A Minnesota PBS Initiative
Why I Protested the Vietnam War
I am a Vietnam War veteran having served for twelve months in an infantry unit as a foot soldier with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Our units' nickname was "The Herd" and we were sometimes referred to as "Sky Soldiers" as we were also trained as paratroopers.
Going off to war was a real growing up experience in more ways than one - physically, emotionally, and for myself politically. Everyday brought with it a new challenge to survive, the heat, the bugs, the enemy, the horror of battle and its aftermath. As the days went by you witnessed destruction and death for both sides on a regular basis while in the back of your mind you wondered if this was all worth it.
From time to time our unit took on heavy casualties but I myself led a charmed life over there and was not injured physically. However, I was not spared the deep pain and anguish that comes from losing dear friends.
Upon my return from the war, like many others I would be forever haunted by the scenes and emotions that would play out in my head for the rest of my life. After my Vietnam tour I was sent to Berlin Germany for a year and a half which was a blessing as I could slowly make the transition to civilian life.
While in Berlin I started to read about how the United States got involved in Vietnam. I learned that during WWII Ho Chi Minh's forces fought America's enemy the Japanese in Vietnam with donated American weapons. As WWII ended in 1945 Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnamese Independence from colonial rule and actually copied from the "United States Declaration of Independence."
However, those noble words and exalted ideals once spoken by our forefathers - now fell on deaf ears in America!
Soon the French were back to colonize Vietnam with America's support. After years of war the French were defeated in 1954. The International community at Geneva then agreed to separate Vietnam into north and south for two years, and then an internationally supervised reunification election would be held to peacefully reunite all of Vietnam under one government in 1956.
Growing up in America - I thought that we were the 'good guys.' We believed in freedom, democracy and elections right?
It wasn't Ho Chi Minh and the Communists who called off this election. The United States government and the CIA brought in Vietnamese businessman Ngo Dinh Diem and backed him as the leader of the southern half of Vietnam. Diem held a rigged election in the south sector only, and then announced the cancellation of the reunification election scheduled for July 1956, with U.S. backing! President Eisenhower had privately admitted that if a reunification election had been held that perhaps 80% of the Vietnamese people would have voted for Ho Chi Minh. But the U.S. wouldn't allow that!
When I learned about this 'cancelled election' I was furious! My dear friends had died bravely while believing that they were fighting for someone's freedom - when we actually robbed the Vietnamese people of a peaceful solution and from choosing their preferred leader in a fair election!
This deceit changed my view of the war and made me distrust my own government. At this point I realized that my ideals no longer matched those of our government.
I felt betrayed by my government and by society in general for allowing this war to happen. This deceit changed my view of the war and made me distrust my own government. At this point I realized that my ideals no longer matched those of our government. The Vietnam War didn't have to happen at all!
America had one more chance for peace in Vietnam. In the fall of 1963 President Kennedy decided to start the pull out of all U.S. troops from Vietnam, to be completed in 1965 as outlined in National Security Action Memorandum 263. Within a few days of JFK's murder the Johnson administration cancelled the troop withdrawal with National Security Action Memorandum 265.
I left the Army in 1969 and began attending the Vietnam War protests over the next several years. One memorable protest was held at the University of Minnesota. There were thousands of protesters of all ages attending but mostly they were college aged. We marched down the streets on campus to a loud drumbeat and sang anti-war chants. In the first group to lead the march a young man proudly held a sign over his head that read "F*** Nixon." Attached to the top of his sign was an anatomically correct dildo pointing up to the sky and people cheered and laughed as they saw it! At this time President Nixon was running for reelection. That day other activists were passing out stickers that read "lick dick in 72."
Meanwhile my father, a WWII veteran was finishing up his career as a Minneapolis Policeman. He also attended some of these same rallies in uniform to help 'keep the peace.' He later told me that at one such rally he talked with the protesters and agreed with them that the war was BS!
I also attended a "Dump the War" rally that was held at the old Met Sports Center where the Minnesota North Stars hockey team played. This was near where the Mall of America now stands. Speakers for this rally included former Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, John Kerry with Vietnam Veterans against the War, singer songwriters Peter Yarrow (of Peter,Paul and Mary), John Denver and others. At the time this event was described as the largest peace rally in Minnesota history. We listened to John Denver singing "Sunshine on my Shoulders." Peter Yarrow sang with the audience "Weave Me the Sunshine out of the Falling Rain." We had a lovely time and it felt good to rub shoulders with so many 'like minded' and 'peace loving' people.
Eventually the war would end, but sadly there would be another, and another, and another! It seems that our government hasn't yet learned - or wanted to learn how to stay out of unnecessary wars, and we citizens haven't yet learned how to control our government.
No doubt there are now more young American soldiers out there who feel betrayed by their government and by society in general, just as I had 50 years ago.
Story Subject: Activist
This story is part of Stories of Protest.
View the collection.
Story Themes: 173rd Airborne Brigade, Activism, Book, Combat, Coming Home, Death and Loss, Dissent, Growing Up, Politics, Pop Culture, Protest, Reflection, Sky Soldiers, University of Minnesota, Vietnam Veterans Against the War