Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Scribbles in my notebook: Vietnam Stories

Hopefully you've been following The Reporter's series on local residents that gave their lives in the Vietnam War. It's in honor of the Vietnam Moving Wall visiting the Hatfield American Legion June 27-July 1.
I felt a strange connection with Lansdale native Albert "Buddy" Finn. He died in a helicopter crash near the DMZ on Sept. 20, 1970, six days after I was born. Lt. Finn was also a member of Holy Trinity Episcopal, where my family went to church from the '70s through the early '90s.

One of the first phone interviews I did for this series was with Fred Johnson, a Wisconsin resident that was flying in a separate Huey during the mission that took Finn's life.
I was too young to have a grasp on what was going on during this time period, however Johnson framed the Vietnam era in a refreshingly balanced way that I had never heard before.
After the war heated up in the mid-'60s (and started getting transmitted to televisions around the nation), he said, the music on the hit parade noticeably changed. Upbeat pop from The Beatles and The Beach Boys gave way to darker fare like:
 Barry McGuire "Eve of Destruction"

Buffalo Springfield "For What It's Worth"

Creedence Clearwater Revival "Fortunate Son"

Marvin Gaye "What's Going On"

Bob Dylan "Blowin' in the Wind" (Peter, Paul & Mary and Stevie Wonder both had hit covers)

The Animals "Sky Pilot"

The Doors "The Unknown Soldier"

"The students didn't want to go ... (into what) at the time was the country's longest war," said Johnson, referring to the draft.
"There's an expression that Vietnam veterans like to use: 'When I left, we were winning'," he said.
The year Johnson graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and got married, 1968, was a "pretty tough time" for America, he said, because of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
Deteriorating support of the war morphed into outright hostility toward those in a military uniform. "I came back from the war, and got spit on in Seattle," said the former Army Ranger.
In a conversation he had with a reporter that day, Johnson was told frankly that people weren't interested in good-news stories about returning soldiers, and that the war's growing unpopularity was the news story that would sell.
Overcoming symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Johnson went on to found his own business, and he is recently retired.
The Vietnam veterans got a raw deal because they fervently believed they were doing their duty. Hopefully our series somehow contributes to a better historical legacy for the Vietnam vets.

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