The Vietnam War – A Review Of Sorts And A Personal Perspective

Sorry folks, there will be nothing about birds from me today. In my view this takes precedence.

For most evenings in the past week I’ve literally immersed myself in “The Vietnam War”, a new series on PBS from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Over the years Burns has produced many superb documentaries but this is his most ambitious and darkest yet. Production took ten years at a cost of $30 million and it shows in its absolute brilliance. I’ve been watching it online and so far I’ve almost finished the first five episodes.

This is a unique and very personal post. The Vietnam War years were highly traumatic and stressful for me and I didn’t even serve in the military (so I’m certainly not equating my experience with those who did). I was vehemently opposed to that damned war from the beginning but it was my generation that was being called to serve. I was dead-set on not supporting it in any way and that included fighting over there but that was the source of my dilemma and the resulting stress. My father was a WWII veteran who participated as an infantryman in the invasion of Okinawa and my admiration of his service and that of others like him was and is boundless (the “greatest generation” certainly earned that moniker). So I was deeply torn but I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the Vietnam War. Thankfully both of my parents supported me in my views.

I turned 18 shortly before I graduated from high school in early June of 1965. Very soon I found myself on a bus, along with every other male that age in Glacier County, Montana, headed to Butte for my military physical exam. After I leaned over and coughed for the doctor (I’m about to tell you more than you want to know) he asked me “How long have you had those piles, son?”.  Hell, I didn’t even know what piles were but he explained that they were hemorrhoids (which I didn’t know I had). Then the subject was dropped and I didn’t think much more about it.

After a wild and crazy night in Butte (imagine 18 year olds in a wide-open Montana mining town like Butte) we arrived home and soon after I got my 1-A (“available for unrestricted military service”) classification in the mail. But I was about to enter college and as soon as I did I received a student deferment.

Long story a little shorter:

  • I got married during my junior year in college but by then marriage didn’t exempt you from service so I figured I’d likely be called up if I dropped out of college or when I graduated
  • I’ve had back problems for as long as I can remember (partly due to moderate scoliosis that I didn’t know I had until years later) and that may have been the reason that several years later they reclassified me as I-Y (“qualified for service only in time of war or national emergency”). It came out of the blue and they didn’t tell me why they changed it but as far as I knew Vietnam was a war so it didn’t make much difference
  • But the game changed when the Selective Service System instituted a draft lottery in early 1969. The lottery drew 365 numbers, one for every day in the year and if you were born on that day you were called up in that order. No one knew how far on that list they would eventually have to go to meet their quota so for the next several years I just sweated it out.
  • And then, a miracle that I still can’t explain and once again it came out of the blue – an unexpected reclassification to 4-F (“not acceptable for military service for physical, mental or moral standards”). I’ve always suspected my new classification was due to either my back problems or my “piles” or both but I sure as hell wasn’t going to rattle their chain and ask them why so I still don’t know.
  • And it turns out that I didn’t have to worry about being drafted anyway. My draft number was 197 and they only made it to 195 when the war ended and the draft was discontinued (here’s a few other draft lottery numbers that might be of interest – Bill Clinton 311, George W. Bush 327, Donald Trump 356, Bruce Springsteen 119).

 

 

This is a photo of me, my wife Mary Lee and our daughter Shannon in early 1973, taken very shortly after both the Vietnam War and the draft ended. Any photo of me from that era reminds me of all the worry and stress and those thousands of daily trips to the mailbox where my hands were trembling for fear of what I’d find from my draft board. And then there was the guilt – some of my friends and classmates served in Vietnam and one of them, Jack Petrie, was killed in combat. Why him and not me or one of my other friends? – the inequity of it all could be overwhelming so I tried not to think about it, often unsuccessfully.

 

 

This is what’s left of my final draft card with the coveted 4-F on it. It spent at least a decade in my wallet so by the time I put it away for safekeeping it was half worn away and extremely fragile. To this day it’s hard for me to even look at it for the memories it brings back.

 

So my point in all this is to encourage others to watch “The Vietnam War”. Doing so will likely be deeply disturbing and for me it hasn’t been easy but I feel an absolute obligation to watch it. The lessons to be learned from that war are absolutely critical for our well-being and even our survival. Our politicians lied to us back then just as they’re doing today so we need to make informed decisions and think critically about their potential consequences instead of swallowing the party line and believing self-serving politicians whose primary objectives are to promote partisan objectives and/or be reelected. I’m a life-long Democrat and progressive but even though I admired him in most ways I’ll never forgive Lyndon Johnson for his lies about the Vietnam War and his betrayal of the American people.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Ron

PS – If you watch “The Vietnam War” online you have the option of choosing the “broadcast version” or the “explicit language version”. I recommend the latter.

 

 

 

79 comments to The Vietnam War – A Review Of Sorts And A Personal Perspective

  • Troy DeMill

    Thanks for this discussion Ron. My undergraduate degree was in History because I can’t get enough of it. It’s important to gather information from as many sources as possible in formulating an opinion on subjects. The “hard sciences” seem so black and white/right and wrong. There is rarely a clear right and wrong in viewing events, but this war makes it hard to see much right about it. The feared domino effect ended up being one bad policy leading to another and another. I appreciate how Ken Burns has gathered so many interviews from North Vietnamese soldiers to provide their views and consequences of each battle and policy. Even reading on here each person’s replies and views of the war add to a greater understanding and appreciation of the past. So glad I was young enough to just be a sector to this.

  • Art

    Ron,
    Thanks for your courage and conviction to share this very personal story with us and the world. You normally work hard to keep politics and world events out of your nature blog but, today, I am glad you didn’t. The world and more importantly us humans who inhabit it need to stand up and say NO to the current trends of our leaders to inflict pain and suffering on the rest of us and the animals and plants that we are responsible for.
    Good on ya, mister!
    – Art

  • I’m a wee bit younger (61 baby) but I do remember the Vietnam War. One of my high school teachers (civics, actually) made sure we knew what was going on. He was opposed to it as well. I hate what our country did to the vets though. I wish we’d been better to them as they were just doing what they were told to do. It’s a hard time for our country. I didn’t know anyone who died in it (due to my age I’m sure) but I remember vividly how it affected the world. And I am what they call in the south, a yellow dog Democrat. So here’s to that! 😀 This was a very powerful piece of writing and I’m very glad you took the risk to share it.

    • “I’m very glad you took the risk to share it”

      I appreciate that, Arwen. I was a little nervous about posting it.

      • Laura Culley

        I’m with Arwen. I applaud that you took the risk to share your story. I also appreciate all the replies, others sharing their stories, too. One of the things we all need to remember is that there is no one monolithic perspective. Like it or not, we are all different, with different experiential realities and different worldviews. Different is not a bad thing–it’s just different and we need to respect and try to understand each other’s viewpoints and try to see things through each other’s eyes. It’s not necessary to agree with differing viewpoints, but they each deserve our respect and consideration. Stepping down from my soapbox now, hoping not to stumble over the darn thing 🙂

  • Laura Culley

    Thank you for your post and for all of you who replied, sharing deeply personal memories. I haven’t yet started watching the series–I’m still recovering from the MS update, and combined with spotty Internet service, well… I will watch it, though, despite that I know it will be psychologically painful.
    For whatever reason, war has NEVER made any sense to me, especially in how it’s waged. Such a horrific waste in every way imaginable. If I were Queen of the World, wars would be waged differently. Instead of sending in the newest generation, I think it would be far more productive to send the leaders of the combatant countries into a room, let them fight it out and let us know who won. But then, even that idea would have unintended consequences, mostly in terms of the qualities and characteristics used in choosing leaders, but it could cut down on the number of lifelong despots–yin and yang. I digress.
    You might be able to guess that I was a protestor during that war. While I had NO disagreement with the reasons for WWII, Korea (where my father served) and Vietnam were completely different situations. I marched and wrote letters and did everything I could do within my abilities in a non-violent way to end the atrocities. Although I wasn’t a student there, I ended up at Kent State University on the night of the ROTC building burnings to pick up my boyfriend–not as a participant. That wasn’t my way of doing things. I chose against traveling to Kent on the day of the shootings on May 4, 1970 (yes, I’ll remember that date for the remainder of my life) and I’m horrified to this day about how that day ended. My objections to the war drove a deep division between me and my father that hadn’t healed before his sudden death in 1974. I COULD have gone to Woodstock instead, but NO.
    I believe we’re stumbling toward another, far more dangerous war right now. No, we haven’t learned anything beyond how to destroy our world far more effectively than ever before. And as in every other war in our history since the dawn of time, there will be no winners, only losers and moneymakers. And should we survive this one, we won’t have learned a damned thing again. I weep for our future.

    • You are not weeping alone. I suspect our tears could create new oceans.

    • I agree with virtually everything you’ve said here, Laura. We’re in a sad state of affairs…

      Kent State was a tragic day in our history!

      • Laura Culley

        Several bad things came out of that era. Specifically on May 4, 1970, we lost our right to assemble and protest without legal repercussions. Oh it wasn’t immediate and there were other issues like the militarization of the police, but that was the day that a big chunk of our rights cracked and ultimately fell off the Constitution. The words are still there on paper, but the reality is that our rights have been significantly eroded. So many other erosions happened that day.
        The other thing is that following the shootings at Kent State, the city of Kent and other small communities surrounding it polarized immediately. There was no middle ground within hours of what happened. I drove a white ’61 Chevy convertible at that time and I’d painted a peace sign with a flag inside with the words “Legalize Freedom” below it on the trunk of my car. That inspired the Kent police to try to arrest me when I drove into Kent a couple of days later. They couldn’t but they TRIED!
        About two weeks later, I traded my convertible for a ’61 Chevy station wagon, loaded it up with my German shepherd and her 11 puppies (born throughout the night of the ROTC building burnings, and took off. I did three laps of Akron (around the loop), then decided to head west. I ended up in Denver and that’s a whole ‘nother story 🙂

  • Steven E Hunnicutt

    Put to Rest means just that. Learn from our mistakes, my answer is, War is a business, so there is no learning, money is the driving force. As a vet, people have been trying to undo the treatment we received coming home. We removed our uniforms as not to offend anyone. This can never be undone. More respect shown to those who came home from Canada, then the returning vet. As for Burns, each one of us can tell you what we saw and what we did, each story is different. I tell people you know the name of the country, might know where it is located, but you do not know the war, you had to be there. So this is my opinion and therefore will not relive what I lived for real.. If those who never went for what ever reason enjoy watching this, that is great. I will live with this thought, there are 58,400+ names on the wall, how do you tell them Thanks and it was wrong what we did to you. Can’t.

    • I agree, Steven – apologizing for what was done just doesn’t cut it and many who were involved won’t even do that. And it’s much too late to apologize to the dead.

      So other folks reading this know, Steven’s comment here was in response to what I said in response to his first comment below.

  • Jean Haley

    Love the family photo Ron. Very sweet. Your Daughter was a beautiful baby, and still is beautiful. I thought I was a bit older then you, but you have me beat me by 3 years. I too lost a good friend, and neighbor due to the war. We went to the same Church. I was thinking the Viet Nam war a couple of days ago. I had mixed feeling about the war, but one thing I still find upsetting is how our Soldiers were treated when they came home. So wrong, and sad. The community I live in are in the process of building Apartments for homeless Veterans. The project will be completed next year. I was thrilled when I read this was happening.

    • Jean, these days I feel like I’m older than EVERYBODY!

      I agree about how many (if not most) of our returning soldiers were treated when they returned from Vietnam. I hope there’s lots of folks out there who have matured enough by now that they hang their heads in shame whenever they remember what they did to our returning servicemen and women.

  • Nicole

    When this current government was “elected”, and I place that in quotes because I am uncertain if the veracity of the result, I decided I needed to learn more about our history, government, the constitution, etc. hence, I signed up for Political
    Science 101 at the commmunity college – boy do we learn a lot in every 3 hour session…for example – in 1968, young men could not vote, but could be called to fight in the Vietnam
    War… that changed in 1972 – when the voting age was reduced fro
    21 to 18. And we haven’t had a draft since! My history teacher in high school was dying of AIDS (1990/1991) and our subs demanded that we “read the book” – we had no lessons, no tests, no homework…

    • Nicole, I remember those days when we could be drafted but not vote. It became a contentious issue during the early years of the war, that’s for sure. I turned 21 in 68 and I sure as hell voted.

  • Thanks for your important post today Ron. I’m a bit older than you, so when I dropped out of college I joined the Air Force to avoid the war (1964-68) and with my good scores in the basic training classes, I was able to select Medical Lab Tech for my next school in Alabama, followed by an internship in Maryland, then “permanent party” in Texas. Some of my co-workers later sent me post cards from Vietnam, so timing was on my side – I was just lucky. I too supported Johnson but was never a war supporter, and regret his lies. I’ve only seen parts of the PBS program and it does look good. I’ll take your advice and watch it online when I have more time.

  • Hard to not be moved by the series. Especially since the conflict, as it was called, molded my consciousness for the rest of my life.
    Because I went to a private college my freshman year of college. When I transferred to Colorado State University for my sophomore year, my required Theology credits did not transfer, rendering me a freshman at CSU by two credit hours. The rule was you had to advance a grade per year to retain your deferment. When my number came up 24 in the first lottery in 1969, I was drafted out of school. My options at that point were limited to being a grunt in the Army and being cannon fodder, joining another service, or going to Canada. I respected those individuals who chose Canada, unlike a majority in the country. I believed it took a lot of courage/dedication to be that anti war, to leave everything behind and flee the insanity of the time. With my background, all of my uncles severed in WW2 and my father was in a sensitive government job during WW2 as well, channeled my decision to choose the Navy enlistment option. I enlisted 30 days before I was to be inducted.
    After bootcamp and Air traffic control school I was sent to Rhode Island where after 6 months my orders were frozen for the remainder of my enlistment. Cush duty by comparison to what you are seeing on the documentary, but not without its challenges. I had a front row seat to the Watergate fiasco, to the waste that occurs in our military, to the lies of my commanding officers, to the lies of our politicians. I was not a model sailor. When Nixon won reelection by a landslide, even with Watergate being exposed, he slashed the military in Massachusetts, the only state he lost, and Rhode Island, he only won by 1/10 of 1 % , I received a 4 month early out in November of 1973. The conflict continued for another 2 years.
    The first time I was thanked for my service was in 2012.
    However painful this series is to watch, everyone should.
    Thanks for posting this, Ron.

    • “The first time I was thanked for my service was in 2012”

      That says a whole lot, Neil. Well, I thank you for your service and I do so sincerely.

      The rigidity of the system really screwed you over because of the non transfer of those credits. I too had some credits that didn’t transfer (from a CA junior college to the U of U) but it didn’t affect my classification. Not sure why…

  • Patty Chadwick

    As for your draft card fragment…I hope you frame it and give it to your handsome grandson…

  • Kent Patrick-Riley

    I too was a young man whose early adulthood was hugely impacted by the war. In the mid 1960s it sounded like the right thing — we all didn’t want another totalitarian regime ideology to sweep the world. But that shortly changed as we learned that our leaders, on both sides of the political spectrum, couldn’t be trusted with sound judgement, honesty, or a true vision for ending the war. My number in the lottery was 47, so I was resigned to either being a CO or going to Canada. When I went for my physical, they asked if I had any mental issues or objections that would keep me from serving. Having known friends who had served there and heard their horror stories of incompetent commanders sending them and their friends to death or injury for no sound military reason, I said if I was given a command I disagreed with I wouldn’t do it, and would even shoot a commander if it was necessary. Just like in “Alice’s restaurant” The army psychiatricist pounded his fist on the desk and said “You are just the kind of man we need!” It seems that since I had hunted since a young kid in Colorado, he though it would be easy to channel my rifle towards the target of the day. I was classified 1A in later December of 1971 and only avoided the dreaded decision by Nixon putting a temporary halt to the draft at the end of 1971 and so my number rolled over to the end of future lists. To this day I’m so sorry for my friends who died or have carried pschological or physical scars from the war, for the people of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos whose lives were ended or ruined, for the protesters who bravely stood up and often suffered, and for our country which was so divided by the war. Thanks for the post.

    • Wow, that’s quite a story, Kent!

      It’s funny that I don’t remember them asking me questions like that during my exam but they probably did. But then the party that night might have affected my memory both before and after… 🙂

  • Patty Chadwick

    Do we ever learn from our mistakes??? I would like to think so…I would like to believe that studying history serves as a preventiative to making similar mistakes in the future…At 84, about to be 85 in Feb, I don’t think so…it only seems to cause great angst in those who see patterns, who see similarities, who analyze,those who think beyond parochial patriotism, arrogance, greed, and moronic machissmo. We have trump in the White House, shooting off his ugly mouth…escalating a war of words with another unbalanced world leader…We are letting him do it. What have we learned??? Where and how is this one going to end? Everyone talks about the Vietnam war–my husband was in the “forgotten war”–the Korean War. He has nightmares still, at least once a week. Several of my classmates died in that one. To me, war is so goddamned stupid and wasteful I have never been able to read about it, see a movie about it, or watch a TV program about it…it literally makes me sick.
    I can empathize with the hell you and so many others went through–waiting to be “called up”. I remember my 4 yr. old son, who seldom cried about anything, sobbing one night because his old sister had just told him she was glad she wasn’t a boy because she wouldn’t have to go to war and he would. I told him hecwouldn’t, we’d move to Canada and I meant it.
    Bless Ken Burns for using the power of his incredible integrity and talent to try. Will the “president” learn anything from this? I doubt it…He is, has always been, a “non-learner”. He probably won’t even watch…will label it “liberal”, “fake news”(let’s stop using that assinine term and call it what it is LIES–something he is a master at disseminating). He is too ignorant, too egostical, too stupid to leafn much of anything..
    Maybe, when the old men who send the young to fight, to be injured, maimed, killed, are the ones to go themselves, this idiocy will finally end…Don’t hold your breath.

    • Patty Chadwick

      I recently spent 6 days in the hospital…dangerously high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar…it would literally be dangerous for me to watch…am supposed to avoid stress at all costs, and absolutely forbidden to watch the great orange ignoranus and his coterie of destructive deplorables…this show would be high on the list of things to avoid.

      • Dick Harlow

        The old axiom of ” if you don’t learn from your mistakes you will repeat them,” holds true for Countries as well as individuals.

    • “Maybe, when the old men who send the young to fight, to be injured, maimed, killed, are the ones to go themselves, this idiocy will finally end”

      Patty, it hasn’t happened in the past so I doubt it will this time either.

      I was also scared out of my wits as a little kid because it was likely that I’d have to go to war someday. I remember as about a 6 year old that I wished I could have babies…

  • susan aka blue

    Thanks for your story today, Ron. As a young male in the draft lottery, your experience held more personal trepidation of course…but I appreciate and relate to your passion about this.
    I was involved in the anti war movement as a college student in the SF Bay Area. Every night we watched the bloody, brutal Vietnam war on the news and wept. Now as I watch The Vietnam War Ken Burns series, the emotions well up once again. It was so wrong. Friends left the country, fellow students I knew who before the exam did crazy, possibly dangerous things to their bodies so as to not pass the exam. My college mates who did get drafted shared horrible personal stories upon return, even the ones who went as gung ho soldiers. They were lied to. We all were lied to. Thankfully that anti-war movement was powerful.
    A few years ago I went to the Vietnam Memorial in DC to pay honor to the 58,220 US soldiers who died. We must remember that as many as 2 million Vietnamese were also killed. It was brutal and it was so wrong.

    We must always Question Authority.

    • I’d love to visit that memorial one day, Susan. I understand the experience is compelling and highly emotional.

      The high school where I taught often had over 2000 students. Every time I see that 58,220 death number from the Vietnam War I try to imagine 29 student bodies sacrificed for the lies of our politicians. Doing so puts it in very sad perspective for me…

  • Susan Stone

    I am not sure I could watch that documentary. It would be too much for me, especially on top of everything that’s happening in our country right now. At the same time I understand that there is a lot I could afford to learn from the documentary. I actually applied to the army in 1967 for their Occupational Therapy training program, and was rejected for what was then a minor hearing loss. It actually took me several years to get beyond the hurt of that seemingly senseless rejection (I wasn’t headed for combat). In retrospect I am grateful that they rejected me. I graduated high school in 1962 and had a number of classmates who had to fight in Vietnam. I know of one that didn’t come back. I have always felt that the war was in some respects (possibly all, if I knew more about it) a stupid undertaking, and have never had any issues with those who didn’t want to go. My husband dropped out of college and went into the army, but was fortunate to not have to go to Vietnam. His brother was there and extended his tour six months so my husband wouldn’t have to go. He and I are both grateful for that. I must say that the army was good for one thing with him: he realized he hated it, and that was what motivate him to become a teacher, a career he loved for 30 years. Like you, he has never quit teaching.

    • Susan, every time I sit down to watch more of it I’m not sure I can actually do it. It isn’t easy to endure, that’s for sure. And I’m sure that will happen again tonight when I attempt to watch the last third of episode 5.

      But after I finish a segment I’m always glad I stuck it out (except when it keeps me from sleeping…).

  • All three of my brothers were ‘called up’. For a variety of reasons (including football injuries) none of them served. For which I have always been grateful. Vietnam is yet another war we entered on your countries coat-tails. And one that I always thought was very, very wrong.
    My father was a German Jew. He didn’t/couldn’t talk about the war (to the best of our knowledge he was the only survivor from his family) but did say that there are never any winners. There are losers and those who lose more.

  • LS Clemens

    Totally agree with you!!! I’ve been watching…not wanting to experience the darkness, but knowing I need to. I lived in DC & participated in several anti-war demonstrations. And, when I watched “Platoon” with Willem Dafoe” I felt like I was in shock at the end, couldn’t get the Sound of those helicopters out of my head. and swore that if I ever had a son, would never let him go to war, would go to Canada with him. Experienced the wave of “boat people” being relocated to a new home…they were wonderful…hard workers who cooked delicious food! A friends Father, a military officer, started going to Vietnam on secret missions in the 1950s. Ken Burns & crew are masters! Everyone should watch this series!

    • LS, I studiously avoided ever watching Platoon. Shouldn’t have but I did.

      The high school where I started teaching received an inordinately high number of “boat people” as part of their student body. We had many, many ESL (English as a second language) classes and I always had great sympathy for the almost unimaginable hardships they had endured in their very short lives.

  • Betty Sturdevant

    I am watching the series as well. My generation was too young for WWII and too old for Vietnam. I know younger family members who served. At the time I was very against the war but I’m sure I was not as informed as I should have been. This documentary is confirming to me my attitude at that time was valid. I have always felt old men made war and your people paid the price. It is confounding to me that anyone can justify the loss of life paid by so many for such weak political reasons.

    Ken Burns and his company put their subjects in a very enlightened form and their principles are outstanding. This is a very pleasing conversation about a very difficult subject. I wonder if he will be around to analyse Our current conflicts. If so I hope I’ll also be around to get a better understanding.

    I was born and raised in Idaho and one our senators, Frank Church, was one of the early public figures to states his opposition to our being there. Thank you Ron for bringing this up and thanks for all the other comments.

    • “I wonder if he will be around to analyse Our current conflicts”

      I hope he is, Betty. Burns always does such an incredible job on his projects.

      I’ve always been a fervent admirer of Frank Church, especially when compared to our own congressional delegation from Utah.

  • April Olson

    My husband has been watching the series I have not talked to him about it, he too has a similar story to yours. He graduated from the U in 1969 and was promptly drafted, he refused to go and fought it out legally while staying in Utah. He later excepted an engineering job in Canada. His father was a WWII veteran, who served in the 10th Mountain Division. My husband had friends he grew up with who did not return from Vietnam. One who’s remains were recently finally found. He does not like to talk about it and was angry when I told our kids he was a draft dogger. Unlike you he and his family are staunch Republicans, I often wonder if he has conflict with his belief vs his political choice.

    • April, Your husband and I were at the U of U at the same time. I spent a fair amount of time in the engineering building because my best friend was studying engineering.

      Sooooo many conflicts of various kinds from that cursed war!

      • April Olson

        If you have a year book you can look up Jon Olson maybe you would recognize him. Ha, maybe I will find you in his!

        • Maybe your husband knew my friend – Wayne Kinder. He and his wife Cheryl were also from Cut Bank, MT. They lived in and “managed” the Campus Christian Center just off campus.

          I don’t have a yearbook – never could afford one.

      • Patty Chadwick

        ” so many conflicts” –today…between former friends, neighbors, family members…deep, painful divisions that may never be fully healed…I ache for my country…for what we have lost amd may lose in the future, for what have been have been….

  • Mark Amershek

    Ron – thank you for taking the step to recommend this PBS series on the Vietnam War (brought to you by…). It would be interesting to really figure out who this war actually profited the most. Money underlies all of modern warfare in one way or another. The Military Industrial Complex was first exposed by none other than Dwight Eisenhower – a multiple star general.
    I also graduated from high school in 1965 and began college that fall. I was and am a skeptical person and so I began to think about and study what was going on in far off Vietnam in 1966-67. I came to the very difficult decision to apply with the SS (Selective Service) in late 1966. It took my draft board several months to finally give me that status and accepting a two year commitment to public service. The other choice would have been to join the army as a medic – which I could not accept.
    The rest is history… And yes – we need to be aware of our history. The past 16 years have reinforced the notion that we have not learned our lesson well!

    • Mark, I guess there as many individual stories as there are those who lived through it and yours is another fascinating one.

      I learned to think critically in my first year or two of college. To this day I think that’s the most valuable aspect of my college education.

      • Mark Amershek

        Oops… I just checked and I forgot to mention my requested change of SS status. I went from a college deferment to one of 1-O Conscientious objector to all military service. A registrant must establish to the satisfaction of the board that his request for exemption from combatant and noncombatant military training and service in the Armed Forces is based upon moral, ethical or religious beliefs which play a significant role in his life and that his objection to participation in war is not confined to a particular war. The registrant is still required to serve in civilian alternative service.

  • Marty K

    I’ve watched almost all of the Ken Buns documentaries (the baseball one is my favorite so far). However, I’m not sure about watching this one. It hits a little close to home with respect to today’s world. I’ve been trying to avoid the news because the Chee-to in Charge just makes me so angry, as does the level of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, bigotry, intolerance, etc. under the guise of “religion” these days. My body just can’t cope with that kind of stress anymore.

    My dad was a Korean War vet, so I was a little young during Vietnam. I was still in school and our city became a haven for refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Some of my classmates refused to interact with these kids (more racism and division from the war and in some cases older siblings who had fought or had been injured, killed, or were MIA). I listened to the stories of what they and their families had been through to get out of harm’s way and felt amazed at their resilience in light of all they had endured and what they had to leave behind. A generation before, it had been my relatives fleeing Hitler (or for many, not being able to). The war ended shortly before my husband’s number would have been called as well.

    I need to end this on a lighter note — Shannon was an ADORABLE baby! And you were pretty hot stuff there yourself! I’ll bet some of your students had major crushes. 🙂

    • Marty, I almost stopped watching it after the third episode because it was so traumatic for me to relive all that stuff and then to learn even more about how we were deceived by the damned politicians. And it was heartbreaking to see what our soldiers had to endure. But in the end I felt compelled to go back. I just had to…

      Yes, Shannon was truly adorable and she still is today in every way you can imagine. I was only 4 years older than some of my students when I started teaching so yes, there could be awkward moments at times…

  • Jim Marsh

    I’ve long wondered about others of our generation with experiences like those you’ve recounted here. Just as few veterans–for many years–were reticent about their service time in Viet Nam, few of the non-vets I know speak much of their time here at home during the hottest years of that conflict. It seems to me this is a form of “collateral damage” at worst or a sad result of unintended consequences at the very least.

    Though I left HS a year later than you my experience was virtually identical but for some of the finer details. A noteworthy difference was that while I had early on decided America’s Viet Nam War wasn’t just bad policy but evil incarnate my parents were not supportive. And though they didn’t want me to serve in that war their experience in the WWII era meant they felt I HAD to go–without question–if called. My vocal & active opposition to the conflict created a level of friction between my father and I that I’d never known before. This antagonism caused my mother significant anguish as well. The result was almost a decade of uncharacteristic tension and discord between the three of us.

    But among its scars that war taught some lasting, useful, civics lessons as well. It made me just cynical enough to conclude no politician is to be trusted–ever. All must be held to a higher level of accountability than the rest of us since the ripples from their decisions ALWAYS carry far beyond their intended targets. The best we–down here in the rank and file–can do is vote to elect policy makers carefully and thoughtfully.

    Then we must hold their feet to the fire.

    Thanks for your timely, thoughtful post.

    • Wow, you said that so very well, Jim.

      I know of others where the family tensions caused by the war were truly heartbreaking. I’m so very grateful I had the support I did from my parents.

      If I’d have been called I’d have gone but very, very reluctantly and I’ll admit that the “Canada option” was one I seriously considered for a while.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. It’s important to talk about this, to compare what is happening now with what happened then, and apply lessons. We are DVR-ing the whole series to watch as soon as we have a chunk of time. Ken Burns is an amazing film maker. I didn’t graduate high school until 1977, so my peers missed being drafted to Vietnam, but I do remember a childhood full of news of that war and of protests and dissent. I remember the fall of Saigon. I remember conversation with my dad around the dinner table about war in general (he was also a WWII vet – Navy – went to the Pacific, Guam, Japan). Years later, when he was in his 80s and the US went to war in Iraq, we had one of the most amazing conversations we’d ever had in which he talked about the immorality of sending young people to war to die for the ideals of older leaders who will remain alive and healthy. I’ll never forget it.

    • Kathleen, I envy you your conversations with your dad. My own father was extremely reluctant to talk about the war and related subjects. He operated a flame thrower during the invasion of Okinawa so I was always reluctant to push the issue. If he were still alive today I’d push just a little bit harder though…

  • Alan Kearney

    Thanks for stepping up to this issue Ron. I’m a Vietnam vet, and the show is grueling for me. The last show of last week was the beginning of my tour, summer ’67, all hell breaks loose Sunday when TET is aired/dissected/analyzed. The depth and clarity of this show may be its most important aspect. Learning how deeply we were lied to, clear back to the ’50’s, was an eye opener!

    Listening to the Marine talk about how he’d killed his 1st, rattling him so he says “I’ll never kill another human”, but then explains his blind hatred for “slopes, chinks, gooks”, etc is some of the purist racism I’d ever watched. I don’t blame him one BIT for his attitude, he had to survive, that was the only way.

    As a Vet w/PTSD I’m entitled to attend ‘Group’ bitch sessions at the VA. Supposed to be therapy. I went to 1 meeting and never went back. The young man I’d sat next to, chatted with about jobs/life/wife/kids and joked with STARTLED me when he stood at the end during our comment section. He started by saying his only regret is he couldn’t continue to kill every freakin’ “rag head” he saw! He want to blow of the Tucson Mosque, sit outside and shoot people as they went in/out! The scariest part wasn’t that he was racists to the core, it was his unwavering belief that as a “Christian” he was SUPERIOR to everyone that isn’t WHITE! It was his DUTY!

    I refused to watch “Orange Julius” address the UN in total, but in the few clips I did see was a display not unlike the young GI’s display in group.
    I have to lay the blame for much, if not most, of the atrocities done by humans to human on organized religion, and the belief that one side is superior to all others.

    I truly wonder if my grandkids will have a future on this ball of dirt.

    • I ate up every word in your comment, Alan.

      That marine talking about how he’d never kill another Vietnamese after his first one (so as you mentioned he only killed “slopes, chinks and gooks” and he killed a lot of them) after he watched a friend being blown up by a land mine made a huge impression on me too. I’ve actually mentioned that particular segment to others.

      Thanks very much for your input.

      • Alan Kearney

        Ron, let me start by saying you don’t need to post this! When I start I get wound up I can’t stop, and this will get messy.

        Seems like from all the replies that I may have been the only kid young/stupid enough to signup for 4 years and volunteer for Vietnam ;`). I grew up in Connecticut, Irish dad born in 1901 and 1st Gen Italian mom, and we NEVER/EVER talked. We had a B&W TV but never watched the news about the conflict, or if we did I was oblivious. My dad worked for United Aircraft at the start of WWII and when the Navy came into his shop area (he was foreman) they told him he wasn’t going anywhere but back to work making propellers. He got me a job as soon as I turned 18, hoping it would defer me too. Not a chance.

        I was a terrible student, getting kicked from one school (Catholic back to public) from the 7th grade through HS. My options for college didn’t exist, we couldn’t have afforded it even if I was willing and able. By the time I realized I was bound for some branch of service all the “good ones” (Air Force/Coast Guard) had 3 yr waiting lists. I’m no dummy, just hated school, so when I scored a 99% on the Army aptitude test they offered me Officer Candidate School. I was aware that new lieutenants had some of the shortest life expectancies in Nam, so I picked door 2 – a four year commitment to Army Intel, communication surveillance/analysis. This was pre-satellites so the Army built their biggest listening post just south of Hue (a main topic Sunday I think;`) with over 2000 guys listening to everyone on that side of the planet! China, Russia, Vietnam, Australia, Japan, friend and foe alike, and they ALL “spoke” Morse Code. I was a “Traffic Analyst”, trying to make sense of who was talking to who. My group only listened to local VC, we could read every word they transmitted, but they never mentioned TET.

        Several incidents went badly for me (TET!) but the worst was the week my group “found” a large group of NVA stuck at a swollen river crossing and no boats. They were sitting ducks and freaked out about it. I could request Marine artillery, Naval shelling (USS New Jersey – 18″ guns), even B-52 strikes. This didn’t warrant that but the Marine Captain I talked to on a scrambled phone decided he’d earn a few “points” for himself! He sent a company of men to check it out. The next day my raid operators listened in real time as the NVA killed every Marine. Of course I called this guy again and his Marine ego reared up and demanded “how do you know what happened?” I could only say “I can’t tell you over this phone, but you should KNOW!”. I was a corporal, he didn’t listen and sent another company in the check on the 1st one.
        The next day we couldn’t believe our ears, it was happening all over again, another group of GI’s killed/badly wounded… The third day I went to the airport to help with medivac, what a sight, I still have nightmares of a guy stumbling into my arms with his guts in their hands. I went to work and broke down, started crying. I had a Marine Sergeant working with me (CIA, 5′ 5″ & 250lbs) and he asked what was up? I laid out the details, he walked away cursing a blue streak. Picked up that scrambler phone, got that Captain and tore him a new A-hole! Than got his commander and the guy was shipped out the next DAY!

        I just want to point out the mistrust among our own. The arrogance of some, they were invincible. The utter incompetence of many in charge!
        I learned a saying in Nam – “Shit Floats”, and FUBAR. I’ll leave FUBAR up to you to translate.
        Many people got promoted for reasons that made no sense! After TET I volunteered to go TDY with the 1st Cav when they moved to Quang Tri. I setup their comms.
        Each day a linguist and I would drive to the Marine HQ for a briefing. Each day we stopped at a soda stand and talked with kids, kids missing parts of limbs, kids 15 yrs old that knew nothing BUT war. Those 2 months got my head straight about Vietnam. When I got home I still had 2 yrs and was stationed just north of San Francisco (’69-’70). My car was painted 5 colors in a paisley pattern with Get Out of Vietnam stickers all over it ;`)

        I wound up teaching Voc-Ed high school and I bet 1/2 of the teacher I knew fit that saying to a TEE!
        Tenure can be a VERY BAD THING for education.

        • Thanks so very much for that gut-wrenching description of your experiences, Alan. I imagine it wasn’t easy for you to share and I KNOW it was hell to go through.

          That’s one reason I was hesitant to post on the subject of that war – because I never actually experienced it…

  • Steven E Hunnicutt

    I will make this short, no matter how much money spent, no many how long it took to make, as one who served, been there, I wish it would be put to rest.

  • Burns starts this series by saying that the war began with good intentions. I never thought that continuing a French colonial regime was a good intention. Nor did I buy the domino theory of stopping Chinese communism, when any study of Vietnam shows that the Vietnamese have been fighting China for more than 1000 years and we were not doing anything to help the situation. Burns didn’t even interview Daniel Ellsberg for this series
    People who are too young to have lived through this period will believe Burns’version of reality, but Burns has rewritten history with this series and done everyone a disservice thereby. I am sick to think of the consequences to our country

    • I disagree with your assessment, Martha.

      From the very start of their project it was the stated intention of both Burns and Novick to avoid interviewing “famous people” who are still living for the series. Besides Ellsberg they also deliberately avoided interviewing on camera John McCain, John Kerry, Henry Kissinger, Jane Fonda and a host of others in an effort to avoid the inevitable “spinning”.

      Personally I applaud them for that decision.

  • Gail Rich

    I didn’t know if I could stand to watch it, but I decided to try, and I’m glad I did.

  • Eldridge Rawls

    The documentery is very good and timely. Think Arab wars. I was taken by the stories of the N. Vietnamese soldiers. They could not understand how the US soldiers would run out in the line of fire and try to rescue there wounded. The enemy new that they could kill the soldiers trying to save there wounded. We in America tend to think in terms of the individual not group think. That is our weak point.
    Ron, thanks for talking about this great Documentery.

  • Judy Gusick

    Vietnam “jerks my chain” to this day. I may or may not watch this as a CNN series on the 60’s in the past year was almost more than I could handle. I didn’t realize how deep that still ran in me until that time even with parts I knew and parts I didn’t. I graduated HS in 65 also and, with Malmstrom AFB here I knew military families and was dating a guy whose father had been a bombing intelligence office in Thailand. He wasn’t happy with what we were doing over there like not giving them powerful enough bombs to get the job done. My father was in the army in WWII – in the pacific so I also had that side to contend with. Oldest brother was in college and then when the lottery came in, my youngest brother drew a “good number” tho a friend was lost and others were never the same – how could you be? I was also engaged to a Navy man during that period. I didn’t condemn those who served nor those who didn’t even tho I felt we had no business there – a tough position to hold. My husband is an “Atomic Vet” – spent Korea down in the desert while they were testing bombs. Vietnam is a mixed thing for him also and don’t even get either of us off on Iraq. How the vets were treated has been appalling. I’m certainly not real coherent about this! My “ramble”……… Thx for sharing, Ron – Vietnam definitely shaped our generation.

  • Shawna

    Thank you Ron for posting this. I’ve always loved that picture of you, Mary Lee and Shannon. There is even more depth to it now. Love you so much.

  • Marina schultz

    I m sorry but I can’t watch it !!! I hated that war!!! I was one of the many that rebelled against it .. even so you and I do not agree on many political things. I hated that war !! And have many Freind’s who served .. I have one who is emotionally disturbed from that war .. and has never been able to have a relationship or keep a job ..

  • Sharon Constant

    Thanks for the personal history, Ron. I’ll make sure to watch it. I loved Ken Burns “The Dust Bowl.”

  • Dick Harlow

    OK, I guess I have to write about this, but I’ll try to make my verbiage short. I graduated from Norwich University with a BS and as a 2nd Lt. in Armor in 1959. I was also against the war in Vietnam, quietly, but inwardly very opposed to it! However, when you take the oath you serve. Because of my obligation I could choose regular Army for 3 years or 6-mos Regular Army and 7.5 years in reserve. I consider my fate to be extremely lucky after doing my 6 months, I spent the next 5 years in the reserve. Got a letter from the Army just as I was going into teaching saying they had too many Officers and would I consider an honorable discharge! Boy, that was godsend! Unfortunately some of my friends who served in Vietnam never came back! I am currently watching this 18 hour saga which is hard to watch at times, but I feel is definitely something I need to do! I feel that Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have done an excellent job. For my whole adult life my angst has been the way the Vietnam vets were treated when they returned to the US. All they were doing was following orders. The rub is why we even entered the war to begin with! Enough from my end – Do watch this show it is part and parcel of our history!

  • Ron, I deeply appreciate your moving entry. I’ve heard wonderful things about Ken Burn’s documentary, The Vietnam War” and I’m grateful to know of your personal history and convictions from this wrenching time.

    The current travesties are heartbreaking. I often think of the chasm between the sense of possibilities many of us believed might prevail, and the carnage and betrayal we’re currently subjected to.

    “In wildness is the preservation of the world…” This quote of Thoreau’s echoes the sentiments of many of us who follow your blog, I suspect. And we have sought solace in nature and from it, strength to support our ideals ever since.

    Thanks for providing us with views of that wild on a daily basis, as well as to the ‘untamed’ and still vital ideals you’ve sustained since your youth.