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Viewer Mail

When Vietnam: A Television History was broadcast on American Experience in the summer of 1997, many people -- including veterans -- sent mail and comments. We've reprinted a few of the letters we received here. You can send in your own memories or comments in the Share Your Views section of this Web site.

I am a Vietnam veteran. I served with the 1st Air-Cavalry Division in '68-'69. I am very moved by your series. It made me re-examine, once again, my decision to serve in Vietnam. I really question the wisdom of this country ever getting itself involved in those affairs. Did we help anybody? I really want to believe we did, but am I only kidding myself again?

Greg Warner

I would like thank you for making available such an informative documentary on a topic that so many people know so little about. Your documentary was used as part of a class I studied entitled "America and the Vietnam Experience", and I must say that your installments to the documentary did more to add to my learning experience than any text or lecture ever could, and ever will. Thank you once again.

Matt Keating

I just saw an episode of "Vietnam" on American Experience. The television production is well made and informative. But I expected that from PBS. After seeing the series I browsed through Vietnam Online. The PBS website is excellent! The entire website is well designed. The content compliments the television series. This is the second time that I have visited the PBS website after seeing a PBS television show and both times I was impressed with the high-quality of web design and content. Congratulations to the team who developed and designed this website. Keep up the good work!

Abhijeet Chavan
June 16, 1997

I enjoyed your show on "Vietnam a TV History" last night June 16th. I was stationed in Phu Bia from 1971-72. I experienced and was a part of the huge N. Vietnam offensive on March 1972. I was in military intelligence, traffic analysis. Our job was to keep up with the enemy units and their mast along the DMZ 38th parallel for weeks prior to the launching of their offensive. By then most of the American infantry units had been sent back to the states. There were still elements of the 101st Division in and around Phu Bia at that time. I agree that if it were not for massive air support by the U.S. Air Force and Navy the offensive would not have been halted at Qun Tri. When the offensive started on Easter Weekend of 1972 the N. Vietnamese regulars over ran all the series of Fire Bases that overlook the DMZ. The First A.R.V.N. Division deserted their bases leaving behind their weapons and walking south along Hwy No. 1 for many days as I personally witnessed the mass desertion of the A.R.V.N. Division. I was very disappointed and scared as a 19-year-old naive soldier. But I am convinced that the war was worth the effort and lives that killed and destroyed by the war. I am convinced that the war in Vietnam played a vital role in containing the Communists and was another reason for the eventual collapse of the Communist system in Russia and to some extent China and even now, the N. Koreans are wanting to talk peace.

This is a great country there is no doubt, we went to Vietnam to give the people freedom and democracy. We could have taken the country as a colony if we wanted.

The United States was not ready for such a protracted conflict and politicians making decisions far from the battlefield that cost Americans their lives. For that the country learned a valuable lesson. The point I want to make is that this country MUST get over the idea that Vietnam was a TRAGIC MISTAKE. The Vietnam War was worth the lives of our young fighting soldiers. They stood in direct opposition to the communist enemy to give innocent people the opportunity to be free. It was a noble cause HOORAY for our boys and long live the Free, the brave and the American Way.

Kent Tompkins
June 17, 1997

It is unclear just what the purpose of this long series with a monolithic view was designed to accomplish. It clearly isn't an objective historical work, but not unlike the war itself offers a view that is far too contrastive. Further the combat and military operations depicted are not at all representative of the comprehensiveness of actual military operations. It would also have been more even handed if the depiction of the manner in which Veterans were treated when they returned to college campus life. I attended the University of Michigan in the late 60's after the military and have never decided which set of experiences I felt had more emotional impact on me. The insults hurled at me and others by our so-called classmates is still a source of great sadness.

Richard E. White
June 23, 1997

This series is a must-see for every member of my, and subsequent, generations. I was born in '72, when the war was coming to an end, and learned about the war afterwards. I studied history in college and feel that teaching history to our children is critical for building a strong democracy. For my generation, television is a powerful teaching tool in that it allows the student to see and hear actual events. Interviews with participants reinforce the humanity of the event. This series is exceptional in that it remains objective. The creators interviewed key figures on both sides. Each point is addressed clearly with both sides offering their reasoning in the form of interviews. This series is a valuable addition to the history of the United States. I thank the creators for making this documentary and PBS for airing it. I hope it will be replayed in coming years.

Paul Beck
June 17, 1997

I was a child of the 60's-70's, I was opposed to the war during that time, and I'm amazed how unaware I was of the full reasons to be opposed after seeing the series. I guess a good part of that was the distinctly different view I see on the series, as opposed to what I saw on the news at that time. Good job -- I only wish the same viewpoint would have been shown then.

James Wood
June 17, 1997

One of the best series you have ever done. However we as Americans have NOT taken the strategic view of our participation in Vietnam. As a naval officer who has traveled throughout Asia since Vietnam, I have had a different perspective on the war given to me by Asia's peoples. I have heard in different countries: Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Thailand an explanation of the bigger picture, which basically follows this reasoning: we Americans were pinned down in Vietnam that is true. But so too were the Communists. By being engaged in Indochina against the United States, Communist China and the Soviet Union could not help communist cells trying to establish themselves in these other Asian countries. With the United States holding the line in Vietnam, these other Asian countries developed the capitalist power Asia is today. The irony is Vietnam now works hard today trying to become the next Asian "Economic Tiger" by engaging the United States in business, trade, and diplomacy.

Commander Vince Shahayda
U. S. Navy
June 17, 1997

While your series is very powerful, it seemed to omit the full import of the post-1968 (Tet Offensive) takeover of the war by the N.V.A., which supplanted the National Liberation Front in its own country -- South Vietnam. This has been documented by Truong Nhu Tang, a founder of the N.L.F., who fled the "unified" Vietnam in 1979; his book (reviewed in The New York Review of Books, c. October 1982) is, unfortunately, not among your sources. His thesis could have enriched your account in two ways:

1. It would have countered the North Vietnamese position -- adopted by many of our own anti-war factions and maintained by the Vietnamese government today -- that the conflict was a "civil war," and hence an internal matter; and

2. It would have attested (from the other side) to the crucial role played by the American press in helping to turn the Tet Offensive -- a disaster for the N.L.F., from which it never recovered -- into a major psychological victory for the Communist Vietnamese forces.

In sum, Truong Nhu Tang charged that the North Vietnamese government simply used the N.L.F. as a stalking horse for its own war aim: "the destruction of South Vietnam as a political or social entity in any way separate from the North." No civil war there, and hence the sign of a far more complex set of relationships than the generally bi-polar American views held at the time and still reflected throughout your program.

Jonathan Myer

Since you have begun this series, I have not missed a broadcast. I was there. I remember... and you have presented it so very well. I wish all who served there and survived could see this incredible presentation. A very difficult piece of history to accept, but the reality is that it happened. You folks are doing such a splendid job of presenting this material... I lost friends there. I still miss them.

W. L. Jones

"Chiseled in Stone"

As I stand here alone
And gaze at "The Wall"
Out of the silence
I hear the "Nam" call

It's the same now
As then long ago
The pain? Is with me
Rightfully so

The sounds and smell
And this dread that I feel
All of the memories
Are now just as real

The days were endless
Nights just as long
Can't count on tomorrow
We're searching out "Cong"

The dark premonitions
You can't seem to shake
Watching and fearing
The next step that you take

Sensing that death
Is but a heartbeat away
You fight off the terror
And you silently pray

To God?... Non existent
He was put on the shelf
But now he's more important
Than anything else

You're over the edge
With the slightest push
Borderline "Scitz-O"
Out here in the bush

It's only a dream
You're desperate to feel
But this corner of hell
Is more than real

The chatter of gunfire
And the swift chopper blade
Are my constant companions... being afraid

Survival is only
On a day to day basis
Names can't keep up
With all of the faces

They came and they died
With morbid routine
Slain by enemy mostly silent

Patriotic they were
In honoring their flag
And they left the Nam
In black body bags

But their names are all here
...There's this chill in my bones
Fifty-eight thousand
Chiseled in Stone

Written June 26, 1992 by Ex-Marine Sgt. Dwight "Ike" Gauley, Ringwood Oklahoma (in-country 68-69).

A brother, Capt. James Paul Gauley, never came home from Laos after being shot down January 10, 1967 (our father's birthday) in the F-105 Thunderchief ("Thud"). This poem was finally written after 25 years of trying to put feelings into words that was impossible to do until viewing "The Wall." I dedicate it to all whose names appear there. God bless them all

Ike Gauley
June 9, 1997

I am not a writer, but I'll do my best. I was in country from December 1967 until sometime in June of '68. I was shot in the lower right side of my back on May 30, '68. My memories of the war are not very clear now. I have successfully placed them in deep file somewhere. I have recently seen some episodes of the Vietnam program and some of the memories came back. However, they cause me no suffering as they do some vets.

After several decades of living and experience I must say that, if I had it to do over again, I would not have gone. I would rather have gone to prison in April of 1974.

I began studying the Bible with Jehovah's Witnesses and the principles began to apply affected my life tremendously. I used to have nightmares and guilty feelings. Some of the guilt may have been that I survived while others didn't. One that didn't was Daniel Twitty, a close friend of mine from Sacramento, California.

I started using drugs in Vietnam and continued until April '74. I made an attempt to quit several times but could not. Later in my life V.A. doctors said I was self medicating. Anyway, I did stop with the help of Jehovah God. I have many friends who are Vietnam Vets that also are Jehovah Witnesses. They are thankful, as well as I, that we can look forward to a time when this Earth will be rid of those making war, for the Bible says at Psalm 46:9 that, "He (Jehovah God) is making wars to cease to the extremity of the Earth." And as for the bad memories associated with war or of any other unpleasantness, Isaiah 65:17 says, "For here I am creating new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart."

I think I am one of the fortunate ones. I had some very horrifying experiences in the war, experiences that humans were not created to experience, but owing to the resilience with which we were created we can and do withstand much horror. Thanks be to Jehovah that things will soon change for the better. No, not because of what puny man thinks he can accomplish, but by what our creator Jehovah God has purposed and promised will do.

Thank you for letting me express myself. I appreciate the program and want to say that for the first time since I've known my wife (22 yrs.), she commented after seeing one episode, "That was horrible to me just watching it. It must have been even more so for you having been there." She seemed to have understood.

Thanks again, PBS.

John W. Skidgel
June 24, 1997

Your presentation of Vietnam this 6.23.97 has given me a better understanding of the circumstances that led to and continued after the time I served in Vietnam in 1968. I have a perspective that I feel is fairly accurate but, based on the way one person would see it. Your program makes me understand why and it relieves me to know that I did not spend time over there because of some foolish old men that never served and did not understand. In 1968, I did not know the reason why I was there. When I returned to the States I was too angry to see or understand and never looked again until now.

Thank you

Earl Sturkey
June 23, 1997

I just watched part one of your excellent history of the Viet Nam war. As a veteran of Korea and an active member of the media during Viet Nam, I vividly recall the stories, speeches and rationalizations used during that period.

Unfortunately we have not yet learned the tragic lesson Viet Nam should have taught our political establishment.

In my view it began with Truman's firing of MacArthur. Politicians, particularly Democrats, became enamored of the notion that war could be used as an instrument of politics. The lesson they still haven't learned is that war is what you do when politics fail. At this distance, watching Johnson, Clifford, et al, struggling with decisions that should have been left to the generals in the field, seems almost comedic. I hated Johnson's bungling attempts at making military decisions at the time but as I relived those events watching your show, I realized what pathetic characters they all were, "strutting and fretting" their hour upon the stage of history...

When will we learn: If the politicians don't want generals making decisions, don't send them off to war. While it is true that the Constitution makes the President Commander In Chief it is also true that war -- once everything else fails -- must be the province of the men on the ground who are required to fight and die. The specter of some idiot politician deciding how many troops are needed, what equipment the troops can have, what targets they can or cannot take, and how the enemy may or may not be treated, almost always based on fear for their own political future, is not just frightening, it is disgusting.

Joe Meier

I felt compelled to tell you that this web site is fantastic, I mean, this is not only interesting, but educational and informative. I have been on the internet since before it was popular; I must state the this web site is beyond being "top notch." As a history buff and lover of good informative television: I can only congratulate your programming and now your web site... wish I would have checked this out sooner. Good job and keep it up.

June 24, 1997

As another marine, I was with Fox Co. 2/7 and was stirred by Mr. French's writing. I also remember the dark nights, the horror of how quickly everything could change from peace to Hell, and how we all, in our own ways, reached out to and felt closer to God. At times, we would be asking for forgiveness for things that we actually couldn't control. Other times we were looking for any help or assurance we could get from any source. But, be it God, an angel, or just good timing, most of us survived. We will never be the same, and we will never forget. Our destiny is to think the thoughts we had, remember and not use these thoughts for anything other than enjoying what we have as blessings and all the good things to come. We have done our time in Hell and back.

Larry First
June 24, 1997

This series is so well done. I still get a little weepy when I watch it, but it has helped me deal with wounds I didn't realize I had.

Thank you very much,

Gary Mitchell
Vietnam 1969-1970

Very few Americans know that "Vietnam-A Television History" was a great hit in Vietnam itself. It was shown by Vietnam Television in the fall of 1984, in 12 consecutive days, with very few minor "cuts" decided by the Party's Central Board of Ideology and Culture. Ironically enough, it was the first time for a majority of the Vietnamese population to learn that the American O.S.S. supported Ho Chi Minh and Viet Minh in 1944-45. The series itself provided a very good crash course in the history of the Vietnam War even for the Vietnamese who had known about their own country from the official history books compiled by the Party.

"Vietnam-A Television History" has been very special to me because I translated and narrated the Vietnamese version for Television Vietnam in 1984. I even became famous overnight with my voice over the series. Watching it again... it brings back to me so many memories, not only of the days when I toiled over the translation and recording in the studio of Television Vietnam, but the long, long years of war when my family's house was bombed, my soldier brother was killed in the South, and I was recording my English broadcasts for the Voice of Vietnam in several different camouflaged studios. When my brother was killed on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, I was calling American GIs in Vietnam: "Don't be the last man killed in this unjust and losing war." My partner on the air was "Hanoi Hannah" who had learned English along with my own sisters in our family during the French time, from an English woman who lived in Ha Noi with her Vietnamese husband and who was hired by my father to be the English tutor.

I belong to a small group of Vietnamese in Ha Noi who came of age during the war and reached maturity in its wreckage. I am writing about what had happened to me, my family and my friends during the war... My story was built around the search for my M.I.A. brother. I want to explore the unexamined face of the American coin: the Vietnamese side of the M.I.A. issue. I am searching for my brother, and find myself discovering my own identity through the sharing of sufferings and losses with others.

Trinh Huu Tuan

Thanks for presenting this program again. I served with the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cav. 25th Inf. Div. in 1966 and again in 1969. I was a sniper for the 25th Div. on the 1969 tour. It's difficult to face the conflict as I saw it but your program has brought back memories and the reasons I was there have come back to me.

I have but one other obstacle to overcome -- and that is to face "THE WALL."

Thanks again!

William E. Lancaster
June 10, 1997

I was channel surfing on 9 JUN 97, caught most of your show. It is much better than the 10,000-day war series. It deals with the people who were there as well as the history.

I hope you have a good audience for the series. At least many of the Vets will appreciate what you have put together.

We didn't lose the war-- it was given away by our government! I don't think anyone who stayed in the "world" can ever understand the isolation felt by my "brothers and sisters" when our government and "friends" turned their backs on us.

It took a long time before I could talk semi-freely about "The Nam" and I wasn't a grunt. Hopefully, your series will help other vets to do the same.

Maybe, just maybe, some of my "college-boy" friends will also see the shows and realize what others gave up while they stayed here with their 2S deferments, wives and children. It's doubtful. They didn't care then, and most truly don't want to be reminded now.

Keep the Faith!

Mike Duffield
Class of 66-67, RSVN
June 10, 1997

Thank you for replaying this profoundly moving series. I served in Vietnam with USARV headquarters from Jan '68 to Jan '69 and was in country only about 3 weeks when Tet occurred. My only concern about programs like this (and it was done just 8 years after the last Americans left) is that many of us who served in non-combat roles (most of the time) see little of our war. In books, movies, documentaries and the like, little is said about places like Long Binh and the people who toiled there (like me, in the AG office). Unglamorous, yes, and seldom bloody -- but the same war, with the same young Americans, with the same patriotism and the same doubts and fears.

PBS is probably one of the few organizations, along with some independent producers, who could put into context the more mundane side of the war. But it would apply to millions more. They say for every front-line grunt, there are as many as 9 troops in the rear (or were!) to make that line troop effective. The war is 22 years over.. the warriors are between 45 and 65 years old (give or take). I have no idea what plans there are to keep telling, retelling or telling afresh stories of the Vietnam era. Please... don't forget the REMFs. (Ask an infantryman...he likely knows that acronym.)


Dave Carr
CFOS Radio
Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada

I'm a Vietnam Veteran, and I have watched hundreds of hours of documentaries about the Vietnam war. In all that time I have never seen a documentary to compare to the one you are now airing. The nature and the quality of the footage is unbelievable. I assume that some of this must have been classified up until recently as I have never seen any of it before, but yet it looks as if the interviews were shot in the 70s. The episode about Cambodia and Laos was particularly gripping, and revealing. Thank you for making this production.

David Keith
June 18, 1997

I watched your show last night with mixed emotions and flashbacks of my youth. Today is my 53rd birthday. I was a marine in Danang in 1966-67. The shots of there were a bit too real at times for me. Well done show but I am a bit close to it emotionally also.

Don Harty
June 17, 1997

In that I was an assault helicopter pilot in the 1st Cavalry Division from April 1966 to when I was critically wounded in February 1967; then returned to the 101st Airborne Division in September 1970 and again wounded, I find your series very informative in that I did not have a clue what was really going on at the time.

Thanks for answering a lot of questions, not only for myself, but for my children.

Grady King
Dallas, TX
June 17, 1997

Viewed your latest segment, 1965-67, last evening. I was absolutely astonished just how accurate your show was. I came away with a dry mouth and a stiff neck from constantly shaking my head in agreement. I had NO idea just how many of my fellow comrades felt about the war and how a lot of our views changed after being in country for so many years. This was not a subject we ever discussed openly even among ourselves. Astonishing! You did a fabulous job in portraying the events and the emotions like they REALLY occurred. Great work!

Ross Potoff
USAF Vietnam Veteran
June 10, 1997

I found the program to be very important in trying to convey to my current wife what I did as a Navy Officer in Saigon and other areas at that time. We visited Vietnam last year but so much of the Cholon area has changed. I was with HEDSUPPACT Saigon and MACV SOG.

Stephen Vrabel

The American Experience program is a heart wrenching account of the tragedy of our efforts in Southeast Asia. As a postscript, however I think it is necessary to continue the story. In spite of the failure of our efforts to keep South Vietnam from becoming a Communist state your story leaves the impression that we should never have begun. I am one who believes that we never should have left. You should continue to tell the story of what happened after we left. This account should include the story of the killing fields on Cambodia and Laos. If we would have stayed and found a way to truly achieve piece we could have saved the lives of millions who perished.

Bruce Dilling
June 16, 1997

I watched the Series "Vietnam a Television History" tonight Monday 16 June 97, from 9-10 pm. This is the second time I saw this series and I think the story doesn't reflect the whole truth about the Vietnam war. As a young teenager growing up in South Vietnam and living with Communists after 1975 until 1978 I have seen part of the whole truth of what I meant. Your series is about honoring the North Vietnamese, telling how hard they had worked to save the South, giving them opportunity to show America that they are right to invade the South. A one-sided story. I did not see PBS interview the South and show them what the North did to the South. American young men and South Vietnamese young men fought for freedom! The South did not want the North (with the Russians behind them) to free us from America, we just wanted them to leave us alone! But, they followed Russia's order to redden Southeast Asia.

I wanted to write more to show that the North Vietnamese is nothing but a hit man for Moscow, a liar, a whole bunch of dictator communist Mafia. The proof is so prevailed: 22 years after the war, Vietnam is one of the poorest country in the world, there is no freedom, no democracy, and just a group of communist oppressing, and robbing Vietnamese people. Your programs I think is a shame to America. Every time you air your programs you insult the American fight for freedom and spit on their sacrifices. I challenge you to answer me.

Tuan Tran
June 17, 1997

I have been watching your series, and I find the archival footage very interesting. In your program "Tet" you painted a picture of the Communists as Freedom Fighters. Yes some of the atrocities were mentioned, but the feelings and comments of the South Vietnamese toward the North, was not given enough equal time.

Van Kalvakis
June 24, 1997

Although I am really enjoying the Vietnam documentary and generally find it impressive, I am bothered by one element: There is no attempt to assess the value of witnesses interviewed, and witnesses and film segments may even have been picked to send a certain message when other selections might have sent a different message. Certainly some argument can be made for letting the camera tell the story, but will even most people who watch realize the extent to which the Vietnamese are lying when they say over and over again that bombing did not hurt them, that they took no losses in firefights? Fortunately, the camera catches women holding their children and crying after bombs destroy their houses and it captures U.S. troops dragging dead Vietcong from the jungle. The lies are apparent -- if one has the presence of mind to look. As for the American witnesses, if they are lying, they are more subtle about it. I do not think it merely naive to insist that the filmmakers expose their own bias by interjecting some judgments and cautions into the narration. What goes on behind the camera is often as revealing as what goes on in front of it.

Brian Hale
June 28, 1997

Your coverage of the" Vietnam Experience" may be good entertainment but it is not an accurate portrayal of what the war was all about. America lost not only its children and a considerable amount of national treasure, but our collective psyche was wounded perhaps beyond repair. America will have lost its soul, as well, if we as a nation of people do not face, truthfully, honestly, courageously what we did to ourselves and to the Vietnamese people. The threat of communism never had anything to do with our genocidal behavior in the conduct of the war.

John P. Curran

I like your series very much. I was, however, a little disturbed over the episode concerning the Tet Offensive and the Battle for Hue City. I believe it might give someone not versed in military history the wrong impression. The N.V.A. and the Vietcong never defeated any U.S. Infantry forces in any stand-up, head-to-head fight. Tet and the fight for Hue broke the back of the N.V.A. and destroyed the most senior VC cadre. Regardless of what Uncle Ho or General Giap said. Uncle Ho and Giap did an exceptional job of turning a military disaster into a propaganda coup. The war may not have been winnable but it was not lost due to any U.S. defeats during Tet or the Battle for Hue. U.S. strategists had been hoping for years to provoke the N.V.A. into a conventional fight.

Bill Motley
June 10, 1997

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