#1003 – Dick Bernard: A Remarkable Evening Remembering the Vietnam War

UPDATE Mar 27, 2014: Bill Sorem filmed the entire event which is available on his vimeo site here. The entire program is about 90 minutes, featuring solely the seven speakers.
Tonight I was at a remarkable story-telling session in St. Paul. More later on that. There will be a continuation of the conversation on Thursday, April 9, at Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Several pages of handouts from tonight, including the the agenda for tonight, and for April 9, can be read here: Vietnam War Recalled001
(click on drawing to enlarge it)

photo copy of Padre Johnson sketch from 1968, used with permission of the artist.  See Postnote 4.

photo copy of Padre Johnson sketch from 1968, used with permission of the artist. See Postnote 4.

Personal background:
In mid-November, 1982, I was in Washington D.C. for a meeting of a volunteer board of which I was a member.
On Saturday, Nov 13, a member reported to us that she’d seen many veterans of the Vietnam War the previous evening, and they were in town for the dedication of the just completed Vietnam Memorial on the National Mall. Emotions were intense, she reported.
Sunday, Nov 14, 1982, I had several hours between the end of our meeting, and my flight back to Minneapolis from D.C.’s National Airport, and I decided to stop by this new monument. The visit to the wall was an intense one for me as well. I described my experience a couple of weeks later: Vietnam Mem DC 1982001 (See Postnote 1)
I’m a Vietnam era Army Infantry veteran, 1962-63. None of us in Basic Training at Ft. Carson CO ever left stateside; we were simply folded into a newly reactivated Infantry Division which, it turned out, was being prepared for later deployment to Vietnam. At that time, I recall my platoon sergeant wanted an assignment to Saigon. It was considered “good duty”. Later my two younger brothers were Air Force officers who both served in Vietnam, circa 1968 and 1971, one as an F-105 pilot; the other, navigator on military transport planes, some in and out of Vietnam airstrips.
It occurred to me that day at the Memorial that I had never welcomed my brothers home after their tours ended, so I wrote both of them letters in the plane enroute home. Ten or so years earlier they just came back, that’s all.
In more recent years I learned my former Army Company had been decimated in a 1968 ambush in Vietnam. My source was a colleague from the same company, from Sauk Rapids MN, who’d learned this from another veteran who’d later been in the same Company. As I recall, the vet said to my Army friend: “I’ll tell you this story once; never ask me about it again”. (See Postnotes 2 and 3)
Tonights gathering (see page two here, and photo below: Vietnam War Recalled001)
My words are superfluous to the intensity of the messages conveyed by seven speakers in 90 minutes tonight. Below is a picture of the printed agenda. Click to enlarge. I noted someone filming the talks. Hopefully the evening will be translated into an on-line presentation for others to see. Every presentation was powerful.
(click to enlarge)
Agenda, March 20, 2015

Agenda, March 20, 2015

Postnote 1: As I was preparing this post, I thought it would be simple to find a link that described the history of the Memorial. In the end, I had to use this Wikipedia entry as a source. Scroll down to find the early history of the Memorial and the controversy surrounding it. At this 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War (April 30, 1975), active attempts are being made to re-invent the Vietnam War as being something other than the disaster that it was. History is never safe, which is why the stories told tonight are so important.
Postnote 2: Some years ago I learned that someone had placed online a website remembering the history of the Infantry Battalion of which my Infantry Company was part. You can access it here, including some photographs I took as a young GI at Ft. Carson CO.
Postnote 3: On Monday evening, March 16, 2015, I was checking into the motel in LaMoure ND. The clerk at the desk, a Mom who I’ve gotten to know in the course of many visits to the town, felt a need to talk this particular evening. Just a short while earlier her Dad had died, at 65. He’d had a very rough life, spending most of his recent years on 120% disability from the Veterans Administration for severe exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. It was falling to her to clean up final affairs for her Dad, and it was not easy.
When I got home I wrote a note of support and condolence to her.
It only occurred to me tonight, writing this piece, that she, and my friend from Army days, were from the same town, Sauk Rapids MN.
Postnote 4: Artist Ray (Padre) Johnson is a great friend, and was a medic in Vietnam during some of the deadliest combat in 1967-68. You can read more about the drawing he did here. The section about the drawing is below the photo of the hearse….
COMMENT Mar 27 from Dick Bernard to Chante Wolf’s presentation: I’ve known and respected Chante for years; heard her speak in person on March 20, and just watched her and the others just now.
I can only speak to my own experience in an Army Infantry Company 1962-63.
In those days, our units were 100% male. I really don’t recall even seeing women. I was engaged at the time, and never “went to town” (Colorado Springs) so never experienced the more raw side of life there.
We were young men, then, and doubtless thought the same as young men of any generation. In my particular units, anyway, I don’t recall the raw sexual commentary even in the drill cadences. We lived in barracks, perhaps 20 to a floor, with zero privacy, one bed next to the other with a bathroom down the hall.
Had there been females in the unit, I have no doubt that the behavior we would have witnessed would have been the same as Chante experienced. But I can speak only from my own personal experience.
I did a quick google search to see if there was more information on the topic. All I can do is add the page of links, fyi.

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