tv Vietnam War from the Front Lines CSPAN May 28, 2016 8:52pm-10:01pm EDT
and an army nurse, discuss the grim reality of life, death, and suffering in vietnam. the discussion was moderated by the national endowment for humanities, and as part of a three-day conference at the lbj library in austin, texas, titled the vietnam war summit. it is about one hour and 10 minutes. >> ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the presentation of the colors by the naval rotc unit by the university of texas at austin, and the pledge of allegiance led by -- >> ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the presentation of the --ors but enable
>> ladies and gentlemen, please gregory, at the university of texas at austin. [applause] >> thank you, i got a promotion i did not deserve. more years. good afternoon and welcome to the final days of the vietnam war summit. like to take a few moments to thank everyone who participated in these sessions during the past few days. , andocals here at austin the many guests and participants who traveled from across the country to make this summit such a powerful experience.
the directorns to of the lbj public library. [applause] and his fantastic team in the organization. foundationo the lbj for supporting this summit and looking at the legacy of lbj, and the entire aspects of the vietnam war. for the past few days, we have examined the vietnam war from multiple perspectives. four u.s.of at least presidents, in the roles of leaders of american foreign-policy, and their roles as commander in chief. we have looked at it from the point of view of the veterans, who returned to the country, their homes, in a nation divided. explore their psychological
trauma, that they faced upon coming home, and so grapple with today. we looked at it from the point of view of the media, that covered the war that eventually divided the nation. and finally, today, we will look at it from multiple perspectives, also. before we get to that, just a in hours ago, i participated an incredible ceremony that has been part of this summit. the veterans recognition ceremony just outside in the main plaza. everyone has attended at least one of those recognition ceremonies. i had the honor of presenting the to several who served the nation. i heard their stories, where they served in vietnam, pilot,ymen, artillery, a some of them showed me photographs of them in vietnam. one veteran showed me the draft
notice he received they called him to serve our nation. these are incredible stories and it's been an honor to be able to recognize the veterans here today. this afternoon, we will hear first hand about the daily reality of war from those who were there. our first program today is titled "the troops: a view from the front lines." please enjoy me in welcoming kerry forrester, who served on the national board of pow families. [applause] >> good afternoon. father, captain ron
forrester, united states marine corps, is still missing in action in north vietnam. americans one of 1621 who are still missing from the war in vietnam. 104 of them are also texans. only one of 3417 texans who sacrificed their lives in vietnam but he is the only one that i call daddy. all mia families , still look for answers. mia families miss their loved ones every day. and we greatly think our vietnam veterans for it is you who stand by our side and hold us that even though many vietnam veterans still work to resolve their own demons. we cannot forget the veterans families because they serve also. [applause]
four pow mia families and for many of our veterans, the vietnam war is not really over. with the never can be empty chair at the holiday --le, the constant drago struggle for closure and healing. this is our reality, this is the cost of war. as a board member with the national league of pow mia families, i have the honor of working with other families like mine and representing them when speaking with our government and foreign governments. i share in the celebration that , and answers do come, they just come slowly. i'm a proud participant of run
for the wall, a cross-country pilgrimage that focuses on promoting our veterans healing, calling for a full accounting of pows and mias, honoring the ultimate sacrifice of those killed in action, and to support our military personnel around the world. our outreach program looks to embrace mia families along our route so we can let them know their loved one is not forgotten and we appreciate and understand the family sacrifice. to, sacrifices no stranger any other panel members today. what i had shared with you, the reality of life after the war, your panel members will share with you the reality of the war. please allow me to introduce your panel for this afternoon's sessions, "the troops: a view from the frontlines."
liz allen is a graduate of ohio state university. she joined the united states army to help men like her brother serving in the unum. she -- in vietnam. she requested frontline duty. completing her tour of duty in 1968, she went on to serve 14 years in the army reserve. john butler was drafted in the army shortly after graduating this -- researched the involvement of african-americans
in the vietnam war. isaac camacho enlisted in the u.s. army in 1955. he served as an airborne jump instructor before coming in member of the newly formed 77 special forces group. he served two tours in vietnam. in 1963, he was captured and imprisoned and became the first g.i. to escape a viet cong pow camp. he earned a silver star and distinguished service cross for his service. can wallingford enter the army in 1969. he was sent to vietnam in 1970 as a sniper. a year later, he volunteered for the second tour as a military advisor with the military assistance plan vietnam. in april 19 72, he was captured and imprisoned in him bodio for more than 10 months before being
released. he was awarded the silver star and the bronze star. he is currently the senior advisor to the executive secretary of the veteran board. your moderator will be dr. william adams. formal education was interrupted by three years of service in the u.s. army, including one year in the vietnam war. he credits his experience as part of what motivated him to study and teach humanities. he went on to serve as president 2014,by college when in he became the 10th chairman of endowment of humanities. please enjoy me in welcoming your panelists to the stage. [applause]
>> thank you for coming. we are glad you are here and we are looking forward to this hour or so of conversation. this is the moment that we have a chance to talk about the experience of being in vietnam and that is of course one of the most important dimensions of this summit in that is what we are going to do today. thank you again for being with us as we remember and recall some of these experiences we have had. i am going to start with that very question and ask, starting with liz and going down the line, i'm going to ask each panelists to talk about daily life in their units.
you have heard described their assignments when they were in vietnam. but i think it's important to talk a little more about what the actual daily life in those units was like so i will start liz.ways -- clark i was hoping you would start with him first. no me tell you, there was regulation on daily life. happened inon what the field. and many body bags did you get, how many helicopters came in? hell.ving was excuse me for saying that but that is what it was. the temperature was hot. in, howhose troops came do you come to grips with 150
body bags in one day? vietnam, stations in one which you know as the tunnels. the little guys got to do the tunnels because the big guys couldn't get through the whole. but the real thing about the tunnels were the spiders at the end. as those, we got them and there was no psychiatric service to help them. there cannot possibly be than a spider on your face. part of the thing we have to supplies.in war are
there were days that we thought nothing was ever going to come. ammunitionrun out of , blood transfusion, and water in a war zone? day after day, you dealt with it. don't let me talk to long. [laughter] >> i love to talk, i ain't going to lie to you. you don't see many women who know about war. and play the tunnels cu, which took the first bomb. everl my friends "don't call me at night" because the first rounds came in at night.
and there was nothing to do and i knew that the phone was going to ring and i was going to have to go and be chief nurse calls captain alan and i said yes, what do you need me to do? she said you have to go to the unit and the unit was further than this while and that wall and i said is someone going to go with me? i amhe said "captainallen, so sorry, you have to go alone." as i opened the door, the two nurses were there, the guys were on the floor. you can never imagine the carnage of that kind of war.
becausey that to you it's not something that i talk about. dealn the hell can you , some with nomen legs, no arms, some with their chest open, and you have nothing to give them but love. >> i know you were in the medical side of things as well or had a pretty good view of that. >> when i think about it, i think of body bags and guard duty. i think of my first flight to america. i think it was very important
for us to think about what we call mission and that omission was very simple. and therear to fight were no lilly front lines. i thought everything was a front line. from the pulling of guard duty at night to taking the rounds from the vcs at night also. the faceshink about and what you have done and you think about how do you get a person from the battlefield if or aill to an aid station hospital as quickly as possible. i think america cut that down from korea to vietnam, it was like 10 minutes or so. the injuries in vietnam were traumatic amputations. not only legs but also arms. i think the idea in terms of the
daily life is to get through and make it to the next day. we all had a thing about i can't wait until i move back to somewhere in the world. remember, we didn't have cell phones. we maybe had mail call twice a week. it was very isolated. but what held me together was understanding that i was part of a tradition that went back to the revolutionary war and i belonged to a great fraternity of soldiers who served and i think when you look and think about the daily life, which i really never talked about since i left, it's about service, putting up with the contingencies of war, which in my case, is the whole idea of helicopters ablaze.
that, that isbout what i think about. have two tours. a variety of experiences. isaac: my daily life was different. second tour, i was a prisoner of war. and of course, trying to stay alive. the second tour when i was captured, i was just trying to find a way to mess with the enemy. i became the prisoner of war camp scam because i was always doing crazy things. for example, i broke the rice mill and they found out it was me. i wasn't about to mill all that rice they had their and the
other thing about daily life, it's trying to stay alive and survive. it is trying to beat the odds. by malaria,cted hepatitis, and a strong case of dysentery. they were just trying to survive. i always kept my mind very open and developed a plan to escape and finally escaped. >> can, you were a pow for a time. did two tours also. the military can do its best to train you but in the end, it's landed and got off the airplane, it was so hot and dry and camera they is a
beautiful dash cam ron bay is a beautiful place in vietnam. awent to vietnam and i'm military brat which means my dad was in the military and i went in the military afterwards. we all know how controversial the war was. i felt, as an american citizen, it is my duty when uncle sam calls, you serve. irregardless of what the conflict is and a lot of people chose to run off to other countries. president carter let these guys back in unfortunately. but i went because duty called, dirty search. on my first tour of duty, i was a sniper and we go out on five to seven men teams and this is a war remember was never declared by congress.
we fought it with one hand tied behind our back. we warned supposed to be in cambodia. we were in cambodia. the first unit i was with came back after a six-month tour. all we did was really delay the inevitable. when we go out on these teams and sit in the jungle, we had never fought a jungle warfare in our lives so this is a new experience. one you are waiting for the enemy because there is intelligence the enemy has been moving through this area. and i tell schoolkids this -- killing is never right but i was military trained and government-issued to do a job and i did it pretty good but when you sit there and see the enemy crossing a path and you squeeze that trigger and you see aem drop, that really sets
tone for the rest of your duty and after a wild, it became natural. i said i would like this military stuff so well, i will come back. i had to come on -- home for 30 days and another seven months of tour. station inour was a south vietnam. six days before my discharge, my --p of four american teenss americans got hit. had the go to go to saigon like they did in 1968. we just happen to be in their way. .e held that camp three days
they literally overran the camp and i lost two men on my five-man team. we wouldn't let the helicopters land because it was too hot. we went into hiding and you start smelling the gasoline. and that i a couple people in this program that have fought against the enemy and lived with the enemy. i'm not saying this boast fully, i am -- a very unique experience. we learned what communism was all about from the enemies perspective so it literally changed my life because i went to vietnam because i was supposed to but what changed my mind and even to this day, i was agnostic when i went and on the second day of the three-day battle when i realized -- and i can remember that day as i am
sitting here today -- i started praying and we have all heard no atheistthere is in foxholes. you are looking at a conversion. there was nothing i could physically do to get out of there. >> you raise an interesting question that might be a good thing for us to explore a bit. i too was with the vietnamese as an advisor to the regional infantry force. my daily life was spent with the vietnamese. i was with an advisory team but it was a small team and our ubiquitous andre daily and constant. i went to training at affordable , learn some language, some other things having to do with the vietnamese culture but i have to say when i got there, i didn't feel very well prepared for what i found and i wonder
how you all felt about that in terms of your own activities. did you feel well trained, ready for what you saw or where there are things that surprised you fundamentally and made your experiences much different? is you cannotdeal see here what you saw there. that was theings most difficult for me was how do you handle an 18-year-old with no legs and no arms? how do you handle that? wound ands a one-shot it always happens on tanks. because they sit with their arms missile hitshe
this side, it takes off in both arms and both legs. and remember, this is an 18-year-old with no arms and no legs. i'm going to get to talk again, trust me. [laughter] what happenedk at here -- i have to tell you, i brothers in vietnam at the same time. the government wasn't willing to give me up. my grandmother almost lost it. she has three grandchildren, my , in war at raised us the same time. that was a difficult place for her. the other thing -- and i am going to bring race into the know when a young
male, black or white, gets into trouble, they offer him the military rather than prison. and so here he comes, 18 years signed to theets assigned to an outpost area where they sit in the boiling sun all day. and you know the movie -- what was that movie about vietnam? >> there were lots. liz: the one that really got me where they carried everybody off in white bags and stuff. it didn't happen like that because the planes come in and they would throw off all the body bags because they had to go
pick up some more. money,, with as much skill, and as much a stuff as we , we we ran out of bandages ran out of water, we ran out of medicine, some slept on the floor. i always used to think if you all would quit that dam marching and get something done so we could do something that we need to do because all of those people, all of those guys belong andomebody before they came there was nothing we could do about that. about --oing to talk it was our guys in the north
about tet. ,hen the first rounds came in we did not know what to do. we did not have the supplies to handle that. being as i had the surgical unit, when you see that much no way to stop it and you look at it every day, every night you look at it and it makes sleep real difficult for people like me. this is the first time i understand they have asked a female who was in vietnam on the
frontlines to have something to say -- [applause] let me say one little thing. a documentback, and to me and said can i ask you a question and i said sure. she said were they really shooting real bullets? [laughter] i thought and what did you do during the war? there things that surprise you that you didn't feel prepared for that came to you out of the blue? john: i don't think there's any way to prepare for war. the training we went through was what most soldiers go through. we were fighting an enemy and we were there to kill the enemy and training, you don't
see them as people. you have to have a renegotiation in the training of i am on my way to vietnam, on my way to kill. like my colleague said here, it becomes a second nature. was to what we did well train in terms of the weapons side but it was a different kind of war we had fought over the years. and we had the rotation system where we went there as individuals rather than as units. soldier and your deal is to not ask why but to do or die. and you have the training of what you need to do. in my case, learning how to do bandages or guard duty or how to
take people in and out of the helicopters. i think that in terms of the preparation, i think the american soldiers did it extremely well. i think we had problems with the demonstrators at home and the congress. when you look at what we were -- because i think we won every battle. i think the training itself was good but there was absolutely no way to train for being a prisoner of war, to train for all of the kind of destruction you see. when thetaying there marine pilot to do their job and air force. one of the training was understanding that while you
were fighting, you have to be kind to the vietnamese people. and that training for me, i would go to villages and engage the vietnamese people but i was always aware that everybody was the enemy. kids who would also blow you up. the training was good for what we knew but i think we have learned more about that kind of warfare. william: what surprised you? isaac: i came from a different outfit, i was in special forces. we do some extensive area studies before we go into whatever country we go to include survival language, a study of the mountains, the current of the rivers. who we are going to see, what they are like, what they don't like.
monthsthis for about six before we deploy. our special forces teams are pretty well prepared on that. we had the problem where everything that we taught those people, we had to go to the interpreter and that interpreter would go to the french and then they would go into their lingo, their dialects. trained cam defenses, a lot of that gets lost in translation. but i think we were well prepared to do our job and our othern and some of these units i later learned that that
they were going to go into the country and find some little oriental guy with a third world-class weapon. they were probably thinking about the viet cong. i had it a little closer and i got it kind of tight because of the color of my skin. there guys would put their arm against me and say "same same." we are kind of like buddies. but we were very well-trained to encounter the mission we were in . in reality, the north vietnamese soldiers were the best fighting soldiers in this entire world. i can vouch for that. hunger ford a victory because in the long run up north, ho chi minh's dream
was to unite north and south vietnam. , the next guy in command would do that and he promised himself that until the last man was standing was killed that they would reunify the country. so they did and they fought very hard compared to the soldiers in the south. these kids were trained to drop their guns and run, leaving us there, the special forces guys to defend themselves against an enemy that was very well-trained. it happened in a lot of instances. we talk about the tanks. when i came back, i was the first prisoner of war to come back and really explain to them what i had found out. i had realistic and truthful intelligence. i told them about the tanks and
ken: until the war started, no one had ever heard of. we weren't the first there. if you look at history, they defeated the french. genghis khan before them. time was on their side. how many lives are we willing to spend in a futile effort as a result. i can remember going through villages and keep in mind some of you that maybe warned in vietnam, $400 a year it's all they lived off of and they are living on dirt floors, grass , no indoorectricity plumbing. hard-working, dedicated people. all the local south vietnamese people wanted was to exist and they got caught in the crosshairs. you see kids the viet cong had
shot and wounded but they wanted to hang out with us. i could at least tell the difference between the envy of a and viet cong. they were thed farmers by day, fighters by night. we got a prison camp in cambodia and i was put in a five by six tiger cage with a 10 foot log around my ankles, i had been there probably with 17 shrapnel wins. the first time i was interviewed -- keep in mind there are five tiger cages, a guard stand with so the guy an ak-47 that took care of us spoke english fairly well. about an hourfor and a half sitting on a tree stump six inches off the ground and this guy is sitting at a bamboo table and a chair and
generally speaking, south vietnamese people are short in stature. as soon as he sat down, i immediately figured out this guy has a superior position on the because i have to look up at him. they say we wish you could go home but there is a war going on . he starts getting down to who are you with, what unit so you start making up stuff but it was -- thisor him to say guy is speaking english better than most americans. to put a positive on a negative situation. i knew some day i was coming home. i didn't know when but i had made the mental decision that i am going to beat this thing, i don't know how long but i will go home. i live every day, every day is a
great day. after we finished this and he asked me about propaganda material they shared with me about some battles i had in him -- been in, i said i have to disagree with you on this particular battle, you guys didn't win. he looks at me with all seriousness "no, you have been misled by that propaganda machine we have in this country called the free press." i am in no position to because he in that environment and i'm thinking you have got to be kidding me. that is when it really sunk in because they reiterated it later on, even if something is false, it 1001 times, it becomes true. i said to myself wow.
fighting with them, living with them, seeing their perspective and knowing that someday, we will go home, not sure when. i couldn't figure out how to get out of there, get off the chain. and president nick's and was taking 10,000 troops and month and we had about 183,000 troops and we said we are going to give it a year and see if it works out and then we try and anticipate escape. william: you both raise the important question of what we heard and knew about what was happening in the united states and how that affected daily experience. i think that would be a good thing to explore. nore was no television, regular contact. letters took about a week.
there were no telephone calls. there was vietnam radio in saigon. information came slowly. it was difficult to know immediately what was happening at home but we did hear ultimately about everything going on and there was a lot going on. the antiwar movement was really becoming very powerful. we heard more and more things about what was happening in the united states and it had an effect on as and wondering how it affected each of you. theou can talk a bit about news, how that affected your daily life. i want to answer that question intelligently. we didn't get no daily news.
what daily news? the only kind of news we got was about the people marching over here. we heard that all the time. notbeing a lady so i will curse today. i will hold that back. didn't get any of that kind of stuff. there was some radio stuff we that we knew what music was going on in the states but there seemed to be no way to get any information back to the states so they could get out and do something helpful. does that make sense? we didn't really get that much radio, especially because i was always out in the field. they wanted me to go to saigon to work. i told them i could stay home
and do this. radios didn't work. we didn't get any of that kind of stuff. most of the stuff i heard -- i have to tell you i had two brothers in the war at the same time. they were navy and i was on the. we just didn't get that kind of thing. we didn't have anything that would allow radio to come through. we didn't know much until the very end about what was going on here. and i have to tell you, i was sort of glad we didn't get to hear it. got 30 when you have
guys with their bellies open, eyes blinded, i don't want to hear about that mess. cousin i really did have something to do. does that make sense? i have something to do besides stand around and talk about what y'all wasn't going to do. because the 25th infantry was a mighty infantry group, it really was. and theyecial forces were always in battle. i don't think there was one day that i was there that they were not in battle. but my grandmother would let me know what they were saying here and what i understood didn't have a dam thing to do with what
was going on. ought to think they send us some supplies. william: john, how about you? you are not too concerned -- the reality came when i got the briefing. the briefing was take your uniform off and watch out. think that the war divided itself and it divided itself oureen gis who thought people were served and there were people protesting and going to canada. in my undergraduate school, they would not allow protests against the war. i went straight from the military to northwestern university to graduate school
and i wore my jacket because it was cold. i think that the idea of serving in vietnam always put in the forefront. i have it on my resume now. i was a veteran of the game for here inas state game the veteran called me and asked how can a decorated veteran the professor at the university of texas? friend of mine is also a decorated veteran. i think i really didn't begin to think about it because when you are there, you are worried about your duty but when you get home, you see a different vision. william: but it wasn't too interrupted when you were there. i thought from an academic point of view, i thought the country was changing. you go back to the revolutionary war, you had the same kind of
dynamics. heroes areent is my the people i served with but that is ok. that is my personal resentment. i know it's a free country and you can do what you want to do but in terms of what i've done and what i did, my heroes are the people who did not come home, the people who were maimed, traumatized. i also have reservations about president carter allowing people to come back with citizenship. i think that kind of attitude is indicative when you begin to cut through the layer of what the experience was. i think that the reality of what happened in the war and the reality of all the demonstrations that took place, i think it's a historical question as to what went on. i went to houston to give a talk and i was pleased because there
was a statue of an american soldier in the vietnamese community. it didn't affect me there because the solidarity was with the troops, not the protesters. liz: how about you? isaac: we had some conventional units because we used morse code. each one of our teams have a communicator that was an expert in morse code. he would get the message. when president kennedy was assassinated, minutes after he was shot, we knew about it. the message came in, he deciphered it, and read it to the captain. away in thees hospital, we get the message he is gone. it was a small amount of time. conversely, the enemy had very good munication.
added her to me real bad because i told them when they were interrogating me that i was just a supply man. all i do is get uniforms, boots. i kind of sold them on that story and i said i think i got over on these guys. one day, they called me in and you are sitting on a little stump like that. he said you have been telling us all you did, you were a supply man. i said yes. of timecks up a copy magazine and says are you familiar with this publication? i said yes, time magazine is a news magazine. he threw it at me and said turn
to page 19. there was a picture of my camp burning right after the attack and on the bottom caption is isaac camachoss was teaching anti-guerrilla warfare. [laughter] i didn't know how to respond. i said you can't believe everything you read. [laughter] he said now we really want to talk. said mentioned to him, i remember one of the first days i was here with you guys, i told you i had seen a bus exploded by civilians. it was about five miles south. i read that in the saigon paper.
, you americans are so ignorant. it's just propaganda. you aren't supposed to believe everything you read. ,hat was my second comeback remember you told me not to believe everything you read. and they left me alone. [laughter] william: can you talk about what you were hearing and did it alter your experience? like a lot of these folks, you got the stars and stripes in base camp. my parents wrote letters, i wrote a couple letters. you going to say, i'm deep in the jungle of cambodia, things are going real well. food could be better but i understand. -- i try to put a positive on a negative situation because number one, i
was glad to be alive. every afternoon, they would come back and unlock the cages. myad a 10 foot chain around ankles. would come innd and play this transistor radio. the voice of vietnam. of course it wasn't a or anything. i can remember clearly because this was during 72 when we have the presidential elections going on. richard nixon and george mcgovern. going back to what i said earlier, they distort the truth. ,t sounded like this young lady that george mcgovern would win the election. he may be carried three states.
they talked about a protesters, the anti-american sentiment. you had to filter that stuff out. even though you had a guy on the program the other morning married to a famous actress. i have a different word i will not share in public for that individual. [applause] hayden and jane fonda did not help our cause. in fact, they played jane's recorded message for 30 days and i will never forget when she talked about how these are poor innocent people. they were pows in north vietnam that refused to meet with her. she never came to south vietnam it are ending statement was
go to bed crying every night thinking of the damage we have done to these poor innocent people. i said really? i know she has apologized and i will leave it at that but we talk about vietnam veterans being recognized today because we didn't start the war, we served. each and everyone here today and those around the world that wore the uniform during that time should be applauded and thanked for your service -- [applause] i volunteered because i felt it was my responsibility and duty but lessons learned. i talked to a guy last night. lessons learned, we are witnessing got today to a certain degree.
the men and women serving today and 12 to 15% of the people serving today are females. number two, they all volunteer. there is note draft. we have come a long way and hopefully we can take some of those lessons forward. let's not get into something. there is no vital interest in the united states. let's not play political politics. let's go in and win it immediately.
of work with prisons, the one is hand themnot do backe can because it pulls that memory of that kid but we about at all kristof u.s. guy killing a vietnamese wordut we never said a when the enemies kids through tops of those the tanks and guys riding on the side of the truck. we tried really hard to take care of those kids but those
best possible way with great integrity and bravery have very divided feelings about what they were doing. some people were supportive. , there was hugely .ivided sentiment we understand what the ultimate meaning of our engagement is because without that certainty, the price is too high. the pain is too great.
>> at to watch more from the presidential library vietnam war summit, please visit our website. the video from the conference re.hive the c-span3. >> welcome to real america on american history tv. 40 years ago in the wake of watergate, the senate created a special committee to look into the activities of u.s. intelligence services. the committee had a long official title. it quickly took on the nickname of its chairman. it was best known in the history of the church committee. for 16 months.et it called 800 witnesses. its legacy