Pentagon Papers Making News 40 Years Later
With the official government release of the Pentagon Papers in June, LBJ’s response if he were alive would be, “What the hell took so long?” said Harry Middleton, a past director of the LBJ Library and a White House aide to President Lyndon Johnson. “He felt, to get the whole story out, that everybody should have access to the papers in the LBJ Library,” Middleton told the Austin American-Statesman. And, in recent comments, Daniel Ellsberg, the former RAND Corporation analyst who originally leaked the report, said he wanted to stop the war—so he left out sections about the peace negotiations with North Vietnam. “I omitted them because I thought that Nixon would use the release as an excuse for breaking off negotiations with North Vietnam,” he said in an interview.
Officially declassified per Executive Order 13526 on June 16, the Pentagon Papers, titled “United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967:A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense”—all 47 volumes—now occupy 48 boxes in the National Archives and Records Administration. That fulfills a wish that Johnson made known to Middleton just 10 days before he died in 1973. According to Middleton, Johnson wanted a meeting with President Richard M. Nixon as soon as he was re-inaugurated in 1973, but two days after Nixon’s inauguration, LBJ died of a heart attack. Former Johnson White House aides pressed the issue with Nixon, who reportedly indicated his full cooperation, but when the Watergate scandal broke, it consumed the Nixon White House and led to Nixon’s resignation. “And that was the end of the story,” said Middleton.
The Archives worked for nearly a year to prepare the release of the 7,000-page document, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the papers’ leak to the press. “Approximately 2,384 pages or 34 percent of the Report will be opened for the first time,” the National Archives website claimed, but officials conceded that sections about the peace negotiations had been declassified for years and that the new material contained “no smoking guns.” The study, completed five days before Nixon was first sworn into office in 1969, was collected between blue covers and bound with metal brads. The LBJ Library, which has had one of the complete sets of the Pentagon papers since 1969, removed the brads some time ago to help preserve the papers, but the historic blue covers remain. The papers will also be available for online viewing, through the National Archives website, as well as at the Nixon, Kennedy and LBJ presidential libraries. For Vietnam War scholars, it will be a chance to see all the sections in the context in which they were first written, and it may indeed provide the “encyclopedic history of the Vietnam War” that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara envisioned when he commissioned the study in 1967.
Report Keeps Blue Water Sailors Treading Water
An institute of Medicine (IOM) “Report on Blue Water Navy,” requested by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki in an effort to clear up the debate surrounding Agent Orange (AO) exposure to so called Blue Water Navy veterans from Vietnam, was released in May. Its findings have only stirred the waters. “[We are] unable to state with certainty that Blue Water Navy personnel were or were not exposed to TCDD [dioxin]” the report states, making it unlikely that the VA will change its rules and make it easier for these sailors to receive benefits for diseases linked toAgent Orange. In 2002, Blue Water Navy veterans were removed from legislation guaranteeing them disability compensation and health care benefits because they had not actually had “boots on the ground” in Vietnam, a decision that was upheld by a federal court in 2008.
The IOM report, however, did identify “plausible” pathways of offshore exposure such as: direct contact with ocean water contaminated by dumped or sprayed dioxin, such as by swimming or inhaling; or by ingesting potable water distilled from offshore waters that contained AO runoff. While that plausibility has given some Navy veterans hope, the IOM committee also concluded that “qualitatively, ground troops and Brown Water Navy personnel had more pathways of exposure…than did Blue Water Navy personnel.” But John Wells, a retired Navy commander and spokesman for the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association, said it did not matter whether there were fewer pathways, “you only need to be exposed once,” he told The NewYork Times. According to a recent article in American Legion magazine, Thomas J. Laliberte, a naval photographer who serviced aerial reconnaissance cameras on the A-5 Vigilantes that flew from the aircraft carrier Constitution in the Gulf of Tonkin, the planes flew in areas sprayed with Agent Orange and periodically landed in Vietnam, accumulating dioxin residue, not to mention that contaminated reconnaissance equipment was serviced on board the ships.
As the debate continues, legislation is circulating on Capitol Hill to restore AO benefits to everyone who served in the Vietnam War—on land, in the air or at sea. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, who has sponsored legislation for the Blue Water vets, said that as many as 800,000 service members might have been exposed to Agent Orange without having set a foot in Vietnam.
Vietnam and U.S. Begin Cleanup of Da Nang Dioxin Hotspot
In a joint effort by the Vietnamese Defense Ministry and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Vietnam has begun its cleanup of Agent Orange contamination on 70 acres in Da Nang, 38 years after the U.S. Air Force withdrew from the air base where the deadly dioxin was stored. The $32- million project, funded by the U.S. government, marks the first time both sides will work together on the environmental cleanup. According to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense began sweeping the area to clear unexploded ordnance in June, and it will then work with the USAID to remove the dioxin from the soil and sediment in a process called “in situ” thermal absorption, in which the dirt is superheated to remove contaminants.
Zippo Collection Pulled Off the Auction Block
Almost 200 Zippo lighters featured in the 2007 book Vietnam Zippos: American Soldiers’Engravings and Stories, from the collection of Bradford Edwards, who had consigned them to Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati for an American history sale, were removed from the auction in June.
Edwards and Wes Cowan, who is the owner of the auction house, have said that they hope the lighters will somehow be kept on public view. “I envision a traveling exhibit that could be toured to a number of institutions nationally, that would feature the lighters…and a story booth where Vietnam veterans could relate stories,” Cowan told The New York Times.
Marine Museum ‘Sacrifice Window’ Is Dedicated to Chaplain
Father Vincent Capadanno, well known among Marines for his pastoral services during the Vietnam War, has been honored with a permanent tribute at the National Museum of the Marine Corps near Quantico, Va. On May 11, one of the windows in the memorial chapel, the “Sacrifice” window, was dedicated to honor him. Holding the rank of a lieutenant, he began his service as a Navy chaplain in Vietnam in the spring of 1966 and participated in seven combat operations. In September 1967, Capadanno, already injured in a mortar attack and trying to tend to the wounded, was killed when he placed his own body between one of his wounded men and an enemy machine gunner. He is the only chaplain to receive the Medal of Honor.
General Vang Pao Gets Arlington Honor After All
General Vang Pao, the Hmong leader and key U.S. ally during the Vietnam War who died in January 2011 and was subsequently denied burial in Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, was recently honored at the cemetery.
On May 13, the U.S. Army Honor Guard presented arms and colors in honor of General Pao and the Hmong and Lao veterans who died during the war at the Lao Veterans of America monument at Arlington. Pao led a CIA-funded guerrilla army against the Lao and Vietnamese Communists. He was denied an Arlington burial because he was not a U.S. citizen during the Vietnam War, though he subsequently did became a citizen and settled in Orange County, Calif. Pao was buried in California’s Glendale cemetery on February 9.
Originally published in the October 2011 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.