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This paper looks at what is known as one of the tragic chapters of American history and is a faint attempt to explore the lives of those brave Americans who survived the 60’s dark era during the Vietnam War. For most of the world the war ended in April 1975. However, its memories still linger in the minds, emotions, and bodies of many of us (Duc 1999). Many of the Americans who fought in the war are still suffering from reminiscences of traumatic experiences that they had in Vietnam. The three people interviewed here have differing opinions about the experience of Vietnam and how their lives were affected by it. While Donna thinks that the experience improved her life and helped her personally to develop as a person and increased her inner strength, Albert says the experience itself wasn’t that bad but it was the way he was treated after being termed as ‘Vietnam Veteran’ (Miller 1983) and conversely Robin is of the view that he still gets the haunting dreams about the trauma he faced being there.
“By looking at these 3 people, Donna Hopkins*, Albert John* and Robin Huxley, who lived during the 60`s I aspire to feel the tragic era and maybe try to at least slightly sense the traumas of those who were affected.”
*The names have been changed for anonymity on request of the interviewees
The first interview was taken of Donna Hopkins, she went to Vietnam with American troops as a military nurse. She said that, being at the prime of their age, herself and her other two friends, volunteered to the letter which was posted on their hospital board in Texas. She did face some resistance from her family since Vietnam was a war zone and she was putting her life on the line. Being the daughter of an army officer who had died by that time, she had the spirit to serve and offer sacrifice for her country in her blood, therefore, despite sheer resistance from her mother and a younger sister she went to Vietnam to heal the wounded American troops.
She still remembers how they used to put their own life at stake and save the lives of many other. The feeling of healing lives and the internal satisfaction of her job kept her going and kept her spirits high although she also mentioned that morals used to get to ground level when whole battalions of deceased soldiers were brought in the bunkers.
When she got back after six months, she didn’t receive a warm welcome as she had expected, however, things gradually started to normalize with her family and relatives as time passed. She is grateful to her cousin Mary, who was then 19 years old, as she would listen to her stories and appease her when she really needed someone.
She still cannot forget the smell of blood in the air and fear of death in the eyes of the wounded soldiers. To give them life she had to stay strong and at times help and encourage the wounded in order to successfully fight for their lives. This made her strong herself and helped her to face several challenges later in life.
The second interviewee was Mr. Albert John who was a senior army officer at the time of Vietnam War and in-charge of a unit. Being in-charge and at a senior position he did not face the hardships of a normal lower rank officer who had to engage in ambush and combat. He was more required in making the strategy and key decisions for handling the war operations. He said that he himself volunteered for the opportunity to serve his country during the Vietnam War. He thought at that time that this was his chance to repay some credit of what his country had given him over the years. After he reached there the situation got worsened and after only 3 months of posting their he was called back since there was no need of a senior officer there.
However, he himself felt incomplete and thought that he could have contributed more. On his return, and after his retirement from army he proudly mentioned his service in Vietnam in his resume. He didn’t know that his source of pride would be his biggest hurdle in getting acceptability in the corporate world to earn a decent living. Employers used to look at his service in Vietnam as a weakness and perhaps physiological instability as general perception was that Vietnam Veterans had traumatic and disturbing experiences.
At one instance one of the employers rejected him and advised him to remove the clause which mentioned his service in Vietnam if he needs a decent job. Albert did exactly the same and in his very next interview he was asked if he had served in Vietnam since he was an army person. He answered ‘no’ to the relief of the employer and this marked the end of his job search but still it left him thinking that his most proud months of service were not even worth mentioning let alone a reason for being respected.
The 3rd and final contribution to this research was by Mr. Robin Huxley who is also the author of the book Chinook Wind. Memoirs of the Vietnam Highlands 1966-1967. At first, when he got a draft letter, he was thinking about going to Mexico or Canada in order to escape the draft to Vietnam. He was very scared. His parents didn’t force him to go to war, but he decided himself. He was being trained and prepared to get his mind ready to fight. When he got to Vietnam, he had a really good team.
They became much attached and protected each other. His closest buddy was John Sweeney had this inside feeling that they will all survive and he also had saved Rob’s life many times. Rob’s mission was to search and destroy. While fighting, they never discussed political problems and it just never crossed their mind. All they wanted is to survive. In his letters to his family and his girlfriend he used to write good things about him. And that everything was fine. Later, when times were very tough he wrote that he might not make it through.
He shot himself in his leg in order to go back home. The reason he did that is because his buddies came much earlier than Rob, so they were leaving after 6 month of his service there and Rob didn’t want to stay by himself with new soldiers. He was thinking for a while about making a decision to shot himself. It was inevitable that he would be with new soldiers. And didn’t think he would survive. So, when he shot his leg while in ambush he went half load because didn’t want his entire leg to be blown. In the beginning of the book he talks about his hunting experience with his father. They sat traps on wolf. On the next day, they found that the wolf escaped from the trap by biting off its paw.
Wolf was doing everything in order to stay alive, so Rob did the same thing. He knew that if he would stay then he would die. He found out online that his entire platoon was wiped out and he would’ve died, too. This happened a month after he had left. He didn’t like to talk about what he did to himself, felt kind of guilty. He wrote this book in order to give his dedication to those brave soldiers who gave their last full measure of devotion for this country. This book was written 38 years after he came back from the war. His book is a form of healing.
When he got back he was very confused and stressed out. After one month of his return he went to VA service on Wilshire and Sepulveda (California) to ask for help. But nobody was there to help him. They said that you are on your own. It took him two years to adjust himself after the war, he was drinking a lot. Rob was doing weird things when he used to hear some sounds. Now, they have better supportive services for those people that are coming back from Iraq. When he came back home (Michigan) for Vietnam, his mother said that I know something horrible happened to you. In 1993 his mother died in Rob’s hands and her last words were, “I’m sorry that you had to go to Vietnam.”
He has dark memories about Vietnam like most who went there. He never went back to visit that country. He used to have bad dreams about ambush after he came back, but as he grew older he was able to adjust. For a while after the war, he tried to avoid going to forests. He still talks to his buddies from Vietnam; they are very supportive and don’t want him to feel bad about what he had done. John tells him that Rob fought very well and it was just time for him to leave.
The experience of Vietnam War had mixed effects on different people. Some (like Rob) felt that it was a traumatic experience and perhaps the darkest chapter of their lives while others (like Donna) felt that the experience improved their lives and they would like to have such an opportunity again in future. These extreme and totally perse views have been formed for different people depending on the circumstances they were in and how they reacted to them. It indeed was a nerve shattering and personality testing experience for almost all of them.
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