Vietnam War Stories: Listening To Different Points of View As An Act of Love

February 09, 2015
 

April 29, 1975. Desperate South Vietnamese clamber aboard barges in the port of Saigon in an attempt to escape advancing North Vietnamese troops on the day of the Fall of Saigon.

Courtesy of © Nik Wheeler/Corbis

Listening is an act of love.  I’m not the first to say it nor the first to admit how hard it is to listen to a point of view different from one’s own.

War engenders passionate points of view, even decades later. April 30, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam conflict. 

To aid in public dialogues about the conflict and its consequences, Illinois Public Media is gathering firsthand accounts of the war at home and abroad for a project we are calling “Downstate Vietnam Stories.”

We’ll be listening to and videotaping the oral histories of Illinois residents who were among the service members, refugees, conscientious objectors, and draft resistors with first-hand experiences of the conflict at home or abroad. Some of these oral histories will be collected by Professor Stretch Ledford's journalism students at the University of Illinois and students at Danville Area Community College.  

Social studies teacher Mark Foley from Urbana High School will create lesson plans for high school teachers using video clips, text, audio and photos from these oral histories.  We’ll distribute these lesson plans through the Illinois Edition of PBS LearningMedia.

Later this year, we’ll invite you to listen along with us through various activities. 

We’ll post these oral histories on a special subsection of the Illinois Public Media website.  You’ll be invited to participate in community events at our partner sites: the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Danville Public Library and the Urbana Free Library.

Our media partners, WTVP in Peoria and WSIU in Carbondale, are collecting oral histories as well and they’ll  be added to our on-line collection.  And WILL’s news and public affairs team will create TV and radio stories for broadcast in the fall.

If our “Downstate Vietnam Stories” project is anything like our Central Illinois World War II Stories project, the telling and listening of these firsthand accounts may contribute to healing the scars left by war.

I’ll never forget listening to WWII veteran Don McCall from Champaign.

In 1945, Mr. McCall was one of 317 men to survive a Japanese submarine’s sinking of the USS Indianapolis, a 1,200 man cruiser. 

In 2007, he told a crowd gathered to hear his and other veteran’s stories that for many years he didn’t talk about his experiences, not even to his wife, until one day:

I was walking across my living room floor, which was hardwood and my wife said I just stopped and I looked like a log falling over and I fell on my face and busted my face all up and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me….so they sent me to Indianapolis to the VA hospital and that’s when I was told I had to talk about it.

You can listen to Mr. McCall yourself.  His story is archived on our website along with many others.

As Illinois Public Media embarks on this act of listening, I want to thank those who are willing to share their stories with us.  We appreciate your courage. 

And thanks, too, to the Illinois Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities  and the Illinois General Assembly, whose media grant enables us to collect these oral histories.

If you have a firsthand account of the Vietnam War at home or abroad to share, please contact me. Thank you.

p.s. Viewers of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: watch producer/director Rory Kennedy’s Academy-Award-nominated documentary film, Last Days in Vietnam, at 8pm on Tuesday, April 28 on WILL-TV. The film examines the moral quandary faced by American diplomats and soldiers to either obey White House orders to evacuate only U.S. citizens or risk being charged with treason and save the lives of as many South Vietnamese citizens as they can.