Vietnam TV series rekindles memories

County lost 19 men . . .

The County Line

The powerful mini-series, The Vietnam War, currently being telecast on PBS this week, brings back sad memories to Americans old enough to remember the war. To those no more than 50 years old, it may be revealing if they have never heard the details of that long and desperate struggle.

Certainly the master history-teller Ken Burns gives us an in-depth and disturbing picture of the nation’s most unpopular war which ended with more than 58,000 Americans killed and seemingly nothing to show for so much sacrifice.

Several hundred young men from Hamilton County went into military service during the era, and 19 died in the decade-long struggle to keep Vietnam from Communist control. Those men’s names are found on the county war memorial on the Courthouse grounds. Many of them still have families living here.

I stopped at the memorial this week to copy the names. They are: Roy Freeman, Daniel Biddle, David Coy, Steven Clark, Guy Jones, Gerald Johnson, Alan Bardach, Michael Randall, Thomas Bell, Daniel Terry, Nelson Hicks, Michael Lawhon, James Grant, Robert Shelton, Lawrence Gordon, Kenneth Oldham, Benjamin Scholley, Michael Farley and Charles Cupp.

The war was a tragic event which Americans have been led to believe we lost. Certainly we did not succeed in our goal to keep communists from ultimately taking control of South Vietnam. But, when the U.S. withdrew in 1973 under terms of a negotiated peace agreement, South Vietnam was still non-communist.

During the following two years, the South suffered from poor leadership and serious military miscalculations despite American financial assistance and military training. In 1975 the regime collapsed and the communists took control.

We had backed the loser, no question about that. But, in the end it was the South Vietnamese who lost their war. Back home, Lyndon Johnson has generally been blamed for our involvement. There’s truth to that, although the U.S. had embarked on a slippery slope before Johnson’s presidency.

President Richard Nixon negotiated the peace agreement that brought about American withdrawal. But, Nixon was never a favorite of the anti-war movement and didn’t get much credit for ending U.S. involvement.

As Burns’ series points out, what made the whole Vietnam experience so painful at home was the split in the country between those who supported the war effort and those who opposed it. Although Hamilton County saw little of it, the anti-war demonstrations in 1968 made dramatic news. They were followed by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and violent riots in many cities which had little if anything to do with the war.

Then came Watergate, also not war-related, but the combination of the whole series of tragic events cost the country dearly in lives, treasure and innocence.

For the more than half of the present American population who did not experience the Vietnam Era, perhaps it’s just as well they didn’t.