Vietnam War Oral Histories 2014


Carlos.and.DaveFor the third straight year students in Mr. Sylvester’s American Literature class, as well as students in Mr. Sultan & Ms. Dalpino’s US History course interviewed 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.

This year our group of interviewees were all military veterans of the conflict. Of the six men we interviewed, two were family members of our students and one was a family member of a Lincoln teacher. Two of our interviewees were referred to us through veterans who took part in our project last year and wanted their friends to be involved. This group of interviewees reflects a diverse section of enlisted men; from a Lieutenant in the army in charge of an entire platoon, to a marine helicopter pilot, to an officer who played a largely administrative role, to an Air Force security officer. Each individual has a unique and different view of the events of the war and its aftermath.

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, or click any of the following names to access their webpage; Donald Cahan, Paul Cox, Harry Davis, Timothy Dupré, Dave Keown, Dennis Whittaker.

Click on any name below to see a highlight, and link to the page;

Link to Donald Cahan’s Page

Donald O. Cahan spoke a lot about his life before, during, and after the war, and how his experiences affected him. Mr. Cahan originally enlisted into the military in order to get out of fighting in Vietnam. Unfortunately, he was eventually sent to Vietnam where he fought, made friends, lost some, and served for his country. He shared many interesting stories about life during the time of war and what it was like to fight in Vietnam (even though it wasn’t the only place he fought considering he served in the military for seven years).

Mr. Cahan had some great highlights. We share three of these highlights which touch on the topics of why he enlisted into the army, and how he felt about the war. Though war may seem like a stressful, terrible time, there were still time for tricks which Mr. Cahan had played on people. Upon his return, he was treated many different ways, depending on how people felt about the war. Some people were grateful for what he had done, while others didn’t support him, some even calling him terrible, degrading names. Many years later, to this day, Mr. Cahan’s war experiences still haunt him. As a veteran, he is often times brought back through his terrifying experiences while he sleeps due to recurring nightmares.

 The war and serving seemed to be good topics of conversation for Mr. Cahan. Though at times we could hear sadness in his voice while recalling certain moments from war, we were also able to hear about some times of happiness, or other fun, exciting moments Mr. Cahan experienced through the war. His view on the war seemed like he just had to do what he had to do. It was important to keep his head down and respect those of higher rank even when he disagreed with their decisions.

It’s a strange feeling to read about an event in a textbook and then speak to someone who experienced these events. One event in particular, the use of Agent Orange, is particularly significant because Mr. Cahan remembers using Agent Orange to clear his path when in the forests of Vietnam. The effects of Agent Orange are still around today. Agent Orange has caused many birth defects which will continue to affect our society for coming years. Mr. Cahan took part in an important part of history, and we’d like to share his story with you.

Link to Paul Cox’s Page

In our interview with Paul Cox, we asked him numerous questions about his life and feelings before, during and even after the Vietnam War. He was born in Oklahoma, graduated from high school in 1966, dropped out of college after two years and was drafted into the marines at the age of 21. He told us about his reactions on the draft, why the war was being fought and why he went. He then discussed his experiences in boot camp in San Diego, what he had to do there, and how the leaders in boot camp were there only to brainwash them, making sure that all the troops looked the same, and thought the same. They were trained that the marines are to only train their troops to kill and destroy. He also told us the experiences he had while he was in Vietnam with his troops as well as at home with his family when he was able to see them in Iowa.

He talked to us about how he patrolled outside of the base, and often nothing would really happened. One time when he returned from patrol, he was threatened to be killed by an African American soldier. He also told us how he lived in the field, how he starved two times for six day because the helicopter was not able to fly in bad weather.

Paul Cox also told us about the most memorable moment that changed his life forever. This was a massacre at a little village that they happened to pass by that was declared a “free fire zone”. His fellow marines killed harmless men, women and children out of anger because of the death of four of their fellow soldiers to a booby trap hours earlier. He felt like a coward for what had happen but he knew if he was to talk about it he would be killed.

Towards the end of the interview he told us that what he learned from being in that war was that he values life a lot more than what he did before and how life is so short.

Link to Harry Davis’s Page

In the interview we had with Mr. Harry Davis, he told us about his training and his time in South East Asia. He enlisted in 1964 to pay for college, and he trained in Texas. He was moved to California, where he spent 18 months as a Security Military Police. He landed in Vietnam on July 21st, 1967, but they quickly reassigned him to Laos because they were building a new base there.

Mr. Davis would patrol the perimeters at night and secure the base’s listening posts. He was occasionally under fire, and after one incident he lost all feeling on the left side of his face for 30 days after a mortar went off. He also said that he’ll never forget the amount of dead soldiers he saw, and said that the bodies would “start looking like mannequins.”

Mr. Davis later explained how he believed in everything the US Military did, and by bombing North Vietnam, they were doing their job of killing the North Vietnamese and were protecting their own soldiers. However, he also said that he believed the My Lai Massacre shouldn’t have happened because they weren’t supposed to kill women and soldiers. That doesn’t mean that women were innocent, however, because he said there were multiple times where he saw women walk up to GIs only to explode, killing both the woman and the soldier.

Mr. Harry Davis also told us about how he was exposed to Agent Orange. He says that he suffers from heart problems, including a heart attack and a stroke, because of it. The heart problems he gained also prevented him from passing his physical he had to take in order to get promoted to colonel. However, he is also considered to “have a 100% disability”, and he gets a basic pay of $5,000 a month.

Link to Timothy Dupré’s Page

Mr. Dupré was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He was drafted at the age of eighteen and was enlisted at the age of nineteen. He discussed being in Vietnam and how it affected his life during the war and after. Some of the topics were basic training, boot camp, the good and fun memories about the war, and  the emotions he felt in  Vietnam. When discussing his time in Vietnam, he said the war wasn’t fair because kids (young men 17-20 years old) were fighting the war while the rich and wealthy were sitting home doing nothing. Some wealthy people paid so that their kids wouldn’t have to fight.  He brings up a lot of information about how the war taught him important lessons, like how to save money and how to be a man. For example he says “ I learned how to be a man. I learned how to save money.  I saved over ten thousand dollars. I try to exercise all of the benefits. I tried to take a crazy situation and make it a positive situation”. Mr. Dupré also mentioned what boot camp was like.

In Fort Lewis, Washington, the weather was terrible. It would always rain during times of training. Mr. Dupré states “ {…}so im out in the mud shooting weapons then I have to clean it so its not rusty then they get all over you about that. Then, they give you some boots then, you got to shine the boots and then they have a thing called spit shining where you get cotton balls and dip it in water and then the shoe polish and you polish the boots and then you keep polishing them until you could see your face in it. It has to be clear then you have to go back out in the rain and if its dirty then you got to clean them again the next night”.Mr. Dupré also makes a point when he mentions the political aspect of the War. He shares with us that the war wasn’t determined by the people it affected or the people who had to fight in it, instead it is determined by the few wealthy men who aren’t directly affected by it.

Link to Dave Keown’s Page

Dave Keown was born in Madisonville, Kentucky. Dave didn’t really know much about the war in the area he lived. He decided to join the army at age 20 while in college. He wanted something to do in life because he didn’t see himself working in a chem lab his whole life. He had to attend boot camp after joining the army it was a 6 month process.

One thing Dave discussed was his a traumatic moment when his co-pilot got shot in the head. He expressed his feelings & story in a sad dramatic tone. Another thing he discussed with us was his point of view towards wars after his return from Vietnam, he believes that all war is stupid and none is worth taking lives. Mr. Keown told us his thoughts about war in a serious reflective way, he stated “ The biggest mistake America has made was going to war with Iraq.”  He also said“I lost more sleep after we invaded Iraq than I ever did over anything that happened in Vietnam.” He was most  upset by the fact that we didn’t learn our lessons from the Vietnam War and seemed to repeat them in Iraq. Another thing Mr. Keown told us in the interview was about a humorous event where they had finally offloaded a whole squadron and some guys felt relieved so they went out to party. Well that night he got a phone call getting orders that he had to find 12 aircraft pilots for the mission, he responded to the guy on the phone “we can’t,  everybody is drunk and we fought that battle well past midnight.” Some general commanded the order and told Dave “pick the not soberest ones.” So Dave and the other officers in charged of the mission picked the 12 most soberest guys, some still drunk flied out to do the mission. The mission overall was a successful one. In conclusion the war made Mr. Keown have a whole different perspective of war and the United States.

Link to Dennis Whittaker’s Page

In this interview Dennis Whittaker talks about his life before, during, and after the Vietnam War. Mr.Whittaker was just a normal everyday person until the Vietnam War came along. He had many choices to choose from such as running away to Canada, injuring himself or waiting to be drafted. Mr.Whittaker decided to go to officer candidate school rather than have somebody else put him in a life or death situation. He knew that if he were to enlist he would have more choices available to him. He eventually became a lieutenant, making him responsible for 90 men. Throughout the interview Mr.Whittaker talks about boot camp, his first impressions, major events during the war, lasting memories from the war, day to day life, downtime, relationships, and his return from the war.

Two major highlights from the war that he talks about are the use of drugs and his experiences with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning home from the war. The use of drugs played a huge role in the war, putting him and his platoon in danger. One of his experiences with PTSD occurred at his daughter’s wedding, as the image of  a helicopter triggered a flashback and transformed his tux into combat fatigues. Another incident occurred when he visited the Memorial Wall for the first time and remembers guys in jungle fatigues reaching out of the granite to pull him in.

Mr.Whittaker was a brave man throughout the war and was proud of himself. He calls the men in his platoon his “kids” throughout the interview. He accomplished his main goal which was to get every one of his “kids” back home, safe and sound. The lessons he would say that he learned from the war is to never take anything or anyone for granted and to treat life as a precious gift.




6 Comments to Vietnam War Oral Histories 2014

  1. Kimberly W.
    May 7, 2017 8:24 pm

    I saw Mr. Dupré and Mr. Whittaker’s interview highlights and I am really inspired by them. I also learned that decisions are really important, especially during war. Both of the interviewees made great decisions and they taught me how be better when a war is coming.

  2. Gerardo M.
    May 7, 2017 9:57 pm

    These interviews are so good. Stories these Vets have are really valuable. The information and all the experiences they have were all surprising. They all come from different backgrounds and they all have different encounters in war and once again they all have very interesting stories. Paul Cox probably has one of the most shocking story of the village they destroyed and the things they saw were just horrible. But always these were good interviews.

  3. Winnie h
    May 7, 2017 10:38 pm

    I watched Paul cox’ interview and its interesting how he talked about how soldiers had to spread apart so they don’t die together. he saw one guy die and the other three wounded. this reminds me of jimmy cross in the book when he’s making sure people are spread apart.

  4. Benny H.
    May 7, 2017 10:41 pm

    Glad this project exists. Providing the veterans a way to express their unforgettable memories. I would be very frightened to go though what they went though.

  5. govanni bishop
    May 7, 2017 11:34 pm

    to me I thought Mr Paul Cox’s interview was very intresting. just hearing the story reminded me when curt lemon died. it also reminded me of one of the themes from the things they carried which is cowardness. i just really likrd how he went into detail of his experince it made me ask questions to myself of what i woukd feel if i went through from his experince.

  6. Tony Shao
    May 8, 2017 1:12 pm

    I think it’s pretty wrong to call war veterans names when they experienced something that we did not go through. I think the teens sent to the war died for no reason. I would feel really bad having to shoot kids from Vietnam. This is related to the things they carried and how they met people from Vietnam.

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