tv Book Discussion on A Sense of Duty CSPAN April 23, 2016 4:00pm-4:51pm EDT
of the internal rhyme, and all the facts of the show. >> next on history bookshelf, former u.s. marine quang pham talks about his personal experience as a vietnamese refugee in his book, "a sense of just before the fall of saigon in 1975 when he and his siblings and mother went to america. his father, and air pilot, stay behind and was held in a prisoner of war camp for 10 years. this program was recorded in 2010 in san francisco. it is about 45 minutes. [applause] good evening.
i know that the wine is part of the program, but i hope that is not why you are here tonight. [laughter] times, ine this a few will only answer questions that are written in the vietnamese. [laughter] tonight is a special night. ago, april 22, 1975, was the night our family left saigon. end to the life that we had. a life full of joy and happiness living among your own people, speaking your native language, being around family and friends. that life will always be a part of me, but as you will hear
shortly, my new american life turned out to be very rich as a result of the people i have met in this country. and i am humbled and honored you're here tonight so i can share that part of my journey with you. vietnam is always a loaded topic in this country, despite 35 years. debate thatf the sparked me in 2004 to write this ."ok, "a sense of duty i have been out of the marines for 10 years on active duty. i was married and turning 40. and the election between john kerry and george bush was about to take place. you may remember the discussions about who went to vietnam, who did not, the national guard.
and we all know the war in iraq was in its second year. in the middle of all this debate, the vietnam memories came back up. the newspaper articles, the interest in the media, and the iraq andions about vietnam, what lessons have we learned? are we going through another fiasco, will we win this time? despite consisting, was having 1.7 billion be enemies living in the united states, of which 500,000 had served in the ofitary, having thousands the enemies veterans who spoke english and fall with many of you in vietnam, i found no voice. if it'd taken place between the north vietnamese and the americans, and is it the south
vietnamese were just characters in the background. like a good marine, if you don't find your voice and a book that shares your experience, you write one. [laughter] author, first-time trying to write a book about the vietnam war from a south vietnamese perspective was humbling, because i think when you show the editors in new york manuscript, and you get rejections. they tell you you have a great story, but your story is stiff, like your military training. [laughter] but my publisher, balentine books, tooklantine a chance. we will have time to take some questions. i would like to share with you my life in vietnam, what it was like.
context, them american people see the vietnam war through several lenses. one, through the veterans' eyes. those who have served honorably and come back and told their stories. we have seen it shared through the movies. for my generation of marines in the 80's, that had a major influence on how our military saw the vietnam war. and obviously, military lessons taught in military schools. living in vietnam, as i have was part "the, part thetini", and best dream a boy could have. i had three sisters and a father who was a career air force pilot living in saigon. it was like a dream.
you watch your dad go fly, i saw my dad go fly, and he took me flying in a military aircraft when i was just a kid. i saw them go off and come back, with the smoke trailing. ofaw parachutes coming out aircraft, coming back from war. it was something that, until i lived in this country for a number of years and saw the war as a civilian, i really did not have the perspective that we were living through a war. aswing up in vietnam, men ands, we send our women overseas and leave the families here. but in south vietnam and both of -- most other countries, you live in a war zone. so your fathers and uncles are fighting a war and raising a family. 2004, i remember my late father.
it was in 1975 when he was turning 40, that he had to make that decision on april 22 19 75, 35 years ago this even. when you're president had left and the president of south vietnam had left the country, and the north vietnamese army was encroaching on your city, and the war is coming to an end, and the americans are about to pull the evacuation. what do you do? you stay and fight until the end even though your leader has already left? do you send your family away and sneak out, which quite a few people did? or do you just stay and do your duty? decisionsose are the that, as an american looking back, those were extremely difficult decisions. on his life, my
father would say that he stood his ground and did his duty, and that he would not do anything different, despite having to spend 12 years in the prison camps that the north the enemies put him through. we love vietnam, we were evacuated. we received the news. i still remember the day, playing on the beaches on april 30, 1975. there were mostly women and children of this refugee camp, and old marine barracks. that was a radio available at one of the barracks. our parents were gathered around their, and in the afternoon there was a big cry. someone yelled out that the bbc had announced that it was all
over. and at that moment, we thought we had lost my father forever, because it had been a week, we did not know where he was. there have been planes and boats coming out of vietnam, and he was nowhere to be found. from that moment, our american journey began. to arkansas, one of the refugee camps. and from there, right into the sixth grade where we resettled in southern california. refugee cominge to southern california, it is already a big melting pot. and when we were going to the air force base through san francisco, governor jerry brown was adamantly against the vietnamese refugees coming here. he literally went out to the airfield and try to stop airplanes from landing. the secretary of state at that plenty of we have
minorities in california, we do not need any more. straight out of the pages of history. nevertheless, we grew up in california. i remember the early days. remember, a lot of kids thought we were chinese. and we told them we were not chinese, we were vietnamese. and they would say, what are you doing here? are we fighting you, why did you come to america? it was a bit confusing. we picked up english right away wasuse at that point, there no english as second link which for be enemies kids, so they brought in a vietnam veteran who claimed that he spoke the enemies. so now my sisters and die in grade school, they bring in an american, and spoke french.
slang started speaking gi to us, and it got confusing. [laughter] after a few weeks he stopped going to the school. and the first big lesson for us and america was, learn english. and we had to learn it, because without english, we would not be speaking to our friends. they spoke spanish or english, and that was it. as we continue with our life in america, my mother became this head of the household. in vietnam she had been a schoolteacher. to ahen you are married pilot in the b enemies air force se air enemies -- vietname she had no husband and no job, when i look back at those years, i don't know how she made it.
i remember having been sponsored by a family in oxnard california, and we are forever grateful to those. maurice whoy coach drove me to every little league baseball pack -- practice for two years. those are the things i remember about the kindness of the americans who actually helped us, despite what happened in the aftermath of the vietnam war. to fast-forward, the second part of my life as i entered college ucla, angeles in 1983 at it was time to become an american citizen. let me tell you, when you carry a green card for nine years and everything you fill out, they ask if you are an american -- where you from?
in the first couple years, vietnam was not on there. china, korea, philippines, and then pacific islanders. i remember in 1984 when i became an american citizen, it was great. not just because i can put an american sticker on my bumper , i was happyusa because every piece of paper i ,"lled out i could check "yes i am an american citizen, don't bother me. [laughter] reagan, time of ronald and something that, when i , youe an american citizen would support the constitution and join the military. that is all i wanted to do, to serve my country in south vietnam and become a pilot like tofather, but when you come
america and watch "an officer you justtleman," really didn't see that. [laughter] and i think at that time in my life, being in l.a., it was the time those vietnam war movies came out. hunter," "apocalypse now," ."latoon," "full metal jacket i could see how the vietnamese worker trait in those movies. were portrayed in those movies. volunteers, asian americans needed to make a
!ovie, that's mean -- that's me english isd your very good. and i said yes, i am a student. we need a lot of extras to play the viet cong. true story. i said, hang on. 1985, if you remember the 80's, the apartheid in south africa, there was a lot of protests on college campuses. so i was used to that walking through ucla. one day in april in 1985, a young man with long hair of my age, ran by, i bumped into them, he gave me a flyer. i opened it and it said come anniversarye 10th
of the eviction of the american occupiers in vietnam. i did not go to that party, either. [laughter] a year after, i met my marine recruiter on campus. i found out that if you want to be a pilot in the american military you have to be an officer. and to be an officer you have to go to the academy or get a college degree or join rotc. but at that time i was a senior in college, so i had to join the officer school. i called of the air force -- anyone and air force here? recruiter said mr. pham, you are an engineering major with a 3.5 degree -- i said i am studying economics. mr. said, can you swim, pham?
i said, not very well. then it was the marine core -- corps. they said the, do you have a 2.2 gpa? [laughter] this is where the marine connection started to come in. i said, i do. in high school, you are member series with robert conrad, "baa baa black sheep? i said, i remember those planes, the show. they got in fights all the time, they were marine pilots. and they only need a 2.0.
lived in vietnam during the war and seeing my father, i thought i knew something about being in the military, that i could handle what it took to become a marine officer. i signed up for marine officer school. i spent weeks of vacation in quantico, virginia. i think i underestimated how difficult it would be emotionally. i knew the three mile run, the 20 pull-ups, that stuff was difficult but very doable. 1986, 11e summer of years after the fall of saigon, wanting to become a marine aviator, showing up at quantico, this is also the summer that "top gun," came out. so you have a l.a. kid going to
no mentioning of the air wing in quantico. you have a father who was still in camp. my first at quantico, the instructor came up and said chong, whatever your name is, what you doing in my marine corps? are you a vietnamese spy? easier, because i figured out the marine corps did not like everybody. they did not like the vietnamese lock,mexicans, the poll the black kid from south carolina. it was equal opportunity harassment. the attrition rate was high, only 35 of us made it out of a class of 60. the lightbulb came on that they were just working everybody with
no special treatment for you. i made it through the ninth week and said, this is not for me. spent ninecorps weeks, watching training films. jima,the marines on iwo firebombing the japanese. and the initial training films of the vietnam. boy, they really like asians in the marine corps. fact, that ise where the 20th century marine corps history was made. i am not trying to change it, just watching those films and realizing, this is not the place for me. and i was not the brightest candidate. there was some legacies, some general's sons. the captain asked one day, if any of you had fathers who are
lieutenant colonel's or above, raise your hand. i did not know what he meant, i figured my dad was one in 1975, so i raised my hand. the captain said, in the american military, pham! [laughter] by the ninth week i made it, i myl say, i will hang up military certificate and go home, and that was it. my best friend, mark henderson, his father was a vietnam that, and we decided to go to georgetown. and we went to the vietnam wall. it was one of those moments that, you remember for the rest of your life, because when you look at the wall and see 58,000
and you knews, that your country and south vietnam was lost in your father was still up there, and you don't know -- see his name on the wall. remembermoment that i for six months when i went back to college. by december of 1986, i realized what i thought the wall and impact it had on me, meant i had to go serve my country of the united states of america. i joined and throughout my early years of the marine corps. something always to me back to vietnam. by the time i got back through quantico, and pensacola, where navy pilots go to train, i am walking through the naval aviation museum one day going,
god, i am almost done, i am going to be an american naval aviator. how cool is that? i am looking at all these planes and pensacola, and i see one little plane hanging on the ceiling. observationle 01 plane, with the markings of south vietnam, from the south vietnamese air force. do know what that plane is from? a vietnamese pilot who landed that plane on the last day of the war, waved to his whole family. wow, a record of my past. in the museum of my future. when i got to my first squadron, i realized that he did not matter what your rank was, what your color was, it mattered if you could fly. as a helicopter pilot, you have marines in the back of your helicopter. as a firstbe trusted
lieutenant flying cap -- helicopters in the persian gulf war, was one of the greatest responsibilities i ever had. the war was very brief. overwhelmingly victorious. something that a young marine recently told me on the driving range, we were hitting month, he hadt been in iraq twice, afghanistan twice, and he was home. and we were talking. and he said, what war were u.n., sir? were you in, sir? and i said, the short one. and he said, that is my kind of war, sir.
[laughter] in 1992, my father was released from vietnam. up until that point, we had given up hope. we knew he was alive, and we knew in 1987 he was released, but the communists like to take their time. it took another five years. to give you a quick synopsis, we did not know what happened to him, and did not know until he passed away and i started writing a book. 1935, andwas born in vietnam was divided in half in 1954. he joined forces with the south, joined the new vietnamese air force, went to france, took a ship, became an aircraft mechanic. for flightlied school, because the americans took over training at the
1956, ife military by you look at the history of americans training foreign militaries, what we're trying to do in afghanistan and iraq, you have to look at the vietnamese example. he went through a school in texas, and became a u.s. air force-trained pilot by 1959. returned to vietnam, served the entire war until 1975. over 7500 hours of flight time, mostly in combat. went to a commander school in 1966. by the time he stepped off the plane in 1992, it'd been 17 35rs since we last saw him, years ago tonight. until may 22, 1975
17, 1992. that, he was 40 years old, tall, loud, cocky, proud. when i saw him next, he was an old man. the weather, the prison, he was hunched over. he walked off the plane, and we looked at him and said, what are we going to do? what do you say to her father after you have not seen him for 17 years? then he smiled, and we ran toward him. and he had a spark in his eyes that told me that the communists had not broken him, his spirit was still there. knowing that the reunion would be brief, because i was about to board for my second summer vacation in the persian gulf. the marine corps is great. you havecaptain pham,
not seen your dad in 17 years, we will give you four days off. [laughter] we were going from san diego to hawaii. the word got out, the kernel called me and said we will give you six days. at he said, you better be pearl harbor when we pull in. myi spent six days with father, and went to the 11th unit to the gulf. we never became father and some like in vietnam. there was always a bridge to golf. you cannot make of that time, it was not just generational, but cultural. when he passed away, i felt as let a great opportunity -- how many kids have fathers
who went to the vietnam war had the opportunity i did? i did not know what he did in the war, what happened to them, why he did not leave with us saigon.left side on -- when i reassembled the pieces, a good friend had interviewed my father. in the recording, he talked about things that i wished i had asked him when i was alive. and when my father passed away, bernie sent me the tapes and said, you better sit down. you better take your time and listen to the words carefully. because, my father was very straightforward on his feelings about the vietnam war, about his time in the camps, about how the communists treated him after the war. but also, his thoughts on serving with the americans. all thed about having
advisors that came in for six months and went back to america. he spoke about the captain from west point who entered his fighter squadron and said, this war will be over in six months. things iwere a lot of learned from the vietnamese side of the war that i did not read about in the history books, i did not hear about in the military school, or see in the hollywood movies. so the last part of the book was to reconcile the trail of the vietnam war, versus the memory of your father. saying, therey was one other thing i wanted to do, to find out who was responsible. when i grow up, we knew he had been shot down. he was a tech pilot, supporting the marines in the early years of the war, 1963, 1964. we knew he was captured, and
maybe had an early death. people always ask me, why did you join the marine corps? i wanted to serve my country, i felt a sense of duty. but why the marine corps? but in 2004 i learned that it was destiny. because i found out that dad had been shut down -- shot down when i was only five months along, and he had been picked up by a marine helicopter in the central highlands where he was shot down. bradfordi met colonel and thanked him for that, and put the pieces together and came to terms with the angst and memories of the vietnam war. passed away this past
september. we went to arlington, where he received full military honors. he received a silver star as oft of his actions in april 1964. learned a few things by serving in the marines and meeting many great vietnam vets. i thank you for your service, on behalf of the people of south vietnam. i also learned that if i had a son, i would never name him victor charles. [laughter] thank you very much. [applause] >> that was very, very interesting. we have some questions. in the first is about the role the united states played in vietnam. do you think the united states
was right to go to war in vietnam? >> yes i do. 20/20, buts always if you look at what was going on after world war ii, the chinese had gone communist, and had a tight to korea. o korea. the fact that we were the only superpower after world war ii, all plays into the fact. evolved,ics of the war and east-west confrontation into an insurgency, into a full-blown war, and a last-minute evacuation. but by the late 50's and early 60's, i think we did the right thing by intervening in vietnam. the earlyieve that intervention with advisers probably961 and 1965
should have been that way, rather than sending 550,000 american combat troops. >> good questions, have you gone back to vietnam? mr. pham: i did go back to vietnam. i was discharged from the marine corps in 1995. we did not have relations with vietnam, and in the clinton and -- administration things were getting closer. and then i made a decision to go back because my grandmother had passed away. i also had cousins i had not seen in 20 years. so i went back for a week. vietnamct of having the memories of watching movies about the communist government, i was very careful. i did not wander off in saigon.
it was probably paranoia, but i lock me upt them to for trying to start some sort of expatriate movement. >> the second related question, how did you feel? was there a cultural gap for you back in vietnam? back in vietnam i felt like an nfl football player. [laughter] plane, in ho chi minh city, but for me, it will always be saigon, but i felt like a giant. and i had an american passport. and a $20 bill, that was the way the government worked. it was $20 to get through if you ex-pat goingan -- through.
it was great to see the friends, the kids, some of my cousins, the people who take -- took care of us when we were small. the aftermath of the war and the communists knew how to fight, but they did not know how to run a peace time economy. it was almost depressing to go to saigon and see the way people were living compared to how we were living in southern california. >> you mention it in your introduction the millions of refugees who came to the united states, and 500,000 had served in the vietnamese military. is there a feeling of u.s. betrayal among those refugees who are veterans of the vietnamese military? mr. pham: i think it depends.
it depends what year you were in the country, what unit, what service, and the same with the vietnamese veterans. some got out during the fall of saigon. one of the officers went to long-term reeducation prison camps. those who left in 1975 and became very successful. america, and if you're good, you get ahead. there is no system. and then come you may have a general or colonel who comes out, and is pumping gas, like my dad, at the airport. my father never felt a betrayal by the americans. uptalked about them giving 58,000 plus lives for vietnam. we thought they went there
because there was no invasion of the americans -- they really fall for south vietnam's survival. feltup of the military that they were abandoned because the americans left, cut the deal with the north vietnamese to get the pow's out. once there were relations between the united states and china, there was no more red scare. we were friends with of the chinese, and it was time to bring the troops home. supportunist did not the violation of the paris he's a signed in 1973. -- in 1973.ords but some did feel abandonment.
>> how did they feel toward the current communist regime? mr. pham: they are a lot like the cube is in florida, except the united states did not lose 58,000 in any kind of war. we had a missile crisis in the 60's, but i think there are parts of the community that have strong resentment against the communist government. i went back and saw the young kids who were clearly born after 1975, and you look at it was like our baby boom years after the war. they had nothing to do with the vietnam war. but i think they were against the government for human rights violations, and for not having developed the country further along. in vietnam, despite all the good things, are despite -- behind
, it couldian tigers be another generation before someone takes power. >> one of our audience members asked, do you want to go back to vietnam to visit now? mr. pham: i would like to go back to vietnam again. i have a small daughter who is four, and my wife would like to go back. we would like to wait a few years just because of the age. not because of any fear like i had, during my first return. >> we switch a little bit too current operations here, this question that relates. any comparisons you want to make between the war that took lace in vietnam, to the war that we are now engaged in in afghanistan? i think there are similarities. but many differences. the differences are the scale of the war.
i think vietnam was not just a simple civil war between the north and the south. vietnam was a full war, plus a counter insurgency, and an east-west confrontation between superpowers, and a diplomatic from the 1950's through the 1970's. we went through six president e -- until my father was released. the similarities are the nationbuilding. i am not sure we mastered that yet, in the iraq, afghanistan, to what we learned in vietnam. i have shared this, and i have a lot of friends still on active duty, and i support what we are doing because the decisions have been made in afghanistan.
with a south vietnamese perspective, i am not -- ifhe american military you look at our training and , we are and victories built to kill and win. if you ask a young marine, a combat unit to go to vietnam, and take ahanistan, one-page note out of the vietnam something we took out of general abram's latter years in vietnam, build it so we can leave and they take over. i am not sure that is the model. i only know when you have an allied military like the south vietnamese, the iraqis, the afghanistan, and a first world military like the united states,
-- the drones and weaponry if you really want to train the military, you take away the fancy stuff. compatard to do big operations in third world countries and expect them to perform. if you read the newspapers, when things go bad, there are three things they say. the government is corrupt, which we have no control over. andmilitary is inept unwilling to fight for their own freedom. the same three headlines. i think it is more like clear, hope, and send the taxpayers a big bill. i am being serious when i say that. we are very good at shock and all. -- awe.
we are very good at clearing. in hoping that the locals who stand up except the american ways of doing politics, education, it is a hope. there is no other country like ours. especially a third world country that has been at war for years, it is really a big hope. , howou look at the bill much does it cost the taxpayers? congress is completely missing in action with wars in afghanistan and iraq. 2003, and nod in other vote. 1965, 98-2 in the united states senate to enter. the limitations of the
presidential power act, and at the end, in april of 1975 when the north vietnamese send those divisions of south and president ward that with congress and asked for last-minute aid, congress said no. at least they were active. those are differences and similarities in the wars that we are in now. the last thing i will say is, less than 1% of the population is around. so when you do polling about what is important to the american people, you have those who say we support the troops, but you will also hear health care, the economy, the tax. you hear everything the wars don't even come up in the top three or four. that is different than 150,000 people marching in the 1960's and 1970's against the vietnam war. when you don't have to be called to go fight, war protesting is a
lost art. [laughter] >> last question. you spent a life of service, in the marine corps, and a lot of nonprofit boards to help people, ,ike scholarship foundations marine memorial associations and other nonprofits. you seem to have a desire to always be in a position to service to your country. what is your next plan? mr. pham: i had explored running , and i did run for nine months for the republican nomination in california. i withdrew from the race last month due to several personal factors in my life, as well as the dynamics of the race. to community and country are honorable, and i think i learned that through
meeting people. the sponsors of our family, the men and women in uniform, the vietnam veterans, and the veterans that continue to support our troops through nonprofits like the marines' memorial. as far as politics, my late father would say, not for me. we will have to see what happens after this cycle. >> thank you very much. [applause] >> on history bookshelf, hear from the best-known history writers of the past decade.
every saturday at 4:00 p.m. eastern. and you can watch any of our programs at any time. .isit our website every weekend, all we can, on c-span3. this weekend, a historian talks myth of theok, "the lost cause." here is a preview. >> now, i want to go beyond that and look at the confederate government's behavior during the civil war, which was shed additional light on their purpose. what i submit to you on my personal view is that, the behavior of the confederacy in several key areas demonstrate that can federal leaders were more concerned about preserving slavery than they were,
unbelievably, van in winning the war. then in winning the war and preserving independence. it was all about slavery. so what are the kinds of things i am talking about? the first is a controversial area. the rejection of using slaves as soldiers. you may say wait a minute, i have heard that. there were some slaves fighting for the south. look just in 2010, the commonwealth of virginia, well-known known for the accuracy of its school textbooks -- [laughter] saidshed the book that foughtcks -- blacks under the command of stonewall jackson. confronted with this, the writer of the text said that was on the internet. [laughter]
could have at least said it was wikipedia. so that was the source of that. >> you can watch the entire event tonight, 6:00 p.m. eastern on the civil war. this is american history tv, only on c-span3. >> up next, university of toledo history lecturer chelsea griffis talks about how conservative women reacted to the introduction of equal rights amendment in the 1970's. we interviewed ms. griffis at the meeting of american historians in providence, rhode island. this is about 50 minutes. >> chelsea griffis, for those who have forgotten or never knew, what is the equal rights amendment? ms. griffis: a failed constitutional amendment that would have legally ft