Essays

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Part III. Essays

These Individual Essays are supplemental to the transcript and linked to specific items and notations therein.

Essay Topics

Cast of Characters

U.S. Personalities:

ON KEN BURNS SELECTION OF "REPRESENTATIVE" VIETNAM VETERANS by Bruce Cowee

One of my main objectives in publishing this series of oral histories,[1] beyond preserving the history of this wonderful group of men, was to try to dispel the negative stereotypes and correct the disinformation that Hollywood, the press, and the still vocal anti-war activists have perpetuated for over 50 years. What a wonderful opportunity for Ken Burns to do just that, but after watching the first segment I knew it was not to be. Hollywood, with its anti-Vietnam war bias, is alive and well, and that bias was readily apparent in this series. Other than a couple of exceptions, the Vietnam veterans interviewed by Burns bear little resemblance to the literally hundreds of Vietnam veterans I have met just in 2017, and those I worked with and know, both in my tour in Vietnam and in my years working with them at Western Airlines.

In my opinion there is no question that the goal of the series was to grant moral equivalence to the anti-war activists when comparing them to those who served honorably in Vietnam. Hollywood is good at what it does and has been doing this for years. Getting a message across through video and the music of the 1960s and 1970s tugs at the heartstrings and takes most of us back to that time in our lives. Watching Jack Todd desert from the Army and drive to Canada with Bobby Dylan singing “Farewell Angelina” in the background is a perfect example—“…the night is on fire and now I must go.” Really? Who thought that up? The drive through the woods of Washington to the Canadian border, listening to Bobby Dylan, is about as far from my reality as you can get. Every young man who turned 18 in the 60s and early 70s had a whole list of options for how to deal with the draft and military service. That drive was never one of them for me, for those I served with, and for those veterans I am proud to call my friends. Todd claims that going to Canada was the bravest thing he ever did. Perhaps for him, but it is not to be equated to the selfless courage shown on a daily basis by most who served. Here are just a few observations: Tim O’Brien, who was given way too much time in the series, is not a spokesman for the Vietnam veterans that I know, and I know a lot of them. He is a spokesman for himself. Bill Zimmerman was Burns designated spokesman for the anti-war movement. The series failed to mention his book, An Anti-War Delegation in Hanoi, or the fact that he helped smuggle medicines to North Vietnam during the war. My Volume 1 will tell you how the Marines discovered medicines in boxes labeled, “Cutter Labs, Berkeley, California” in enemy caves along the Laotian border. How it affected them to learn that their fellow countrymen were providing medicines to the enemy troops who were trying to kill them is explained in those chapters.

Good going Mr. Burns! Your choice of Bill Zimmerman is an insult to all who served. Your anointed spokesman for the anti-war movement dumped a giant load of garbage on all of us. In a sane world Bill Zimmerman would have been jailed as a traitor.

Burns found several Vietnam veterans turned anti-war activists. Ron Ferrizzi—Army helicopter crew chief, Joan Furey—Army nurse, John Musgrave—Marine infantryman and obviously a very troubled soul who contemplated suicide before joining the anti-war movement, and, not to be forgotten, Jack Todd who deserted and bravely went to Canada. They all have every right to their opinion and they must live with their decisions, but the presentation by Burns, with his narrator Peter Coyote’s voice droning on in the background, was not at all balanced. The one hundred Vietnam veterans whose stories are in my books and the several hundred more that I have met just in 2017 could, at random, have presented another view.

When I returned from Vietnam in May 1969 I flew the C-141 out of Travis AFB for three more years on active duty and another six years in the Air Force Reserve. Until March 1975 almost all of my missions were to and from Vietnam, and more than half of the return trips were MedEvac flights. Joan Furey could have been balanced by any one of the dedicated flight nurses who flew on those flights. Most of the Marines I have met could have balanced John Musgrave, and I’m sure the Army members of VHPA (Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association) or the Marine members of POPASMOKE could have been a good balance to Ron Ferrizzi. Jack Todd, however, is in a league of his own and is balanced by every Vietnam veteran who served with honor. Unfortunately, that balance wasn’t in this series.

I seldom heard the following words or phrases from the Vietnam veterans interviewed by Burns or from his narrator, Peter Coyote: “in service to their country, served with great courage, honor, and distinction, service and sacrifice, valor and dignity.” The Marine Corps veteran, John Musgrave, who became an anti-war activist and demonstrated with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, is so far out of the mainstream of the Marines I have met, both at Western Airlines and at the numerous Marine Corps reunions I have attended, I only wish that any one of them at random had been interviewed by Burns to balance his presentation. The Marines I know are proud of their service. They came home from the war and after completing their service commitment, got on with their lives. Many of them used the GI Bill to further their education, and with a few exceptions had successful careers, married and had children, and today, 50 years later, feel an intense pride in their service and want their children and grandchildren to know their stories. None of them were represented by the veterans interviewed by Burns.

Burns seems to have totally missed out on the Navy aircraft carrier operations that went on continuously in the Gulf of Tonkin from the very beginning of the air war in 1964 until the end over nine years later. I would be happy to introduce him to a long list of Navy and Marine Corps pilots who, in turn, would be happy to introduce him to the crew chiefs and deck crews who made the launch and recovery of aircraft run like clockwork, 24 hours a day for over 9 years. They weren’t sucking marijuana through a shotgun barrel. Talk about a missed opportunity.

I met Karl Marlantes at a book signing at the Marines’ Memorial in San Francisco on September 27, 2011. His book Matterhorn is very good and he has tremendous credibility as a recipient of the Navy Cross, but why wasn’t Burns also able to interview Jim Webb, another Marine Navy Cross recipient, whose book, Fields of Fire, is described as the classic novel of the war in Vietnam. His background as an Annapolis graduate, former Secretary of the Navy, United States Senator from Virginia, and a candidate for the presidency in the 2016 election, all speak to his credibility. His editorials and Op Ed pieces over the years about his service, and his praise for the courage and sacrifice of the Marines who served with him, make compelling reading. They have appeared in many newspapers. Perhaps his views would not have reinforced the Burns agenda.

Index of U.S. Interviewees

Table of U.S. Interviewees

Newsreel Reporters:

Seymour Topping

James Mossman

Ed Herlihy

Peter Roberts

Walter Cronkite

Lon Chioffi

Murray Froman

Peter Kalisher

Hugh Downs

Mike Wallace

Don Farmer

? Devalier

? Pelgon

Sam Alkiner

Frank McGee

Charles Quinn

John Scalli

Morton Dean

John Laurence

Howard K. Smith

Warren Rogers

Robert Goralski

Don Webster

Chet Huntley

Richard Threlkeld

Liz Trotta

David Culhane

Michael Holmes

Gabe Pressman

Aime Seerinen

Don North

George Syvertson

Jack Horne

David Barrington

Douglas Kikur

Howard Tuckner

David Frost

John Chancellor

Roger Peterson

Susan Peterson

File:Index of Reporters.pdf

Vietnamese Personalities (both North and South)

Tran Ngoc Toan ARVN Marine

Lam Quang Thi ARVN

Pham Duy Tat ARVN

Tran Ngoc “Harry” Hue ARVN

Le Minh Dao ARVN

Phan Quang Tue SVN Civilian

Tran Ngoc Chau ARVN Province Chief

Bui Diem RVN Diplomat

Mai Elliott RAND

Nick Ut AP Photographer

Le Cong Huan VC

Nguyen Van Tong VC

Nguyen Thanh Tung VC

Le Quan Cong VC

Le Cong Huan VC

Le Van Cho VC

Nguyen Thoi Bung VC

Nguyen Thi Hoa VC

Cao Xuan Dai NVA

Dong Si Nguyen NVA

Nguyen Thanh Son NVA

Nguyen Ngoc NVA

Lo Khac Tam NVA

Tran Cong Thang NVA

Ho Huu Lan NVA

Pham Luc NVA

Nguyen Nguyet Anh NVA

Le Minh Que NVN Youth Volunteer

Nguyen Tai NVN Spy

Huy Duc NVN Journalist

Index of VN Personalities

Table of VN Personalities

Index of Other Persons Quoted

Production Credits

Sponsors

References

  1. Cowee, Bruce. Vietnam to Western Airlines. 

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