Oral Histories 2016: War

In Spring 2016 five groups of students conducted interviews with survivors of three different wars. Through their research they investigate the variety of different impacts and roles that people take on during war time. From civilians who are forced to leave their homes to escape violence and persecution, to “grunts” who are on the front lines, to intelligence officers

See the tabs below for descriptions, videos and links to each interview;

Dave Goulson


The interview with David Goulson began with simple questions about his childhood. He then talks briefly about how he enlisted to the navy right after high school. From there he talks about his influences of joining the navy stemming from his father joining the army, what his experiences in boot camp were like and the grueling training and punishments he experienced there. He goes on to talk about how life was for him during the war on several naval vessels.

While on board four ships he worked for the navigation unit. During this time Mr.Goulson witnessed the feeling of naval combat. Next he shared with us how some of the ships he was on were off the coastline of Vietnam and what it was like to be ambushed and how the feeling of the ship’s weaponry gave the ships an earthquake type of shaking. He also talked about how he never set foot in Vietnam and did not have the same traumatic experience as many other veterans.

Finally he talks about how after the war he went back to school attending San Francisco State and how he was only slightly affected by his service in the navy even though during that time it was extremely unpopular. He also shares with us how the war has given him a change in perspective of life by never taking your luck for granted. In the end he shared with us a book with the pictures of him and his crewmen at the time and an encyclopedia showing us the different kinds of vessels he boarded.

George Ishikata

In this interview, Mr. George Ishikata talks about his time in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo, as a US intelligence operative. He was born in Chicago, but lived most of his life in San Francisco. He joined the army because of his desire to be in the army since he was a kid. When Mr. Ishikata entered training to become an officer, he had a large amount of stress from training and rigorous amounts of work. After serving as a military police officer, he joined the intelligence branch. After he joined intelligence, he was sent to Afghanistan and Iraq, serving seven years in total. During the interview, Mr. Ishikata talked about his views on America’s involvement during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He also continued to talk about his most important events when he was stationed in the two countries. He talked about how he needed to reorganize the intelligence branch when he arrived in Iraq and the differences of the two countries while he was there. He also talked about strategies that the US used while in the countries and the type of intel he recovered. During his time in intelligence, he was able to find many interesting things, such as videos of killings and documents that identify specific people that they were looking for. This helped him figure out who the good and bad guys were.

On his final day from the Middle East, he experienced some severe headaches. He was deployed in Kosovo, which was his last place of deployment. He was attempting to go on the plane coming from Kosovo to the US to come home. He had a reservation for the plane, but he didn’t have a ticket to get on the plane. He had to make many phone calls to see what had happened and figure out how to resolve it. Unfortunately, he was unable to get on the plane, so he stayed overnight at a hotel and was promised a ticket for the next day. The next day, he went back to the airport to get his ticket, but there was another problem. He couldn’t get another ticket, since his orders were for the previous day, so he stayed at another hotel for a bit longer. Finally after three days, he was able to get a ticket and go home.

Dennis Parfitt

We interviewed Mr. Dennis Parfitt, a Vietnam veteran who took the time to to sit with us and answer some of our questions. We started out the interview with a little background information questions to ease our way into the interview. We asked about where he grew up and how was it. He said he grew up in orange county near Disneyland even though he was born in L.A. and nothing eventful happened while living there except for orange groves disappearing when the freeways and suburbs approached. From there we began to ask more about his life before, during, and after the war.

He told us it would of been unfortunate for anyone to join the marines at the time due to the war beginning to escalate. When asked about his family reaction to him enlisting he said it wasn’t a surprise to them because the area they lived at had a lot of marine corp families whose children have also join.

Later he told us how while he was in boot camp his superior officers were training them to give up their individuality so that when they’re in combat they would be more cohesive and respond similar to the same situations. Also at the time fragging was still a thing and agent orange was still being used. First, he told us there were was one guy who wanted to to kill the sergeant, but he wasn’t successful. So he was sedated. He was shipped back eventually and that was that his first experience of fragging. Second, he told us he was up one morning, and he saw a C-130 spraying agent orange while two F-4 Phantoms were protecting it. It was proven extremely effective, but it did affect some people.

He told us a little about his first combat experience in Chu Lai. The troops mobilized and went out to a landing zone where they would get on helicopters and taken to the combat zone. He said From the helicopter you could see the smoke coming from villages and people running around. When the helicopter lowered them down to hop out, he said once they jumped out into the rice paddies they could hear bullets flying past them making a zip sound when they went through the rice.

Mr. Parfitt told us he had a good friend called, Smitty, who he went through bootcamp and training with him. One day Smitty stepped on a booby trap and was killed. This was really hard for Mr. Parfitt to cope with. It was difficult coming back to California and making relationships with people. He could not relate to his high school friends anymore because they had not been to war and they seemed very immature, and he still has flashbacks.

He then later left the marines after two days from his actual discharge in 1969, due to having malaria. It turns out that it was being transmitted through infected mosquitoes in Vietnam. After he left he commented saying the war did not get better once he left but worse. He also mentioned that protesters didn’t target him for fighting in the war because it was the time of hippies. One moment during the interview, that I thought was really interesting was when he said it is impossible for anyone to go to war and not change. I thought this was interesting and true because he said his perspective of the war from the beginning changed after he experienced war for himself first hand.

Hermelinda Perez

In this interview, Hermelinda Perez discusses her childhood, her continuous life during the Civil War in her hometown Guatemala, her migration to the United States, and how she established her life in the United States.  Hermelinda lived in a village that was isolated from war and she was fortunate enough to have a childhood where she could be outside playing with her neighbors and friends. We asked her “can you please describe us your childhood” and she responded “ My childhood was very beautiful because I grew up in a very humble village, it was very calm where I grew up.” She also mentions that they were a large family, she had 13 siblings but only 9 are alive.

At the age of 13 she moved to “La capital” Guatemala City all by herself so she could help her parents with money so they could take care of her younger siblings. There she worked as a cook in a house for students in universities, she also said that “thanks to a family she was able to learn how to read and somewhat learn how to write, they would take her to school on days she didn’t work” She also told us that many students warned her to not go outside, because during that time they would kill college students and they feared that she could get mixed in that category and be killed.

Later on Hermelinda Perez got married and had three kids, she worked with her husband by taking wood from their village and to a furniture store and they would bring the food on their way back, that was how they were able to feed and support the family. But that lifestyle had a tremendous change, in September 14, 1989, her husband was killed. She explained that her husband went out to work just like a normal day, but sadly he never came back. We asked her “what was the first thing you felt once you found out that your husband was killed?” and with tears in her eyes she replied “ Sadness and I felt desperate” Because she didn’t know how she was going to maintain her family, she blacked out for one whole month. After she regained her conscious she decides to migrate to the United States because she feared of living in Guatemala. She states that three times the military barged into her house, they wouldn’t take anything all they were looking was for her, that meant all they wanted was to kill her, they assumed she was part of the guerrilla. She had a very hard time crossing the border she said all they gave her to eat was one cracker, like a “ritz” cracker every 24 hours. Once she got here the reality hit her, she didn’t had papers, couldn’t speak English and she missed her children that she left with her parent so much. But she never gave up she worked even harder so she could send money to her children, for her to make $720 she had to work 171 hours every 2 weeks but she was able to do it, she expresses that what gave her strength was “god and knowing her children counted on her”. This interview is very sad and emotional since the first question that was asked until the last question, she lets her heart out as she remembers that most hard moment of her life.     

Michael Angelo Fernandez

In the interview Sgt. Michael Angelo Fernandez explained how he had a normal childhood and grew up with both parents in a good environment. His plan before the war was to be a vet for animals, and he discussed some of the pets he had at home while growing up. He told us why he enlisted in the military, his motives, and why he wanted to go to war in Afghanistan. One of the reasons he enlisted was so he could travel around the United States and Afghanistan. At first his parents were not happy to see him going to the military. When he enlisted he was first sent to Iraq. He explains the climate and how it was over there and what he had to deal with. Then he told us how bootcamp was basically to teach you basic training and to turn you into a new soldier. Sgt. Fernandez took classes in medicine and became a medic in the army. He also tells about the overall US military goals to bring government and unite Afghanistan and have peace. Then he tells us his experience, reaction, and thoughts to Osama bin Laden’s death. When bin Laden died there was no celebration. Sgt. Fernandez was shocked when they finally got bin Laden and he said “ this world would be better off if he wasn’t in it”.

Sgt. Fernandez does not like to kill, that’s probably why he’s a medic and not a soldier on the lines. He explained some of the horrors that he saw happen to his comrades and friends. Sgt. Fernandez said, “That’s what what no person should go through.”  At that point the interview got really emotional for a minute.

In the next part of the interview Sgt. Fernandez talked to us about what he did in his free time during his deployment.  He would go to the gym, eat, work, sleep, and participate in Hawaiian dance events that were fun. We discussed where they got food and where there bases were placed. Sgt. Fernandez told us what the cities, villages, and environment was like. He also discussed the told us about the vehicles they used in the army.

Finally, Sgt. Fernandez told us about his experience returning from the war, like how he sometimes sees some of his friends who he was deployed with. He goes on to say that he angry at society as a whole.  He said “people don’t know what goes on outside their bubble and we’re very fortunate to have water running through your sink and not having the fear to get bombed or get shot”. Sgt. Fernandez told us about his promotion to Sergeant and experiences of training privates at training camp  He showed us his badges on his uniform and what they meant and how he earned them. He also showed the awards that he received and told us how he earned them.
At the end of the interview Sgt. Fernandez explained that soldiers are not just out there to kill people.  They want to help and every soldier is a grunt and that their primary goal is to protect our country, and that the first objective is not to kill.

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