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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"I often took the time, when I heard that they served in Vietnam, to thank them for their service. And I remember them telling me that was the first time anyone said that to them," said Johnson, of Gaston, S.C.

"My biggest wish is that those veterans could have gotten a better welcome home," the 56-year-old said Thursday.

Johnson said he's taken aback by the outpouring of support expressed for military members today, compared to those who served in Vietnam.

"It's a bit embarrassing, really," said Johnson. "Many of those guys were drafted. They didn't skip the country, they went and they served. That should be honored."

ANTI-WAR ACTIVISM

John Sinclair said he felt "great relief" when he heard about the U.S. troop pull-out. Protesting the war was a passion for the counter-culture figure who inspired the John Lennon song, "John Sinclair." The Michigan native drew a 10-year prison sentence after a small-time pot bust but was released after 2 ½ years – a few days after Lennon, Stevie Wonder and others performed at a 1971 concert to free him.

"There wasn't any truth about Vietnam – from the very beginning," said Sinclair by phone from New Orleans, where he spends time when he isn't in Detroit or his home base of Amsterdam.

"In those times we considered ourselves revolutionaries," said Sinclair, a co-founder of the White Panther Party who is a poet, performance artist runs an Amsterdam-based online radio station. "We wanted equal distribution of wealth. We didn't want 1 percent of the rich running everything. Of course, we lost."

The Vietnam War also shaped the life of retired Vermont businessman John Snell, 64, by helping to instill a lifetime commitment to anti-war activism. He is now a regular at a weekly anti-war protest in front of the Montpelier federal building that has been going on since long before the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Haslett, Mich., native graduated from high school in 1966 and later received conscientious objector status. He never had to do the required alternative service because a foot deformity led him to being listed as unfit to serve.

"They were pretty formative times in our lives and we saw incredible damage being done, it was the first war to really show up on television. I remember looking in the newspaper and seeing the names of people I went to school with as being dead and injured every single week," said Snell, who attended Michigan State University before moving to Vermont in 1977.

"Things were crazy. I remember sitting down in the student lounge watching the numbers being drawn on TV, there were probably 200 people sitting in this lounge watching as numbers came up, the guys were quite depressed by the numbers that were being drawn," he said. "There certainly were people who volunteered and went with some patriotic fervor, but by '67 or'68 there were a lot of people who just didn't want to have anything to do with it."

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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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