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Voices from the Vietnam War

Stories from American, Asian, and Russian Veterans

Xiaobing Li

Publication Year: 2010

The Vietnam War’s influence on politics, foreign policy, and subsequent military campaigns is the center of much debate and analysis. But the impact on veterans across the globe, as well as the war’s effects on individual lives and communities, is a largely neglected issue. As a consequence of cultural and legal barriers, the oral histories of the Vietnam War currently available in English are predictably one-sided, providing limited insight into the inner workings of the Communist nations that participated in the war. Furthermore, many of these accounts focus on combat experiences rather than the backgrounds, belief systems, and social experiences of interviewees, resulting in an incomplete historiography of the war. Chinese native Xiaobing Li corrects this oversight in Voices from the Vietnam War: Stories from American, Asian, and Russian Veterans. Li spent seven years gathering hundreds of personal accounts from survivors of the war, accounts that span continents, nationalities, and political affiliations. The twenty-two intimate stories in the book feature the experiences of American, Chinese, Russian, Korean, and North and South Vietnamese veterans, representing the views of both anti-Communist and Communist participants, including Chinese officers of the PLA, a Russian missile-training instructor, and a KGB spy. These narratives humanize and contextualize the war’s events while shedding light on aspects of the war previously unknown to Western scholars. Providing fresh perspectives on a long-discussed topic, Voices from the Vietnam War offers a thorough and unique understanding of America’s longest war.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. iii


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pp. iv


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pp. v


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. x


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pp. xi-xii

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. xiii

The Vietnamese names follow the traditional East Asian practice that the surname is written first, then middle name, and then first name, as in Ngo Dinh Diem and Vo Nguyen Giap. Most people in Vietnam are referred to by their given names, therefore President Diem and General Giap. The exceptions are for a very few particularly...

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pp. xv-xvi

Many people at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), where I have been teaching for the past seventeen years, have contributed to this book and deserve recognition. First, I would like to thank Provost William (Bill) J. Radke, Vice Provost Patricia A. LaGrow, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Pamela Washington, Dean of the Jackson College of Graduate Studies ...

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Introduction: The Long War

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pp. 1-11

Huynh Van No was sweating as he showed us the War Remnants Museum on one of the comfortable spring days in Vietnam. Over sixty and reticent, Mr. No was not a typical tour guide in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). We worried about him after we scrambled into the underground Cu Chi tunnels. “I’m OK,” he said, “I have this problem for years.”1 As a ...

Part One: A Country Divided

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pp. 13

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Chapter 1: A Buddhist Soldier Defends a Catholic Government

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pp. 15-22

S.Sgt. Huynh Van No was very affable and gregarious, even though he had a tough time during the war and a fatigued life thereafter. Before each interview in Ho Chi Minh City, he usually started a conversation with me and my wife on an interesting topic like the difference between traditional Mahayana Buddhism in Vietnam and Westernized Buddhism in America. Sometimes ...

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Chapter 2: Surviving the Bloody Jungle

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pp. 23-29

Rose always prepared the green tea in the traditional way before each interview. As a sophomore at University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA), she took the Vietnamese language class and History of Modern Southeast Asia. She learned a lot about the country her parents came from, and tried to understand why they could not go back. “I will get a job at LA after my college...

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Chapter 3: Electronic Reconnaissance vs. Guerrillas

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pp. 31-37

Humble and shy, Lt. Nguyen Nhieu always used a low voice during the interviews and our conversations. Sometimes my recorder failed to pick up his words.1 That day, however, I couldn’t believe my own ears when he told me that he was getting married the next weekend. “Congratulations,” I loudly shouted, trying to overcome the background noise in the Chinese...

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Chapter 4: Communist Regulars from the North

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pp. 39-46

Although I met many parents from overseas on American college campuses, I have seen few grandparents from Asian countries. As a grandfather, Sgt. Tran Thanh traveled all the way from Hanoi to Florida to attend his granddaughter’s graduation commencement at the university. “My son and daughter-in-law work in the government, so they can’t take off from ...

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Chapter 5: People’s War against Americans

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pp. 47-54

Nicely framed family photos covered the small living/dinning room wall. A full-size bed made the room even smaller. Inside an old two-room house in the middle of a Southern village, no air conditioning and no computer, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Capt. Ta Duc Hao was happy living like this as a war hero.1 Excited and a little nervous, Captain Hao showed us the ...

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Chapter 6: No Final Victory, No Family Life

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pp. 55-62

They are still friends. Ngoc and Tran worked in the same office in 1975–1976 at Ty Xay Dung, the largest construction corporation in An Giang Province. Ngoc’s father was the CEO, a retired NVA lieutenant general; and Tran was from a small business family and soon fled the country as one of the “boat people.” I was surprised to see their reunion after thirty years: emotional hug ...

Part Two: Hanoi’s Comrades

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pp. 63

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Chapter 7: Russian Missile Officers in Vietnam

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pp. 65-72

I was panicked and didn’t know what to do in Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine, after we were told that “Major T.” could not be interviewed at that time. Anthony Song, my contact person and Russian translator, was not.1 After several telephone calls, Anthony told me that Major T. had agreed to come to see us the next morning. “It’s not me,” the major explained when we met ...

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Chapter 8: The Dragon’s Tale: Chinese Troops in the Jungle

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pp. 73-84

It became a reunion party when the eleven veterans and their families arrived at Capt. Zhao Shunfen’s home in Harbin, the provincial capital of Heilongjiang, Northeast China. Captain Zhao wanted me to meet his comrades who survived the Vietnam War, and whose friendship seems to last forever.1 After the potluck dinner, they began to sing together Chinese army songs from the ...

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Chapter 9: Chinese Response to the U.S. Rolling Thunder Campaign

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pp. 85-92

Maj. Gen. Qin Chaoying was right about Maj. Guo Haiyun when he introduced me to him in Beijing.1 Straight and jocular, Major Guo was a typical PLA officer with a good memory of his war-fighting in the past and an adamant pride about his experience in Vietnam. He served as battalion chief of staff in the First Regiment of the PLA Sixty-fourth AAA Division, which ...

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Chapter 10: Russian Spies in Hanoi

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pp. 93-98

I got the name and contact information of “Mr. B.” from a former KGB agent at an international conference on Intelligence in the Vietnam War.1 Then we communicated via telephone and e-mail before our meetings and interviews a year later. Serious and phlegmatic, Mr. B. always chose his words carefully and tried to provide short answers to my questions.2 Having worked with ...

Part Three: Saigon’s Allies

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pp. 99

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Chapter 11: Long Days and Endless Nights: An Artillery Story

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pp. 101-109

Funny and optimistic, Sgt. David McCray always made our interviews very enjoyable meetings. No wonder he was popular in his Non-Commissioned Officer Candidate School class that went to Vietnam, or that he organized their first reunion in Washington, D.C., many years after the war. Sergeant McCray was drafted when he was a student at the University of Oklahoma ...

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Chapter 12: And Then They’re Gone . . .Just Like That

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pp. 111-121

Maj. Curt Munson has few regrets about having volunteered for the marines and Vietnam. As a young man, he was willing to face challenges and take risks. It is still true these days when he sits in his big office as the investment representative for one of the largest national financial corporations.1 Major Munson was one of the U.S. Marines sent to Vietnam after 1968 as ...

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Chapter 13: No John Wayne Movie: Real Bullets, Real Blood

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pp. 123-130

Lt. Gary Doss flew one of the UH-34D helicopters, known as the “Ugly Angels,” and landed it at the university parking lot. The retired military helicopter and Lieutenant Doss’s presentation were well received by the students from the Vietnam War history class. In his story, Lieutenant Doss describes how a nineteen-year-old Oklahoman joined the U.S. Marine Corps, received ...

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Chapter 14: More Than Meets the Eye: Supporting the Intelligence Effort

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pp. 131-139

I have known Lt. Col. Terry Lynn May since 1993 as a colleague and a good friend. The retired army officer had a great sense of humor, wisdom beyond his age, and a sincere passion for sharing and honoring the military experiences of the Vietnam War veterans. I attended his funeral service in 2003 after he lost his battle to leukemia. Among the family, friends, and prominent ...

Part Four: Doctors and Nurses

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pp. 141

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Chapter 15: Medevac and Medcap Missions and More

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pp. 143-152

I first read Third Class Seaman Ron Peterson’s story in the newspaper. Then Lt. Col. Terry May introduced me to the local Vietnam veteran group that Ron Peterson joined.1 Peterson had joined the U.S. Navy Reserves when he was only seventeen as a junior in high school, and was sent to Vietnam in 1965 when he was twenty-one. During his one-year tour, Peterson served ...

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Chapter 16: Drowning Tears with Laughter

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pp. 153-164

Students were enchanted by 2nd Lt. Judy Crausbay Hamilton’s enthusiastic attitude and unique war experience when she talked to my history classes about Vietnam.1 Women were not drafted into the military in the 1960s, but Judy signed up and served as both an air force and an army nurse during the Vietnam War.2 She worked in the air medical evacuation squadron in the ...

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Chapter 17: Life and Death of an ARVN Doctor

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pp. 165-175

Dr. Nguyen Canh Minh didn’t have much choice during the French Indochina War of 1946–1954 and the Vietnam War of 1960–1975.1 His country became a battleground where two political ideologies competed in order to show their superiority. The Vietnamese people were only chessmen on a board, who unfortunately transformed the struggle between two superpowers...

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Chapter 18: A Korean Captain and His Hospital

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pp. 177-187

We met for the first time at an international symposium on the Asian-Pacific Rim in 1991. As the conference organizer, Dr. Walter Byong I. Jung brought in American governors, Asian ambassadors and consuls, university presidents, and many scholars from Asia. With a widely recognized reputation in academic exchanges and a Ph.D. in urban development, Dr. Jung taught at state ...

Part Five: Logistics Support

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pp. 189

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Chapter 19: “Loggie’s” War: Napalm, Fuel, Bombs, and Sweat

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pp. 191-197

Lt. Col. Terry May told me about 1st Lt. Bill Nelson’s war story and what happened after his Vietnam duty.1 After his discharge, Nelson resumed a teaching career, transitioned into higher education, and along the way earned two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. Then Dr. Nelson served as associate vice president at a major metropolitan university and prepared students for their ...

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Chapter 20: Support and Survival in Thailand

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pp. 199-203

M.Sgt. David Graves served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He told me that his motive for enlisting and serving in the military can be described by one word: honor. He had to join the services because of personal honor and his family heritage of service to this great nation. He showed me records of both of his great-great grandfathers’ service in the U.S. Civil War. ...

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Chapter 21: Three Great Escapes

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pp. 205-213

Many Americans came to believe that the RVN government suffered from corruption, factionalism, personal connection and loyalty, and mismanagement in the 1960s. At the local levels, including both province and township, the governments had similar (if not worse) problems. Mr. Nguyen Vung, a former army officer, describes how bribery, kickbacks, and illegal deals took ...

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Chapter 22: Chinese Railroad Engineering Operations

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pp. 215-222

Col. Hou Zhenlu and his regiment had been busy working in Vietnam for five years, from 1965 to 1970, as China’s railroad engineering troops. They fought hard to keep rail transportation moving as Beijing supplied Hanoi throughout the Vietnam War. From 1965 to 1973, China shipped to Vietnam 1.86 million small arms, 60,000 artillery pieces, 16 million artillery shells, ...

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Conclusion: Perspectives on the War

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pp. 223-228

The cold war globalized the Vietnam War, leading a number of countries to send forces to support either the Communist North or the anti-Communist South. For both sides, the international contributions became part of their efforts for victory. By 1968, Communist military cooperation had made the PLAF and NVA stronger and more capable of attacking the U.S. ...


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pp. 229-250

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 251-268


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pp. 269-279

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813173863
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813125923

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2010