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Historic Army fort showcases the Vietnam War

Named in honor of Civil War general Charles Devens, a Boston native who later served as attorney general under President Rutherford B. Hayes, Fort Devens was established in September 1917 in north-central Massachusetts to help address the burgeoning manpower demands of World War I. As an active-duty installation for nearly 80 years until it closed in 1996, Fort Devens housed and trained combat units to fight in the nation’s wars, including the Vietnam War.

The Fort Devens Museum, a private nonprofit museum that displays artifacts representing periods throughout the fort’s history, held its inaugural “Vietnam Living History Day” in June. Visitors were treated to a panel of veterans who reflected on their time in Vietnam and a discussion with a former Huey helicopter pilot who had flown combat missions with the 158th Aviation Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, in 1970-71.

Meanwhile, on a grassy field just a short walk from the museum, about two dozen reenactors portrayed American, French and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. They posed for pictures and answered questions. Military equipment, small arms and several Vietnam-era vehicles were also on display.

Tom Sommers, Fort Devens Museum reenactor coordinator, set up the Vietnam day because “as someone who grew up during the Vietnam era, I was seeking to make sense of the chaos,”he said. “I felt overall it’s time for our society to deal better with the events of 50 years ago. I also felt living historians could help the veterans reconnect positively. Also, Vietnam was the last war where Fort Devens was fully operational as an Army base.”

Sommers said he and Museum Executive Director Kara Fossey intend to hold a similar event next year.



This article appeared in Vietnam magazine’s December 2019 issue.