selected to join the 1st battalion 9th marines in an infamous place called Khe Sahn near the Laotian border with North Vietnam.
My introduction to combat was immediate with my first patrol my second day. Nothing at all in my 4 ½ months of training could prepare you for the feeling of excitement and fear all in one. The first ten days was peaceful but nerve racking just the same. I started to send home letters, but as of two weeks I had not received any “incoming” mail.
My first taste of death came in the third week of patrols/ambushes. I ended up carrying the body of one of our squad leaders and had him airlifted to the rear. The experience of moving one of our marines that had died was one that I was going to be doing a lot of the next four months.
Two weeks later, March 14&15, I was wounded in a mortar attack that killed another nine marines and wounded another eleven of my friends. Our platoon spent the rest of the night carrying wounded and dead down the mountain. I spent a very sleepless night guarding the dead members of my platoon. Dawn could not come soon enough. Trying to recognize your friends after 24 hours in the 100° heat was nearly impossible. It is one scene from the “Twilight Zone” that will not leave me fifty years later. That was classified as the first hill fight at Khe Sahn.
The second “hill fight” was started again by my second platoon on April 24th. It ended up involving our entire company which lost another 75 killed/wounded in the two days. Other marines came in to replace us since we had so few marines left to fight.
We flew to Dong Ha, a headquarters for 9th marine regiment. We enjoyed our lone night “off the lines”, but with some replacements, we were off to Camp Carrol, another fire base nearby. “B” company ran long patrols/ambushes on a daily basis, rarely getting 3 or 4 hours sleep.
Our company then went to Contien, appropriately called the “Hill of Angels” because over forty years, over one thousand marines died in the immediate area. Being only two miles from the “DMZ”, the North Vietnamese were very accurate with their artillery/mortars at such a close distance.
My last episode of “The Twilight Zone” that was in country, started off innocently enough on the morning of July 2, 1967. It was nearly 95° at 10:30 when our “search/destroy” patrol headed north to the river (DMZ).
Being spread out so thin (120 men- normal co. strength 240 men) was not in a good tactical situation. After my squad leader (Sgt. Clopton) came by, it was the last time I saw him alive. Everything that was dangerous to our well-being erupted around us. Artillery, mortars, machine guns, rifles all opened up in the worst firefight imaginable, finding out later, our whole command group (5 officers, 4 enlisted men) met their deaths moments into the battle. We had trouble with our M-16’s jamming. Other marine companies were having similar problems. Told to “just clean them more”.
After what seemed like hours, I tried making contact with my fireteam. The overwhelming fire still had not diminished. I left my little depression in the ground and searched for my friends. Nothing was found. I then retraced where we had started, and ran into two marines from our 3rd platoon. I took up a position to cover their flanks. Shortly thereafter, one of the marines yelled out for a cleaning rod. I promptly broke mine out, but seconds later, a N. Vietnamese soldier sprayed down the trench line where we had set up. Having just a few seconds to recover, I picked up my M-16 and blew this soldier’s brains out. Checking the other two marines and realizing they were dead, I decided to keep heading in the direction we started.
Running through an open field, I encountered another shot (to my buttocks). Luckily, my rifle and helmet were within reach. I made it to a bomb crater where I took stock of my situation. It was very bleak to say the least. Bleeding from left arm, chest, and buttocks, going into shock and losing blood, I was about to resign myself that the bomb crater was where I was going to die. Being religious my entire life, I was saying the Lord’s Prayer. Still being alert enough to my surroundings, I heard and then saw a marine. God does work in mysterious ways.
He crawled down the crater and banded my arm and asked if I could walk. I told him I would follow – one way or the other. After weaving our way through brush fires, and enemy troops, we made our way back to where other marines from the company had set up a hasty perimeter to protect ourselves.
The next three or so hours were very hazy with shock, loss of blood and no water starting to take its toll on me and the other survivors. Our jets and our artillery were dropping ordnance very very close to us because the N. Vietnamese wanted to finish us off.
All of “B” company’s officers, and corpsmen were dead, along with all but 2 radios. Staff Sergeant Leon Burns took over the company and basically saved what was left of “B” company (15 in all). He was awarded the Navy Cross.
Sometime late afternoon, the wounded (some twenty of us) along with a few non-wounded, made it back (to the strip) where helo’s were to evacuate us. It took a few tries but, finally we (the wounded) made it back to Dong Ha (mash unit). All in all worse day-K.I.A.
I ended up at St. Alban’s Naval Hospital in Queens N.Y. I spent the next 4½ months recovering from the physical wounds. I would return to duty as a 0311 (rifleman) and was discharged 9-13-68 from Camp LeJeune.
If by chance you meet a combat veteran from any war and they seem a little distant or not quite all there, be a little patient with them because like myself, they are still …”in the Twilight Zone”.
WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO
Nicholas C. Valenti
Central District Director, New York State Council
Vietnam Veterans of America
The Vietnam War was a war that confused the American peoples’ hatred of war, with the warrior. Demonstrators, wanting our government to change its interventionist policies in Southeast Asia, took their frustrations out on the men and women who were serving in our Armed Forces. When we signed a treaty, calling for our withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973, there wasn’t any big celebration in our streets.
It was more like a sigh of relief. There were no crowds greeting the returning men and women who had honorably served their country. It wasn’t until 1981, when our POWs were released from Iran, that the question was asked, why parades for the hostages but not for the Vietnam Veteran. Many veterans complained about the lack of recognition and appreciation for past national service.
Our men and women came home with medical problems from their exposure to Agent Orange. Many carried with them the psychological wounds of war – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); some turned to substance abuse as a way of coping with what they had seen and what they needed to do to come home alive. Others suffered from mental health disorders. Still more had Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). In the end, they found themselves alone, abandoned by the very nation they had served. The Veterans Administration failed miserably, often times, seemingly uncaring. All of this took a heavy toll on our veterans.
The time spent by our warriors serving in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, the air space, land and contiguous waters of Vietnam meant very little to other long established National Veteran Organizations. Somehow the sacrifices of these men and women, their service in a combat zone held less meaning. The sacrifices of 58,315 plus dead with another approximately 1,606 missing was somehow not worthy of recognition. Vietnam Veterans with all of their dead, missing, wounded and carrying psychological scars from having served were not to have many of their needs addressed.
Agent Orange, was not only killing our service men and women who were exposed, it was also affecting the health of their children and grandchildren. And still no one came forward to help. We needed to form our own veteran organization to advocate for ourselves, our spouses, our children and our grandchildren. We then took it one step further, we needed to be sure that every veteran who came after us would not have to go through what the Vietnam Veteran went through. Our founding principle became “Never Again Will One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another.” We live by these words.
Since Vietnam, our country has found itself engaged with enemies all over the world. Our military men and women are exposed to many toxins. The effect of these toxins on the human body sometimes take years to manifest themselves. Now, through the efforts of Vietnam Veterans of America, there is a toxic exposure bill that will help them and their children. Now, we also have a much more responsive Veterans Administration who is looking with increasing attention at the mental health issues of our service personnel. All because we do not want to see another generation of veterans abandoned.
We are here to advocate for the warrior. Our allegiance is to no political party. We do not want another veteran to go through what the Vietnam Veteran did. Regardless of where you served, regardless of what your role was, regardless of your gender, we exist to speak for the warrior and his or her family.
To that end we are taking no position on this documentary. We hope that it is a fair and honest representation of what happened. We ask for nothing more.
MEMORY OF “THE WALL” by Patricia A. Valenti
On Thursday, June 1, 2017, my seven year old grandson, Rielly and I were at the high school in Port Byron, NY to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial referred to as “The Wall That Heals.”
Being an Associate member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter #704, I thought it would be a good learning experience for Rielly to find some of the names of the 27 young men from Cayuga County we had lost in the War.
Picking 5 poppies out of the 27 that we made for these young men we headed to “The Wall.”
Rielly and I found the 5 names on their respective panels. As we started to leave I realized 2 poppies had been dropped. A gentleman had found one and gave it back to us, but the second couldn’t be found. About 15 minutes later this same gentleman came up to me with the missing poppy. As he handed it to me he said his friend and school mate’s name (HM2 Claude Arthur Hodge) was on this particular poppy.
As he turned to go. I offered him the poppy. As he reached out for the poppy, with tears in his eyes, he nodded his thanks, turned and walked away.
I can only believe this meeting was meant to be so that the three (the unknown gentleman, a seven year old boy and his grandma) could all have a magical moment of learning and healing.
WHAT WE THINK ABOUT THE FILM “THE VIETNAM WAR” ?
Note: This was submitted by a member of the Syracuse Vietnamese community and South Vietnamese Army Veteran, after talking with others in the community who watched the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary series.
PREFACE: A half of a century has passed, the war’s speckled traces upon our Motherland Vietnam remain within our hearts’ dolorous reminiscences. Among those who have involved with the ups and downs of The Republic of Vietnam (1954-1975) we were very enthusiastic to watch the film “The Vietnam War” by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Not yet feeling easy for an acceptance of the brutal reality, what do we think about the film?
A French proverb noted:” La vérité n’est pas bonne à dire” ( the veracity isn’t good to say) but we are touching here to the truth of a war, the murderer, the destruction, the human unfortunate…Such bad veracities could not be kept in silence; standing indifferent is lack of conscience, want of benevolent character.
We appreciated the work of both film makers, deserving of congratulations. But the fraudulent tricks of powerful nations regardless the inspirations of small countries, the appearance then the dismissal of VIETNAM, our unfortunate “REPUBLIC OF THE CENTURY” rest within our heart a wound incurable.”The outcome of the Vietnam War was decided by the four big powers at the First Geneva Conference in 1954.”…Saigon or Hanoi was irrelevant to the outcome because, in this global chess game, Saigon and Hanoi were just pawns.”(The Vietnam War revisited by NG.NGOC TAN Ph.D).
DESPERATION ABOUT THE FILM
Reminding a history’ turning points of Vietnam seems broaching the dolor and repentance. For acquiesce the value of a history film related to a country, a people, the film makers must firstly be frank. The film, to me… lacks needed persuasion.. Perhaps, the both film-makers allege making so much the better atrocious war images to deeply daubed exciting antiwar demonstrations over the United States of America.
During 1967 to 1972, the earthquake crisis in America’ internal situation affected not less to the spirit of the troops who faced violent battles in Vietnam, all of these results from the America world press’ excitation. By awry judgments formed over a long time to disastrous consequences, the sacrifice of over 58,000 American fighters in the Vietnam War was disregarded, so the “coming home” of the Great Army also been forgot for 50 years. The film ever reminds us of this.
The War occurred and ravaged a small country that its people
and government with favor built The Republic, appreciated and in concord with the United Nations’ Charter. From low to high level, from sabotage to destruction before the indifferent attitude of powerful nations who unanimously signed the Geneva Agreement, Communist Vietnam with large supports from Russia and China freely executed step by step their tactics. Western nations reacted modestly and “patiently”.
About the United States of America, the July 04’ Independence Day spirit, once reached Vietnam kept no more the basic fundamental toward a closed ally since US involvement to the Vietnam War. Here we can surely excerpt President Kennedy’s address: “Now we have a problem in making our power credible, and Vietnam is the place” (Stanley Karnow: A history, the first complete Account of Vietnam at War, Page 247). The “test” led to the assassination of President Diem and his brother Nhu. The internal chaos spread throughout the country withstanding against an ideology war, the “double faces” of the Kennedy Administration mistaken in eliminating The Saigon Government. Following the brutal death of Diem and Nhu, 21 days later, President Kennedy also has been assassinated in Dallas. We don’t think the “test” of President Kennedy made error. To now, those events relating to the relation between the two allies, the USA and Vietnam rest forever totally quiet, without explanation.
Later, we apprehended gradually that the US policy toward VN began with the Kennedy administration continued successively to the last US President, Nixon, the twelve million people of the free South Vietnam were becoming an “arrangement upon dead bodies”! The war sought not peace but an exchange that communist profited.
Danang harbor in 1965) accepted the loss of over 58,000 brave combatants in battlefield, withdrawn for “honor restoring” (1973). The US government during the years 1967, 1968, 1969 had no patience been attacked by the world of press, inducing wholly the US people to ask the government “Bring home their sons” “ get out of the Vietnam War”.
Some more figures, for example, the reconnaissance of General Eisenhower to the “US. General Headquarters in Saigon” (the US Embassy), there were only 17 bộ đội ( Communist soldiers) surprise attacked on Tet offensive 1968 have killed 6 defense troops including 4 MsP. The scene presents “US is no more deserving a number 1 troops”, as commented by a communist officer who intents to insult the American with plenty of satisfaction.
More fierce battles disputing more hills like “Hamburger Hill”, more “Air-Raid” along the Ho chi Minh trail to destroy the infiltration of North Communist units, the US has applied all progress of science in testing the War in Vietnam. Without distinction on any image, it seems the film makers haven’t the kindness to support the US Army but intentionally to encourage the people demonstrations anti-war throughout the USA.
From South to North Vietnam, US Air Forces continued to devastate the Vietnam territory. In the North, we saw Jane Fonda seated friendly upon North Communist anti-aircraft defense’ tray, acclaims US Air-forces been down shoot To echo her propaganda we also saw the appearance of John Kerry, a deserter from Vietnam War exposed his feelings advocating the anti-war. In the South Vietnam, US troops commanded by Lieutenant Calley carried into effect a “massacre” of over 400 civilians “stupid and innocent” in My-Lai hamlet (Quang-ngai), images of US air- forces using napalm bombardment in Trãng Bàng… the picture of General Loan shot the VC Bảy Lóp in the fields… all this was good chance for the film makers exploited.
3-Vietnam the one of three principal forces of the named VIETNAM WAR, President Thieu and his vice President Kỳ, leaders of the Republic appear blurred and “dumb” while the ARVN (Army of the Republic Vietnam), the close ally “sharing the fire” side by side the US expeditionary forces seemingly engulfed!
Too many images of HochiMinh and his “comrades”, generals and VC commanders appear on the screen. They were “allowed” to appear unnecessary for other cause attesting other things not for the VIETNAM WAR . The film makers let them arrogantly boast their attack on 44 cities of the South profiting the short truce within the Tet offensive 1968. These savage VC excited their troops that “compatriots of the South would rising up unanimously to usurp the South regime”. Wicked images and barbarous words seem to be portrayed favorably. Why?
We don’t hear a comment from the film makers about the brutality, the inhuman massacre in Hue 1968 that Viet Cong (Vietnamese Communists) revenge the people of Hue for not responding to their attack during 26 days and nights.
I witnessed the tyranny barbarous VC in Hue. Personally, by helicopter I found about 500 civilian dead in Khe Da Mai, 15 km South Hue, a remote stream where VC shoot “à sans merci” their compatriots of the South! The film only showed the images without a comment attesting the great funeral of Hue in 1968 was from bloodthirsty VC, then deceived the public opinion with a film produced by Le Phuong Lan. The people of Hue are preparing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that massacre in 2018.
The Ap-Bac first skirmish, battalion level wasn’t a strength measure for heightening exorbitantly, more and more battles such as An-lộc, Khe-sanh, Quang-tri… the endeavor incessantly of the ARVN hence the US expeditionary forces withdrawn, the bravery fighting alone, short of supplies, deserve not to be advocated? What the intention used to broadcast the denigrated announcement from the mouth of a VC general:” If the American has been defeated, the “deceitful army of Saigon” could not get the difference, they also been defeated to their turn”. It is not right to lower down the ARVN combat spirit, a principal endeavor of the Vietnam War during terms of services successively of five US Presidents including the special phase “Vietnamisation Strategy” after the Paris Agreement!
4- Both film makers, partially in collecting then connected images anti-war for a “relay-race” to the duped and artful VC propaganda (a benefited economical exchange!). They have not an elementary knowledge about THE VIETNAM WAR really being an ideology struggle sourced from wicked and inhuman of the International community of Communism conspiracy to red-dyeing the wholly globe while the confederation of the Free World always showing “innocent”, concession making toward the adversary but with allies, promise broken and betrayed.
The film makers also don’t note the sacrifice of 5 generals and numerous officers and fighters of the ARVN on the last hours of the combat, expressing their loyalty toward the country, acquitted their responsibility without accomplished their duty. Why couldn’t their strength of character be represented? Doesn’t the bravery of the whole army deserve to be adored?
The film makers looked for documents of the North Communist while the war globally took places in the South. Was your intention to hide or reduce the North communist scheme to invade the South? Could you not have collected some from South Vietnam War Museum, even battle-field reporters surely they are right here in America?
5- President L.B. Johnson accused the US Press at that time: “telling falsehood as colossal liar”, so where can we find the occupation’s morality within a fine ideal deserving of adoring?
However, it wasn’t the US Press broadcasted no base but really relied on the government “double-faces” policy. In his book:”The Vietnam War revisited”, Edition 2012, Page 127, Ph.D. Nguyen-ngoc-Tan wrote: “Under the liberal/democrat administration of President Kennedy (1960-1963), the dominant pro-Soviet group wanted to turn Indochina into a neutral region to co-exist with the Soviet communists. Under the conservative/republican administration of Eisenhower (1954-1959) and Nixon and Ford (1969-1977), the dominant pro-China power brokers wanted to place Indochina into China’s sphere of influence. This was in order to establish a geopolitical balance, with the co-operation of China, to contain the Soviets. In both cases, US policy makers had no choice but to eliminate the nationalist government in Saigon.”
The unreasonable facts having no conscience were intolerant,
the bloodshed history pages of a small people dragged after dolorous circumstances, the sufferance remains eternally. The war itself is mediocre, although with any label, any purpose, the final takes ending by an exclamation mark! THE VIETNAM WAR is more tragic. A poor country that tiny people throughout a thousand years building, consolidating with bones and blood, been gripped into powerful nations dishonest remains no victory no defeat in the result! Think over the comment of Vo-van-Kiet, former PM of Hanoi, the feelings catch pain:”The war concludes, a million people laugh, also a million others weep”
Over forty years since 1975 the Vietnam War took end. More an agreement tyrannized from power nations upon a small country and…. the Republic of Vietnam totally vanished. The Free Vietnamese are dispersed throughout the World. About 1990, the Soviet Union disintegrated after the Cold War. The International Communism some like been contracted but the “Sleeping Lion China” awoke and “with aid” of the economical “Marshall Plan” continuously expending, the new misfortune cause appears ahead! We see beforehand our poor Vietnam is on the way to be oppressed by savage Red China! Who is at fault? Very clear, that was the consequences of THE VIETNAM WAR, an ending justified the innocence and the dishonesty between alliances.
“The United States did not come to Vietnam to seek a military victory, but it sought a diplomatic victory to open China to the West for the sake of peace for Asia and for World peace.”
From President Kennedy administration to the last President Nixon with the “talented “to go about at night” Henry Kissinger: “breakfast in Washington, dinner in Peking”, this murdered shuttle has had decided the somber future of Vietnamese!
Thousand to ten thousand written pages witnessed the Vietnam War history would not be adequate. A film presented within 18 hours, with chosen “faithful facts” and very “loyal images”,
“repeated time to time” with intention “to revile”, “to stab in the soldier’s back” cannot convince the genuine judgment. We sincerely thank the film makers for their good intentions to say the truth about the disastrous war that our Vietnamese people endured during decades but sorry, without hesitation we can say that the film makers are aslo sometimes frivolous, short of knowledge about war, especially THE VIETNAM WAR. Please to remind: arms and ammunitions always follow a political solution “arrogant and inhuman”.
Finely, as an ARVN Veteran who stood side by side with the US troops fighting against aggressive Communists since this great forces involved to the VIETNAM WAR in 1965, we don’t agree the “partial attitude” that both film makers, without conscience “to sell their soul to devils VC” au lieu of gaining sympathy .
October 04, 2017
I am a Camden (NY) High School graduate. Like many, I enlisted in the military to escape poverty. Because of the military I was able to earn a degree in engineering and see my childhood dream of becoming an airline pilot come to pass, but that was after service in the Vietnam War.
In November, of 1967 “Intel” came down saying that bases in South Vietnam would be hit hard during the holiday season called TET – and we were. The three things that stick in my mind were the incredible noise of non-stop machine gun fire for three days, how difficult it was to stand as we were up to our ankles in spent brass, and how badly our eyes burned from gun smoke. Shortly after, I went to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, my first time there. Its beauty and the way the Filipino people treated me with love and kindness touched my 19-year-old heart for a lifetime. Over 40 years later I married a beautiful Filipino. On a recent visit there I threw an ice cream party for some Filipino children and took another group of kids who have little in life to Jollibee, the equivalent of McDonalds or Burger King. I also have been financially supporting a little girl so she can go to school. I am so grateful I am able to give back to a country and people who gave me so much when I needed it the most.
It is no secret how we as Vietnam vets were treated when we returned. Criminal comes close to describing the treatment. I am so grateful that because of my generation vets are treated now with respect and appreciation; as it always should have been. As someone diagnosed with PTSD, I can assure anyone that it is no joke, but therapy has helped both my wife and me to deal with it. For the last six years I have worked full time as a stand- up comedian. Though I do well and have had my fair share of standing ovations it is performing for the military I am the most proud of. I touch on things no other comedian can: fire fight with the enemy, PTSD, coming home from deployment etc. and being told time and time again, that it is “like being entertained by one of our own” – a compliment that I treasure.
Gordie and Dan
Twenty-five years ago, when Gordie and Dan of VVA Chapter 103 and Dan started a weekly breakfast club for Vietnam veterans in the Syracuse, NY area, just 5 or 6 people gathered. Today, anywhere from 12-20 veterans gather at the same restaurant every Thursday morning. The group is a way to informally discuss issues of importance to veterans, help each other out, and even advocate for those issues with the occasional politician who sits down with them for conversation over coffee. “Breakfast together is like a group meeting. But there’s a level of trust among us based on our experiences and because we are part of the less than 1% of Americans who have served in the military,” explained one club member. What do these veterans wish for? “We are the first generation of veterans that said no other generations of veterans should go through what we did, and we work every day to make sure that is true,” Gordie stated firmly. Other voices wanted more understanding, research, and care for homeless veterans, victims of Agent Orange, and incarcerated veterans, many of them in jail due to PTSD. They explain that there is a still a lack of understanding about PTSD, even in the military. But not around the length of the several tables slid together to accommodate the group, where those who struggle with PTSD openly share examples of its triggers…words, actions, even smells…because they trust their brothers in arms to understand.
The Women Proudly Served Women’s Coffee Morning
The Women Proudly Served program at Clear Path for Veterans hosts a monthly Women’s Coffee Morning, where coffee and tea, proudly donated by FoJo Beans, LLC, a Veteran-owned local coffee roaster. Open to Veteran women and women in the community, the conversation is relaxed. Some veterans in this group learned they live just a few streets from one another; others shared what it was like to be in the military in the 1990s; and yet another spoke of her family history, part of which is captured in the book, The Medic and the Mama-san, written by her dad, a Vietnam veteran who met his Vietnamese wife while on duty. The frustrating experience of getting Vietnamese family members out of Vietnam to America, the cultural differences, and the sometimes feeling on the part of both her parents that they did not quite fit anywhere were some of the aspects of the amazing story she shared.
Through the Eyes of Those Who Lived It: The Vietnam War
Over cups of Vietnamese coffee, a group of South Vietnamese living in Syracuse, New York began their critique of The Vietnam War with a compliment to the filmmakers, who they could see tried to do a good job. But the usually quiet women were eager to say more. “The film did not show what it was like for us women and our families, to live in fear for years. Between the hours of 9 am to 3 pm were the safest to leave our homes but that didn’t mean that it was SAFE. We never knew if someone was going to come and take us or hurt or kill us. We didn’t sleep much. The barking of a dog in the night could mean danger, even death.” The veteran soldiers in the group said, “the filmmakers did not show what life was like for us as South Vietnamese soldiers. Some of the life of the Viet Cong we saw, but so little about us.” “And the showing of the picture of the man being killed…that turned people against the South Vietnamese, made us look bad. Years later the man who took the picture came and apologized but too late.” The series should have included more on the travesty of the Amerasian children left behind and how the end of the war only signaled more pain for the South Vietnamese people. They were treated poorly, were in concentration-like camps, and many South Vietnamese leaders committed suicide.
Drafted into service right after Christmas January 6th of 1966 spent basic training at Ft. Dix New Jersey then sent to Ft Sam Houston Medical School. I then signed up for air borne training at Ft. Benning Georgia. Wasn’t long before I was shipped to Cam Rahn Bay for assignment.
My unit 173 had taken severe casualties and were waiting form replacements. Being a field medic with experienceI was sent to Lai Khe to fill vacacines in their Medical Team. This was a line unit legs they are called since they are not air borne qualified. They definitely had a place for me! Recon which at first was hard to adjust to. Long hours night am busy patrols search and destroy missions into heavily enemy occupied areas. We took casualties daily it seemed and you never knew when your time was up! Just trying to remember those you evacuated out or put in body bags was more than you could bear. Being a dairy farmer from upstateNew York I was used to long hours and hard work but this was mentally draining My first KIA was Sargent First Class Robert Emro who was like a father to me and took me under his wings like a child. He only had months left to retire after serving in Korea as well. A sniper shot him through the right side of his skull. He died instantly. He was only 10 feet away from me at the time. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Watching a fellow soldier die makes you angry wanting to kill with no remorse. Booby traps were quite frequently tripped causing many scrapnel wounds of all kinds. One thing for sure you were always busy. Lai-Khe was home of Big Red one who are based at Ft. Reilly Kansas. A Great Infantry Unit well trained and gets its missions done with the fewest casualties possible. I must say if it wasn’t for the excellent trading from our drill Sargent in basic and air training many of us wouldn’t be Here. They deserve a lot more credit then they get. Hands on training from Doctors at Ft.
Sam Houston Medical School was a great asset. Trying to forget all those horrific days are hard. We were over-run by North Vietnamese Regulars 17th of June 1967 we suffered massive casualties and loss of life. I was hit with shrapnel patching up a fellow Comrad but continued to administer medical treatment for our wounded . We were firing point blank range at enemy soldiers inflicting heavy casualties. Seems like it was never ending day in and day out continuous battle. Just time enough to resupply and off on another chopper ride to who knows where. The words to Hell and back were so True. My big question still remains WHY. For years the war affected my married life not quite sure at times where I was always thinking of traumatic instances. Trying to kill my thoughts by drinking or smoking weed. Only problem was it’s short lived. Gone today back tomorrow. Really a who am I deal. I felt abandoned once I got out of the service. Most people considered us killers or worse other veterans calling us losers. I can happily say finally I’ve married my soulmate turned my life over to Jesus Christ and can sleep peacefully again. Unfortunately my family had to suffer the many years of my being other than a father!
The locations, dates and times are listed below:
Weds. September 13 @ 6:30 p.m. – Skaneateles Library, Skaneateles
Thursday, September 14: 10:30 a.m. – The Onondaga County Central Library, Syracuse
Thursday, September 14: 2:30 p.m. – Maxwell Memorial Library, Camillus. Space is limited, please register on the library’s website at: www.maxwellmemoriallibrary.org
Thursday, September 14: 7:00 p.m. – Cayuga Community College’s Bisgrove Theater, Auburn
Saturday, September 16: 2:30 p.m. – Paine Library, Syracuse
Thursday, November 9: 6:30 p.m. – Liverpool Library, Liverpool
Funding provided by: Members of The Better Angels Society; Bank of America; Corporation for Public Broadcasting; PBS; 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; and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.