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Dartmouth Veterans

Vietnam Perspectives

Phillip C. Schaefer

These are tales of what it was like for young men to go from the bucolic hills of New Hampshire to a land wracked by war and violence. The result is a collection of more than fifty accounts, showing the variety of experiences and reactions to this dramatic period in American history. Some soldiers were drafted, some volunteered; some supported the war, but many turned against it. Common to all the stories is the way in which war changes men, for good and ill, and the way in which the Vietnam experience colored so much of the rest of these writers' lives.

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Death Zones and Darling Spies

Seven Years of Vietnam War Reporting

Beverly Deepe Keever

In 1961, equipped with a master’s degree from famed Columbia Journalism School and letters of introduction to Associated Press bureau chiefs in Asia, twenty-six-year-old Beverly Deepe set off on a trip around the world. Allotting just two weeks to South Vietnam, she was still there seven years later, having then earned the distinction of being the longest-serving American correspondent covering the Vietnam War and garnering a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

In Death Zones and Darling Spies, Beverly Deepe Keever describes what it was like for a farm girl from Nebraska to find herself halfway around the world, trying to make sense of one of the nation’s bloodiest and bitterest wars. She arrived in Saigon as Vietnam’s war entered a new phase and American helicopter units and provincial advisers were unpacking. She tells of traveling from her Saigon apartment to jungles where Wild West–styled forts first dotted Vietnam’s borders and where, seven years later, they fell like dominoes from communist-led attacks. In 1965 she braved elephant grass with American combat units armed with unparalleled technology to observe their valor—and their inability to distinguish friendly farmers from hide-and-seek guerrillas.

Keever’s trove of tissue-thin memos to editors, along with published and unpublished dispatches for New York and London media, provide the reader with you-are-there descriptions of Buddhist demonstrations and turning-point coups as well as phony ones. Two Vietnamese interpreters, self-described as “darling spies,” helped her decode Vietnam’s shadow world and subterranean war. These memoirs, at once personal and panoramic, chronicle the horrors of war and a rise and decline of American power and prestige.

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Decent Interval

Decent Interval

Widely regarded as a classic on the Vietnam War, Decent Interval provides a scathing critique of the CIA's role in and final departure from that conflict. Still the most detailed and respected account of America's final days in Vietnam, the book was written at great risk and ultimately at great sacrifice by an author who believed in the CIA's cause but was disillusioned by the agency's treacherous withdrawal, leaving thousands of Vietnamese allies to the mercy of an angry enemy. A quarter-century later, it remains a riveting and powerful testament to one of the darkest episodes in American history.

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Defend and Befriend

The U.S. Marine Corps and Combined Action Platoons in Vietnam

John Southard

After relatively successful military interventions in Iraq in 1992 and Yugoslavia in 1998, many American strategists believed that airpower and remote technology were the future of U.S. military action. But America's most recent wars in the Middle East have reinforced the importance of counterinsurgency, with its imperative to "win hearts and minds" on the ground in foreign lands. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has studied and experimented with the combined action platoon (CAP) concept used from 1965 to 1971 by the Marine Corps in Vietnam.

Consisting of twelve Marines, a medic, and dozens of inexperienced local militiamen, the American contingent of CAPs lived in South Vietnamese villages where they provided twenty-four-hour security and daily medical support for civilians, and fostered social interaction through civic action projects, such as building schools, offices, and wells. Defend and Befriend is the first comprehensive study of the evolution of these platoons, emphasizing how and why the U.S. Marine Corps attempted to overcome the inherent military, social, and cultural obstacles on the ground in Vietnam. Basing his analysis on Marine records and numerous interviews with CAP veterans, author John Southard illustrates how thousands of soldiers tasked with counterinsurgency duties came to perceive the Vietnamese people and their mission.

This unique study counters prevailing stereotypes and provides a new perspective on the American infantryman in the Vietnam War. Illuminating the fear felt by many Americans as they served among groups of understandably suspicious civilians, Defend and Befriend offers important insights into the future development of counterinsurgency doctrine.

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A Different Face of War

Memories of a Medical Service Corps Officer in Vietnam

James G. Van Straten

A Different Face of War is a riveting account of a Medical Service Corps officer’s activities during the early years of the Vietnam War. Assigned as the senior medical advisor to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam in I Corps, an area close to the DMZ, James G. Van Straten traveled extensively and interacted with military officers and non-commissioned officers, peasant-class farmers, Buddhist bonzes, shopkeepers, scribes, physicians, nurses, the mentally ill, and even political operatives. He sent his wife daily letters from July 1966 through June 1967, describing in impressive detail his experiences, and those letters became the primary source for his memoir. The author describes with great clarity and poignancy the anguish among the survivors when an American cargo plane in bad weather lands short of the Da Nang Air Base runway on Christmas Eve and crashes into a Vietnamese coastal village, killing more than 100 people and destroying their village; the heart-wrenching pleadings of a teenage girl that her shrapnel-ravaged leg not be amputated; and the anger of an American helicopter pilot who made repeated trips into a hot landing zone to evacuate the wounded, only to have the Vietnamese insist that the dead be given a higher priority.

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Donut Dolly

An American Red Cross Girl's War in Vietnam

Joann Puffer Kotcher

Donut Dolly puts you in the Vietnam War face down in the dirt under a sniper attack, inside a helicopter being struck by lightning, at dinner next to a commanding general, and slogging through the mud along a line of foxholes. You see the war through the eyes of one of the first women officially allowed in the combat zone. When Joann Puffer Kotcher left for Vietnam in 1966, she was fresh out of the University of Michigan with a year of teaching, and a year as an American Red Cross Donut Dolly in Korea. All she wanted was to go someplace exciting. In Vietnam, she visited troops from the Central Highlands to the Mekong Delta, from the South China Sea to the Cambodian border. At four duty stations, she set up recreation centers and made mobile visits wherever commanders requested. That included Special Forces Teams in remote combat zone jungles. She brought reminders of home, thoughts of a sister or the girl next door. Officers asked her to take risks because they believed her visits to the front lines were important to the men. Every Vietnam veteran who meets her thinks of her as a brother-at-arms. Donut Dolly is Kotcher’s personal view of the war, recorded in a journal kept during her tour, day by day as she experienced it. It is a faithful representation of the twists and turns of the turbulent, controversial time. While in Vietnam, Kotcher was once abducted; dodged an ambush in the Delta; talked with a true war hero in a hospital who had charged a machine gun; and had a conversation with a prostitute. A rare account of an American Red Cross volunteer in Vietnam, Donut Dolly will appeal to those interested in the Vietnam War, to those who have interest in the military, and to women aspiring to go beyond the ordinary.

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Eagle Days

A Marine Legal/Infantry Officer in Vietnam

Donald W. Griffis

Much has been written about America’s war in Vietnam, and an enduring and troubling subtext is the composition of the body of soldiers that made up the U.S. troop deployment: from the initially well-trained and disciplined group of largely elite units that served in the mid-sixties to what has been termed an “armed mob” by the end of that decade and into the early 1970s. Drug use, insubordination, racial antagonism that often became violent, theft and black market dealing, and even “fragging” (murder of officers and senior noncoms by disgruntled troops) marred the record of the U.S. military presence. Don Griffis served in the twin roles of legal officer charged at various times with the task of both defending and prosecuting servicemen, while at the same time leading combat patrols in “search and destroy” missions against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese enemy. Eagle Days is a remarkable account of Griffis’ personal record of experiencing what the military should do best—meet, engage, and defeat the enemy—and what it becomes when esprit de corps, discipline, and a sense of purpose decay.

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Evangelism and Resistance in the Black Atlantic, 1760–1835

Cedrick May

This study focuses on the role of early African American Christianity in the formation of American egalitarian religion and politics. It also provides a new context for understanding how black Christianity and evangelism developed, spread, and interacted with transatlantic religious cultures of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Cedrick May looks at the work of a group of pivotal African American writers who helped set the stage for the popularization of African American evangelical texts and the introduction of black intellectualism into American political culture: Jupiter Hammon, Phillis Wheatley, John Marrant, Prince Hall, Richard Allen, and Maria Stewart.

Religion gave these writers agency and credibility, says May, and they appropriated the language of Christianity to establish a common ground on which to speak about social and political rights. In the process, these writers spread the principles that enabled slaves and free blacks to form communities, a fundamental step in resisting oppression. Moreover, says May, this institution building was overtly political, leading to a liberal shift in mainstream Christianity and secular politics as black churches and the organizations they launched became central to local communities and increasingly influenced public welfare and policy.

This important new study restores a sense of the complex challenges faced by early black intellectuals as they sought a path to freedom through Christianity.

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Failing Our Veterans

The G.I. Bill and the Vietnam Generation

Mark Boulton

The original 1944 G.I. Bill holds a special place in the American imagination. In popular mythology, it stands as the capstone of the Greatest Generation narrative of World War II, a fitting reward for the nation’s heroes. Given the almost universal acclaim afforded the bill, future generations of warriors might well have expected to receive similar remuneration for their sacrifice. But when soldiers of the Vietnam conflict shed their fatigues and returned home to civilian life, they found that their G.I. Bills fell well short of what many of them believed they had earned.

In this first legislative history of the G.I. Bill during the Vietnam Era, Mark Boulton takes the story of veterans’ politics beyond the 1944 G.I. Bill as he seeks to uncover the reasons why Vietnam veterans were less well compensated than their predecessors. In crafting their legislation, both conservative and liberal politicians of the Vietnam era wrestled with fundamental questions about the obligations of American citizenship. What does it mean to serve one’s country? What does society owe those civilians it puts in uniform? Repeatedly, in answering those questions, lawmakers from both ends of the political spectrum found reasons to curb the generosity of the benefits offered.

The G.I. Bills should play a central role in our understanding of the Vietnam veteran’s post-service lives, just as they do for World War II veterans. Taking the story of the G.I. Bills beyond the World War II generation allows for a more complete understanding of the veteran experience in America.

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Felon for Peace

The Memoir of a Vietnam-Era Draft Resister

Jerry Elmer

When Jerry Elmer turned eighteen at the height of the Vietnam War, he publicly refused to register for the draft, a felony then and now. Later he burglarized the offices of fourteen draft boards in three cities, destroying the files of men eligible to be drafted. After working almost twenty years in the peace movement, he attended law school, where he was the only convicted felon in Harvard’s class of 1990. This book is a blend of personal memoir, contemporary history, and astute political analysis. Elmer draws on a variety of sources, including never-before-released FBI files, and argues passionately for the practice of nonviolence. He describes the range of actions he took—from draft card burning to organizing draft board raids with Father Phil Berrigan; from vigils on the Capitol steps inside “tiger cages” used to torture Vietnamese political prisoners to jail time for protesting nuclear power plants; from a tour of the killing fields of Cambodia to meetings with Corazon Aquino in the Philippines. A Vietnamese-language edition of FELON FOR PEACE will be published later this year.

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