March 29, 2013

After 40 years, Vietnam memories still strong

David Dishneau and Jay Reeves / The Associated Press

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In this March 29, 1973, photo, Camp Alpha, Uncle Sam's out processing center, was chaos in Saigon. Lines of bored soldiers snaked through customs and briefing rooms. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future.

AP

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Former North Vietnamese prisoner of war James H. Warner, 72, of Rohrersville, Md., says his 5-1/2 years of forced labor and interrogation reinforced his conviction that the United States was right to confront the spread of communism.

AP

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It took a long time for Reynolds to acknowledge his past, though. For years after the war, Reynolds said, he didn't include his Vietnam service on his resume and rarely discussed it with anyone.

"A lot of that I blocked out of my memory. I almost never talk about my Vietnam experience other than to say, 'I was there,' even to my family," he said.

NO ILL WILL

A former North Vietnamese soldier, Ho Van Minh heard about the American combat troop withdrawal during a weekly meeting with his commanders in the battlefields of southern Vietnam.

The news gave the northern forces fresh hope of victory, but the worst of the war was still to come for Minh: The 77-year-old lost his right leg to a land mine while advancing on Saigon, just a month before that city fell.

"The news of the withdrawal gave us more strength to fight," Minh said Thursday, after touring a museum in the capital, Hanoi, devoted to the Vietnamese victory and home to captured American tanks and destroyed aircraft.

"The U.S. left behind a weak South Vietnam army. Our spirits was so high and we all believed that Saigon would be liberated soon," he said.

Minh, who was on a two-week tour of northern Vietnam with other veterans, said he bears no ill will to the American soldiers even though much of the country was destroyed and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese died.

If he met an American veteran now he says, "I would not feel angry; instead I would extend my sympathy to them because they were sent to fight in Vietnam against their will."

But on his actions, he has no regrets. "If someone comes to destroy your house, you have to stand up to fight."

A POW'S REFLECTION

Two weeks before the last U.S. troops left Vietnam, Marine Corps Capt. James H. Warner was freed from North Vietnamese confinement after nearly 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war. He said those years of forced labor and interrogation reinforced his conviction that the United States was right to confront the spread of communism.

The past 40 years have proven that free enterprise is the key to prosperity, Warner said in an interview Thursday at a coffee shop near his home in Rohrersville, Md., about 60 miles from Washington. He said American ideals ultimately prevailed, even if the methods weren't as effective as they could have been.

"China has ditched socialism and gone in favor of improving their economy, and the same with Vietnam. The Berlin Wall is gone. So essentially, we won," he said. "We could have won faster if we had been a little more aggressive about pushing our ideas instead of just fighting."

Warner, 72, was the avionics officer in a Marine Corps attack squadron when his fighter plane was shot down north of the Demilitarized Zone in October 1967.

He said the communist-made goods he was issued as a prisoner, including razor blades and East German-made shovels, were inferior products that bolstered his resolve.

"It was worth it," he said.

A native of Ypsilanti, Mich., Warner went on to a career in law in government service. He is a member of the Republican Central Committee of Washington County, Md.

A DIFFERENT RESPONSE

 

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Duane Johnson, who served in Afghanistan and is a full-time logistics and ordnance specialist with the South Carolina National Guard, said many Vietnam veterans became his mentors when he donned a uniform 35 years ago.

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Additional Photos

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Vietnam war veteran Ho Van Minh talks about his experience as a North Vietnamese soldier during the war at the Vietnam Military History Museum in Hanoi on Thursday. The 77-year-old lost his right leg to a land mine while advancing on Saigon, just a month before that city fell.

AP

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In this April 10, 1973, photo, Gen. Alexander M. Haig, center, is greeted by acting ambassador Charles Whitehouse, left, and another embassy official following Haig's arrival, in Saigon. The trip was made at the behest of President Nixon.

AP

 


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