Memorial Wall records now available via the Web
The National Archives and Records Administration and Footnote.com have together launched a virtual replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall, making historical records of tens of thousands of deceased Vietnam War veterans available online. The site contains casualty records and agency photos, and is searchable by name, hometown, birth date, tour date and dozens of other categories. Footnote.com is working with NARA to make photos from the war available on its Web site and create links to the service records and casualty reports of those whose names appear on the digital wall.
Until now, the records of deceased veterans were only available through the NARA archives, and searching capabilities were limited.
The Web site also allows visitors to post photographs they may have of a deceased veteran and to make comments. Data available on the site will include each veteran’s specialty, rank, posthumous decorations, regiment, cause of death and whether the body was recovered.
Although veterans’ groups have praised the site, many say it should be expanded to include all Vietnam War veterans. “It’s a wonderful thing they’re doing,” said Rick Weid man, executive director for policy and government affairs at the Vietnam Veterans of America. “We certainly have to do much to honor our dead. But we continue to press for access for living veterans.”
Helicopter pilot gets Air Force Cross for 1968 rescue mission
An inquiry into one Vietnam veteran’s military pension led to the discovery that he deserved the Air Force Cross. Dennis Richardson flew helicopter rescue missions in Vietnam and, after the war, he spent the next 30 years flying rescue missions with the Air National Guard. Not until the military pension inquiry 10 years ago did evidence appear that Richardson, of Amityville, N.Y., was eligible for the nation’s second-highest military honor. In an unsuccessful March 1968 rescue effort near the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Richardson had exposed himself to enemy fire as a door gunner aboard one of two rescue helicopters trying to recover an American pilot who had ejected near the border of Laos. Enemy gunfire hit the helicopters, but Richardson persevered. In the end, they couldn’t save the pilot. “To have that guy right there and we couldn’t get him, you’re pretty upset,” Richardson said. In April, he received his medal at the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach.
Released documents confirm CIA activities in Laotian operations
The National Security Archive, a private research group, has published previously classified U.S. Air Force official histories of the Vietnam War that, according to the organization, prove that the Air Force actively considered nuclear weapons options during the 1959 Laos crisis and during the 1968 battle at Khe Sanh. The documents also reveal that CIA employees had a direct role in combat air attacks, flying Lao tian government aircraft on strike missions; and that the U.S. ambassador in Laos served as the field commander of the so-called “secret war” there, a role that has been largely undocumented. The National Security Archive released these classified documents after winning a lawsuit that charged the Air Force with “failing to process requests, destroying records, discouraging requesters, and excessive delays.” The court ordered the Air Force to process all the Archive’s requests. The history of the war in northern Laos was written in the 1990s but remained locked up, as did Air Force historical studies on specific years of the Vietnam War. In complying with the court’s order, the Air Force released the more than 500 pages of previously classified histories. Other revelations are that the CIA’s commitments to the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion hindered the Agency’s ability to carry out Kennedy administration policy in Laos, and that Air America, a CIA proprietary airline, ran search-and-rescue missions in Laos in addition to its role in combat operations.
War reporters’ remains interred at Newseum
Four celebrated Vietnam War combat photographers have been laid to rest in Washington, D.C.’s Newseum, a new $439 million museum devoted to the history and practice of journalism. The interment ceremony came 10 years after a U.S. military search team in Laos found bits of wreckage along with camera parts, film and broken watches, confirming that a South Vietnamese helicopter was shot down there in 1971. The helicopter carried the four photojournalists and seven South Vietnamese soldiers. The photographers were The Associated Press’ Henri Huet, 43; Larry Burrows, 44, of Life magazine; Kent Potter, 23, of United Press International; and Keisaburo Shimamoto, 34, a Newsweek freelancer.
At the ceremony, a capsule with the scant human remains was interred. A small silver plaque honors the photographers at the foot of a soaring glass memorial dedicated to fallen journalists. They are among 74 journalists who died in Vietnam. Richard Pyle, a former Associated Press bureau chief in Saigon, said the four compelled “the world to see Vietnam as they saw it, through a camera lens that told the truths about the war.”
Last of the boat people find Canadian home
The last group of 160 displaced Vietnamese boat people in the Philippines is obtaining permanent residence in Canada. They were among the hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled Vietnam by sea in flimsy, overcrowded boats in 1975 to escape the new Communist regime.
At the peak there were about 2,500 Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines. Many of the stateless refugees were unable to convince immigration screeners from the United States, Australia and Western European countries that they were political refugees. Canada, which already has 150,000 Vietnamese immigrants, ultimately decided to accept the remaining refugees from the Philippines.
Wallaby Airline pilots receive U.S. Air Medals in Canberra
After more than 40 years, the United States has finally honored the Royal Australian Air Force’s No. 35 Squadron—the first RAAF operational unit that was sent to Vietnam in 1964, and the last to leave in 1972. In the largest single U.S. decoration ceremony in Australia, held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on April 4, the U.S. Air Force awarded 128 Air Medals to Australian pilots and ground crew. United States Ambassador to Australia Robert McCallum presented the awards, many posthumously.
Referred to as the Wallaby Airlines by the Americans, the squadron worked and fought alongside American troops. The United States gave the squad its orders, which involved operating Caribou transports during 12-hour days in which they dropped and extracted supplies, rescued soldiers and recovered remains. For nearly 20 years, veterans of the squadron lobbied for recognition.
Australian veteran Ron Workman, who was a pilot in Number 35 Squadron, has been the driving force behind the push for the medals since 1995, when he attended an air force reunion in the United States. Veterans were required to send statutory declarations and other official documents to the United States, which were then checked out by the CIA and FBI before Congress passed the motion to award the medals.
Originally published in the August 2008 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.