The Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam has stirred up a lot of emotions and memories for a lot people. If nothing else, it has proven one thing – people still disagree about the war.
My timing was just right when it came to the Vietnam War. I graduated from high school in 1974, which was after the last U.S. combat troops left the country. I was one pretty relieved teenager in high school when it became clear my number was not going to come up.
By the time I started high school in 1970, most of the people my age were singing “Ohio” along with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. It was a way different attitude than young Troy High School students had just a few years before. So my memories of the Vietnam War are quite a bit different than the group that came before me. The pressure was off by the time I left Troy High School.
One of the oddest things I remember was growing up thinking that this was just the way things are in America. People who lived through World War II and Korea were shocked by what they saw on television and in the newspapers. It just seemed like the normal thing to me. There were protests and riots all over the place and I didn’t realize until much later how my parents’ generation was worried that the whole country was falling apart. Being young and ignorant, I never even thought in those terms.
There are odd things that stand out to me. I remember the Troy Daily News sent Kermit Vandivier to Vietnam and he did stories about people from Miami County who were there. Back in those days, I usually just read the sports pages, but I do remember seeing those stories about Vietnam.
I also remember the “spirit button” incident at Troy High School. Each week, the Block T or some group at school had buttons made for the football games. You could buy one, maybe for a dime or a quarter, and you would wear them to the games. Things like “Scalp the Indians” or “Sting the Yellowjackets” or whatever.
One week, the pins came out with this message: “Napalm ’Em.” It caused a big uproar at the school. I think sales of the pins might have even been suspended.
I also remember there always seemed to be an atmosphere of tension hanging over things. At the time, it was another thing I thought was just the way things always were. But looking back on it, I realize now that people always seemed to be waiting for the next bad thing to happen.
Mostly, even though I lived through it, the war didn’t really touch me in a personal way. Before you get too angry, remember I was 15 years old and pretty much absorbed entirely by myself and how to talk to a girl without making a complete fool of myself or how to avoid the mean upperclassmen sitting on the Senior Bench. I don’t think I really knew anyone who went to Vietnam until years later. It was only then that I came to appreciate the kind of agonizing decisions and events they went through that I was fortunate enough to miss.
So I went on-line to find out how many young men from Troy died in the Vietnam War. There were five: Specialist Four George Anderson, Sgt. David Mahan, Specialist Four Robert Brown, Warrant Officer James Tasker and Lieutenant Robert Lutz Jr. The first three died in that epic year, 1968. Warrant Officer Tasker was killed in 1969 and Lt. Lutz died in 1972. Somehow, seeing their names in print seems to make it much more real to those of us who didn’t know them personally. Whether or not you agree with what this country did in Vietnam, you have to agree that these men certainly deserve our respect and gratitude.
Maybe now is a good time to remember what happened in Vietnam. We’re in a divisive period of history right now, but anyone who was around 50 years ago will tell you it doesn’t compare with what was happening then. The memories can be harsh, but they also are necessary. Sometimes old wounds can help avoid new ones.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.