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Voices from the Vietnam War

Voices from the Vietnam War: Stories from American, Asian, and Russian Veterans

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 296
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    Voices from the Vietnam War
    Book Description:

    The Vietnam War's influence on politics, foreign policy, and subsequent military campaigns is the center of much debate and analysis. But the impact on veterans across the globe, as well as the war's effects on individual lives and communities, is a largely neglected issue. As a consequence of cultural and legal barriers, the oral histories of the Vietnam War currently available in English are predictably one-sided, providing limited insight into the inner workings of the Communist nations that participated in the war. Furthermore, many of these accounts focus on combat experiences rather than the backgrounds, belief systems, and social experiences of interviewees, resulting in an incomplete historiography of the war.

    Chinese native Xiaobing Li corrects this oversight in Voices from the Vietnam War: Stories from American, Asian, and Russian Veterans. Li spent seven years gathering hundreds of personal accounts from survivors of the war, accounts that span continents, nationalities, and political affiliations. The twenty-two intimate stories in the book feature the experiences of American, Chinese, Russian, Korean, and North and South Vietnamese veterans, representing the views of both anti-Communist and Communist participants, including Chinese officers of the PLA, a Russian missile-training instructor, and a KGB spy. These narratives humanize and contextualize the war's events while shedding light on aspects of the war previously unknown to Western scholars. Providing fresh perspectives on a long-discussed topic, Voices from the Vietnam War offers a thorough and unique understanding of America's longest war.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7386-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. List of Photographs
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  8. Introduction: The Long War
    (pp. 1-12)

    Huynh Van No was sweating as he showed us the War Remnants Museum on one of the comfortable spring days in Vietnam. Over sixty and reticent, Mr. No was not a typical tour guide in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). We worried about him after we scrambled into the underground Cu Chi tunnels. “I’m OK,” he said, “I have this problem for years.”¹ As a Southerner, Huynh served as a staff sergeant in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) during the Vietnam War. After the Northern victory, the Communist government sent all the former ARVN soliders and...

  9. Part One. A Country Divided

    • Chapter 1 A Buddhist Soldier Defends a Catholic Government
      (pp. 15-22)

      I was born in 1944 into a peasant’s family in Long Hung, a small village near Long Xuyen, An Giang Province, South Vietnam. As the youngest in the family, I had seven brothers and sisters. Their hard work in family farming helped me through elementary and secondary education in the town of Long Xuyen. I enjoyed riding my bicycle along the river to my school every morning, waving good-bye to my father and brothers who already worked in the rice field. Our teachers talked about the First Indochina War all the time, but it seemed far away from our classroom...

    • Chapter 2 Surviving the Bloody Jungle
      (pp. 23-30)

      When the war began, I didn’t know anything about it since I was very young. I became aware of the war when my oldest brother enlisted in the ARVN, and then another elder brother. They wanted to protect their hometown from Viet Cong harassment.⁵ I think they did a pretty good job and our family business was growing. I helped my parents’ small shop to sell food and goods.

      In the late 1960s, however, my brothers and their unit were transferred somewhere far away from our town. According to my parents, the war situation seemed to be turning bad. I...

    • Chapter 3 Electronic Reconnaissance vs. Guerrillas
      (pp. 31-38)

      During my college years, in the spring of 1968, a law school in Saigon accepted my application. My mother was so happy since she thought I didn’t have to serve in the military, as my father and two elder brothers were doing at that time. She also planned for me to apply for the further study overseas in the Western countries like the United States. In the fall, however, I found out that the war was everywhere and affected everybody in the college. Neither the students nor the faculty members were allowed to travel abroad. All the professors talked about...

    • Chapter 4 Communist Regulars from the North
      (pp. 39-46)

      I love Connie, my granddaughter. Her parents sent her to study in America four years ago. Now I traveled all the way from Hanoi to Florida, attending Connie’s graduation commencement in Tampa, and helping her move to New Orleans, Louisiana. This is my first trip to America. Among other things, I like southern weather, seafood, and local Vietnamese restaurants along the gulf coast. Not many complaints, but, as a smoker, it is hard for me to find a “smoking area” by guessing the signs in English and Spanish.

      Connie loves Florida, too. Active and dynamic, she participated in many international...

    • Chapter 5 People’s War against Americans
      (pp. 47-54)

      I joined the People’s Army of Vietnam [PAVN, or NVA] in early 1965 because I needed to. First of all, the American air raids [Operation Rolling Thunder] against North Vietnam were so intensive that we couldn’t go to school anymore. I felt very sad when I saw that our neighborhood was burning, and that many people died during the bombings. I agreed with our government that we should keep the war and Americans in the South. All the teenagers joined the army at that time. Second, my father served in the army for most of his life and ranked as...

    • Chapter 6 No Final Victory, No Family Life
      (pp. 55-62)

      I was born into a well-off family in 1923 in South Vietnam. After high school, I enrolled in a French Catholic College at Saigon [present Ho Chi Minh City] in 1944. I studied engineering, mathematics, mechanics, physics, and chemistry. The Pacific war was over in August 1945, and the Viet Minh established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam [DRV] in Hanoi with Ho Chi Minh as president in early September. The Viet Minh had been active in the South.

      The First Indochina War broke out in 1946 when the Viet Minh troops clashed with the French forces in the North. Even...

  10. Part Two. Hanoi’s Comrades

    • Chapter 7 Russian Missile Officers in Vietnam
      (pp. 65-72)

      I was born in Ukraine, the former Soviet Union, in 1944. My father was an engineer at an aircraft manufacture company in our hometown. After my middle school in 1959, instead of going to high school, I enrolled in a local aviation mechanic school, something like vo-tech or a professional school in your country. With a strong interest in machinery and aviation technology, I did a good job on my grades during the three-year studies. I was also recruited by the party branch in the school and became a Communist Party member in the last year of my school. Having...

    • Chapter 8 The Dragon’s Tale: Chinese Troops in the Jungle
      (pp. 73-84)

      In 1945, I was born in a small village in Northeast China, the first of seven children in the family. My childhood dream was to be a city high school teacher when I grew up. Wearing eyeglasses, riding a bicycle to work, and eating in a faculty lounge were all a country boy could dream of. I studied hard in middle school and prepared well for my high school entry examination. I, however, couldn’t go to high school after I passed the exam in 1961. At that time, the so-called three-year “natural disaster” began.⁴ The farmers had a very difficult...

    • Chapter 9 Chinese Response to the U.S. Rolling Thunder Campaign
      (pp. 85-92)

      I joined the PLA at the age of sixteen in 1948, the last year of the Chinese Civil War [1946–1949], when the PLA needed more new recruits to win the final battles against the Nationalist Army. After the civil war, I was sent to a PLA artillery school in Shenyang to study artillery technology in 1949. After the Korean War broke out in the summer of 1950 and China sent its troops to Korea in the fall, our school was changed to the Shenyang Antiaircraft Artillery Academy in 1950 in order to establish an air defense both in North...

    • Chapter 10 Russian Spies in Hanoi
      (pp. 93-98)

      During my college years, I was recruited by the National Security Committee, popularly known as the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti). After my college graduation in 1964, the KGB sent me to the counterintelligence school in Minsk [the current capital city of the Republic of Belarus]. I received formal intelligence training for two years. During my school years at Minsk, I met some Vietnamese intelligence officers who were trained by the KGB intelligence and counterintelligence. I also met some of the experienced KGB officers in their forties. They came to the school for a short training of new tactics and technology....

  11. Part Three. Saigon’s Allies

    • Chapter 11 Long Days and Endless Nights: An Artillery Story
      (pp. 101-110)

      I served in the U.S. Army from February 1970 through December 1971. I was drafted and put under orders in December 1969. Since I was in school, I was allowed to finish the current semester, which ended in the middle of January 1970. The county in Oklahoma I lived in, McClain County, for some reason put me under orders that prevented me from going into the lottery the following month. I was the only fifth-year senior that was treated this way. When I was drafted, I was a student at the University of Oklahoma carrying fifteen hours and working at...

    • Chapter 12 And Then They’re Gone … Just Like That
      (pp. 111-122)

      In 1969, the Vietnam War was raging and I was a freshman at the University of Arkansas. I knew that I wanted to participate in the most significant event of my generation, and didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on the outside looking in. Ironically, that is just where Vietnam veterans wound up.

      I chose to join the marines in the spring semester of 1969 once I decided to drop out after the term. Because I was eighteen, healthy, and out of college, I was pretty resigned to serving somehow. The son of a highly decorated World...

    • Chapter 13 No John Wayne Movie: Real Bullets, Real Blood
      (pp. 123-130)

      As a kid growing up in Oklahoma, the only times I ever really heard about war were in John Wayne movies and the TV news. After I got out of high school, I went to work construction for my dad’s company. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and by 1965, when the draft started to become a big issue, I started getting cards and visitors from the military. After I took a basic qualifications, skills, and interest test, I got more mail from the services and realized I had more qualifications than I thought. One evening, an...

    • Chapter 14 More Than Meets the Eye: Supporting the Intelligence Effort
      (pp. 131-140)

      My Vietnam adventure actually began in the early summer of 1969, when I got my written orders for Vietnam. I had just left Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to attend an army intelligence school in Baltimore, Maryland. I went there to become an aerial reconnaissance planner and photo interpretation officer with a specialty of aerial reconnaissance and imagery interpretation. I was a brand new captain, had been married for not quite three years, and had two infant children: sixteen months and two months.

      I had voluntarily become part of the U.S. military establishment and was prepared to go to Vietnam. As...

  12. Part Four. Doctors and Nurses

    • Chapter 15 Medevac and Medcap Missions and More
      (pp. 143-152)

      I had joined the navy reserves while still in high school, attending boot camp in San Diego between my junior and senior years. I had some friends in high school, and we talked about it [enlisting], and thought it would really be a neat thing to do. We kind of joined together. It was part of the delayed-entry program. My mother was just about to kill me because we signed up. But I was sure this way I’d be able to go to college and then go on wherever I wanted to. Our goals were to be able to be...

    • Chapter 16 Drowning Tears with Laughter
      (pp. 153-164)

      I joined the military after completing nursing school at Baptist Memorial Hospital in 1965. I served in the U.S. Air National Guard from 1965 to 1967 and served with the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1969. Women were not drafted into the military. Some women went to nursing school through the army, and they were indentured to them for three years. I went into the military to travel. My brother was in the navy on the USSEnterprise, and he also served in Vietnam. I have always been a nurse. I worked as a pediatric staff nurse at Children’s Memorial...

    • Chapter 17 Life and Death of an ARVN Doctor
      (pp. 165-176)

      I was born in 1930 in Hue, the capital city of South Vietnam from 1945 to 1955. I had three brothers and three sisters. When I was in high school in Hue, the First Indochina War, or the French Indochina War, broke out in 1946. To fight against the Vietnamese Communist forces [Viet Minhs] in the North, the French government and our Emperor Bao Dai signed an agreement to establish a Vietnamese National Army [VNA] in 1949. I went to a college in 1947 and finished my B.S. degree in biochemistry and physics within four years.

      When I graduated from...

    • Chapter 18 A Korean Captain and His Hospital
      (pp. 177-188)

      I was born in South Korea in 1942. When I was eight years old, North Korea invaded the South, and the Korean War broke out in 1950. It was the first time that I had ever seen American soldiers. I remember that, friendly and funny, they were handing out candies and gums to the Korean kids. I really liked these soldiers who had come all the way from America to Korea to help our people fight the war against the Communist invasion. I never thought that I would fight side by side with American troops in the Vietnam War fifteen...

  13. Part Five. Logistics Support

    • Chapter 19 “Loggie’s” War: Napalm, Fuel, Bombs, and Sweat
      (pp. 191-198)

      I’d received my commission as a second lieutenant in 1965 through the Army ROTC program at California Polytechnic University, San Louis Obispo. Then I went on an educational delay, taught high school for two years in California, and entered active duty in June 1967.

      I volunteered for Vietnam duty soon after my completing the U.S. Army’s Transportation Officers’ Basic Course at Fort Eustis, Virginia. That twelve-week orientation course on all aspects of the army’s Transportation Branch was designed to prepare us for platoon-leader duties. But we couldn’t have anticipated, then, just how unusual our army future would be. the reason...

    • Chapter 20 Support and Survival in Thailand
      (pp. 199-204)

      I actually began my military career in the U.S. Navy Reserve. There were about eighty of us who joined the reserves in our high school senior year. I went to boot camp in the summer of 1961 in San Diego, California, straight out of high school, for thirteen weeks. Some of us stayed in the reserves, some went into the navy, and I went to college for one semester. For the first part of my college experience, I remained very attentive and made the Dean’s Honor Roll. Before the start of the second semester, however, I enlisted in the U.S....

    • Chapter 21 Three Great Escapes
      (pp. 205-214)

      On September 10, 1933, I was born in an educated family in Hanoi. My father, Nguyen Khang, graduated in 1927 from the University of Paris, France, with a bachelor’s degree in Economics. He could speak French, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese languages. After his return in 1931, he worked as the chief of the Taxation Department in the Northern Colonial Administration of the French Indochinese Union.² He supported the French government and its colonial policy. After the Japanese occupied Vietnam in 1942, my father quit his job and opened a small shop selling ceramic products in Hanoi. I had one younger...

    • Chapter 22 Chinese Railroad Engineering Operations
      (pp. 215-222)

      I was born in 1925 in Shandong Province, China, and joined the Chinese Communist army during World War II. Fighting against Japan’s occupation, I served as a private and later as a sergeant in the PLA. In the Chinese Civil War of 1946–1949, I became a lieutenant and participated in the Shanghai offensive campaign in the spring of 1949. When China sent its troops to the Korean War, my unit, the 174th Regiment, Fifty-eighth Division, Twentieth Army, Ninth Army Corps, was part of the second wave, which entered Korea in November 1950, fighting against the UN/U.S. forces. Later that...

  14. Conclusion: Perspectives on the War
    (pp. 223-228)

    The cold war globalized the Vietnam War, leading a number of countries to send forces to support either the Communist North or the anti-Communist South. For both sides, the international contributions became part of their efforts for victory. By 1968, Communist military cooperation had made the PLAF and NVA stronger and more capable of attacking the U.S. and ARVN units in the South. In the meantime, however, China demonstrated the limits to its cooperation when its army suddenly terminated military operations and withdrew all of its troops from Vietnam. Chinese leaders never considered military cooperation a separate issue from their...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 229-250)
  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 251-268)
  17. Index
    (pp. 269-280)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 281-281)