So we have been watching the Vietnam War documentaries by Ken Burns. It has been absolutely fascinating. In the first episode I learned a lot more about the history of conflict in Vietnan and of Ho Chi Minh. Since I learned more about the leadership of the North Vietnamese government and the origins of the Viet Cong. I learned of the incredible intelligence failures that led to our further entry into this conflict. I learned more about the incredible lies President Johnson told the American people and the influence Richard Nixon had on secretly delaying the peace talks to get himself elected. I have learned more of the specifics of the Tet offensive, Hamburger Hill, and the My Lai massacre. This has all been quite amazing to me. I do like the veterans and widows stating multiple times that they fought to preserve the rights of the protesters to protest even if they do not agree with them. The last episode airs tonight. We are a day behind though because I could not watch it at work on Tuesday.
I did notice on the episode we watched last night that there was fake chest compressions being given for CPR. I know there was fake and recreated footage submitted by the media during the war which is what I suspect this was but not sure how much made it into this documentary.
My childhood up until age 10 was during this war. But I did not know a lot about it. A little later I learned about it from Doonesbury cartoon, saving my money to buy his books (which I still have). I knew my step father was there, but he had not really talked about it. And I remember meeting my uncle with the rest of the family when he got off the plane coming back from Vietnam.
Recently I have been more interested in learning about it. I had my step father tell me about his experiences and show me some of the multitude of photos he took over there. He was an Army photographer. Among other things he took photos of the helicopters after they crashed. He would do this from helicopters and from the ground. He would be shot at doing this. Two men in his photography unit were killed during this time. I have since read A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan on his advice. I read another book about photographers killed in the conflict.
I kept my uncle’s gear from the war. Here it is:
Here is his treating shovel.
This is his helmet. I just today realized that the slices on top are to put foliage in.
Here are some bags and straps. I am not sure what the bags are for, if they are for rations or ammunition.
Here is a sleeping bag, pack frame and gear bag.
Here is the tent. It is quite hot to be in, even at 70 degrees. I cannot imagine what it would be like in Vietnam.
We are not quite sure what this is. We thought it was a rain fly for the tent but it has way too many snaps and an odd shape for that. I must be a cover for something.
Now we are pretty sure that the tent, helmet and trenching tool were his in the war. The rest of the gear is of that era so we think it was his as well. I would love to have people clarify what was his and what wasn’t and the uses of some of the items.
So that is my experience of Vietnam. I am so glad this documentary aired now and and hoping it helps us understand it better and learn from our history.
I do want to say that I am incredibly proud of my step dad. He is the bravest man I know.
PS. a few things I want to add after viewing the last episode and remembering more:
I remember having a McGovern billboard near my neighborhood in Burien as a child. Remember even then wondering why anyone would vote forNixon for a second term.
I remember the Vietnamese refugee children being escorted past us in the smoking area of Bellevue High School to their classes and wondering about them, but never getting the chance to interact with them in any way.
Finally, I have visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC twice. Both times I was inexplicable brought to tears. This memorial is the most powerful one I have ever visited. I am not sure what it is about it, but it really brings it to you. I would recommend everyone in this country go there. I will now need to go back and look for the names of Haley, Gilbertson and Vann.
PPS. Here is my uncle’s response:
“When I was drafted I signed up for another year to be a supply specialist/armorer including more time in the reserves. After returning I was stationed at Fort Lewis for a year. The supply sergeant there made sure when I left active duty that I had all the equipment required if I was ever called back in. I never was. Mom asked me a few times to take it but last thing I needed was shipping it across America. It was a helmet, ammunition packs, backpack, tent, sleeping bag, shovel and rucksack to throw in the back of a truck to survive time in the field.”
So these are his supplies.