Vietnam War Oral Histories 2013

For the second year in a row students in Mr. Sylvester’s American Literature and Mr. Sultan’s US History courses interviewed seven people whose lives have been touched by The Viet Nam War in different ways.  As a part of this project the students, who are part of the AVID program, also read the book The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

Of the seven interviewees, two were Vietnamese citizens who lived through the war before immigrating to the US, and five were US military veterans.  Four were family members. Below are links to all of the individual interviews. Please click on the photograph of the interviewees below to visit their individual pages. To read more about the interviews, click on the tabs below.

 

Father Thuan Van Hoang

Father Thuan Van Hoang

Tina Le

Tina Le

Steve Plath

Steve Plath

Norman Stewart

Norman Stewart

Lee Roberts

Lee Roberts

John Swensson

John Swensson

 

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Floyd Piper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Father Thuan grew up right as the American involvement in the Vietnam war was beginning to reach its peak.  Living in Saigon, he escaped much of the violence that overwhelmed the countryside. He did, however, survive bombing by the North Vietnamese during the Tet Offensive in 1968. In this interview he discusses how the war affected his childhood, his view of his country and his decision to leave after the North Vietnamese take over. Father Thuan is a Catholic priest and currently lives in San Francisco,  but maintains close contact with Vietnam through his organization; Blind Vietnamese Children Foundation

Floyd Piper is a native San Franciscan, who was drafted into the war at the age of 21. In this interview he discusses his experiences in the war, from every day life to specific battles that he encountered. Mr. Piper formed some close bonds with his fellow soldiers and rose to the rank of squad leader. The war affected him deeply, in his own words making him “more serious”. He is very open about his experiences and even reflects on the beautiful experiences he had, including seeing stars that he had never been exposed to while growing up in a city.

Tina Le lived in Da Nang during the war, and lost family members to the violence. Her life and that of her family was dramatically affected by the war, and even more so after the communist take over following the 1975 US withdrawal. During the war she worked helping supply the US Air Force, and after the US troops were gone, she lived in fear that the North Vietnamese would find out and put her in prison. Finally in 1977 she escaped on a small fishing boat. Pregnant, and with 23 family and friends, they made their way across the sea, guided by whales- eventually landing in Hong Kong. She lives in the US now and owns her own restaurant. She visits Vietnam regularly, having gone back in January of this year.

Lee Roberts grew up in Louisiana, and was drafted after completing college at Grambling University.  As an educated African American in the military at this time he experienced racial discrimination throughout his service. In his interview he describes an incident where he was promoted over other soldiers to an E5 sergeant, causing the undercurrents of racism to rise to the surface. He is part of a veterans group that discusses their experiences regularly, and is very comfortable describing his time in Vietnam. He is proud of the service he gave to his country and despite not agreeing with the politics of the war, he believes that services is the duty of citizens in a democratic society.
Norman Stewart grew up in Louisiana and Southern California. He was drafted after graduating high school and attending some technical school. He did not agree with the politics of the war, and was not excited about serving. During his time, he did appreciate the country but tried to escape the realities of the war with substances. He describes how African-American troops stuck together and had a sense of separateness while serving. He rarely shares his experiences from the war, and this interview was a first for him. He is still dealing with health issues as a result of a war that he served in over 44 years ago.

 Steve Plath currently works with the Swords to Ploughshares organization which supports veterans. He grew up around the Mid West, and joined ROTC in college at Cal Poly.  By the time of his service he was 23 years old, an officer, and platoon leader assigned to the combat engineers. He spent time constructing base camps, and sweeping minefields among other duties. In his interview, he goes into detail both about his war experiences and about the time he spent readjusting to life immediately after returning from the war. He took a large volume of photographs while serving, many of which he shared with the students. Mr. Plath was also deeply affected by the war and didn’t discuss his experiences with anyone besides his wife for many years after. He is still in touch with several members of his platoon today.
John Swensson grew up in a military family and had assumed that he would join the Army from a young age. He graduated West Point and served two tours in Vietnam. He has a unique perspective on the war, as someone who has come to disagree with the political motivation of the war, yet someone who supports the military and the individuals who served. He also became very fond of the country and people of Vietnam during his time over there. He still makes frequent trips and leads students on trips as well. He is currently faculty in the English department at De Anza College.

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