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‘Vietnam Experience’ Exhibit Unveiled at U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center

Specialist 4 Bill Beck and Specialist 4 Russell Adams were among 450 soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, who were greatly outnumbered on Nov. 14, 1965, when they were airlifted into enemy territory at Landing Zone X-Ray near the Cambodian border. As General Hal Moore has written, “When his time came to perform for America and the men around him, Beck did the job…Men like Russell Adams and Bill Beck win our wars for us.” Exactly 43 years from that unforgettable day in the Ia Drang Valley, a compelling outdoor exhibit illustrating the “Vietnam Experience” was unveiled in November at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pa.

The exhibit’s interpretive panels describe the experiences of soldiers during events such as the battle at LZ X-Ray, who were able to fend off NVA assaults with support from artillery fire, B-52 bombers dropping tons of high explosives and fighter-bombers dropping napalm. Speaking at the unveiling of the Vietnam Experience was noted Vietnam reporter and historian Joe Galloway, who survived the Battle of Ia Drang.

The exhibit includes a restored Huey and a model of a fire support base, both of which represent significant developments in warfare that emerged from the Vietnam conflict. Also featured in the exhibit is Captain Joe Newsome, whose mission was to defeat the enemy by pioneering a new concept of warfare that used helicopters to fly over enemy positions or rough terrain and insert troops directly into the conflict area.

This permanent display is open to the public and forms the newest part of the Army Heritage Trail at the Army Heritage and Education Center.

Traumatic Brain Injury Survival Chances Much Higher in Iraq War Than in Vietnam

The chances of soldiers surviving a traumatic brain injury (TBI), whether penetrating or concussive, are much higher today than during the Vietnam era, according to the New England Journal of Medicine and Textbooks of Military Medicine. Mortality due to TBI was around 75 percent during the Vietnam War. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Kevlar helmets and body armor have significantly reduced the chances of dying—but a tragic byproduct of an improvised explosive device (IED) blast or shrapnel wound may be a brain injury severe enough to alter the lives of those who are wounded.

Among surviving soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, TBI appears to account for a larger proportion of casualties than it has in other recent U.S. wars. According to the Joint Theater Trauma Registry, compiled by the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, 22 percent of the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan who have passed through Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany had injuries to the head, face or neck. According to Deborah L. Warden, a neurologist and director of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, this percentage is a rough estimate of the fraction who have TBI. She said the true proportion is probably higher, since some cases of closed brain injury are not diagnosed promptly. In the Vietnam War, by contrast, 12 to 14 percent of all combat casualties had a brain injury, and an additional 2 to 4 percent had a brain injury plus a lethal wound to the chest or abdomen, according to Ronald Bellamy, former editor of the Textbooks of Military Medicine. Bellamy said that because mortality from brain injuries among U.S. combatants in Vietnam was 75 percent or greater, soldiers with brain injuries made up only a small fraction of the casualties treated in hospitals.

United States and Vietnam Talk Military Cooperation and Agent Orange Cleanup

Meeting in Hanoi last fall, American and Vietnamese representatives discussed a variety of defense and security issues, including possible U.S. sales of spare parts for American-made helicopters left in Vietnam after the war. Possible arms deals and the inclusion of Vietnamese soldiers in United Nations peacekeeping operations were also on the agenda of Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense James Clad and Assistant Secretary of State Mark Kimmitt. Clad noted that Washington cooperates militarily with other countries in the region and that because of its growth, “Vietnam is more and more coming into that world.” By collaborating on political, defense and security issues, says Clad, the U.S. hopes both to balance rising Chinese power and to help Vietnam and China maintain good relations, in order to promote regional stability. Vietnam and the United States have scheduled a follow-up meeting for next fall in Washington.

U.S. and Vietnam representatives also held their third round of talks in September on ways to limit the environmental effects of Agent Orange. Officials from both countries convened and visited the former U.S. air base at Bien Hoa, one of several Agent Orange “hotspots,” where the defoliant was mixed and stored before loading it onto planes during the war.

Congress set aside $3 million in 2007 for the cleanup of dioxin, a highly toxic element of Agent Orange, which was sprayed on large areas of Vietnam to deprive Vietnamese troops of jungle canopy. In October the two countries launched three new programs to help provide job training and health care to disabled people in Da Nang, with $1 million to support a network of local health centers, provide surgery and physical therapy to children, and help disabled people find work.

Vietnam’s claim that as many as 4 million people have suffered serious health problems associated with Agent Orange is challenged by the United States, which says further scientific study is needed to understand the link between Agent Orange and health.

California’s Bill Opens Doors for Would-Be Veteran Entrepreneurs

Thanks to a new law, veterans in California will have better opportunities to open their own businesses. Last September, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Bill 1952, authored by Assemblywoman Patty Berg, which enables any honorably discharged veteran who is a resident of California to obtain a license to “distribute circulars and sell any goods, other than alcoholic beverages, without payment of any business license fees.”

Despite legislative attempts to do the same thing during World War II, the state ended up with two laws that contradicted each other—one for counties, the other for cities within them—creating decades of confusion. Carl Young, a Vietnam War veteran and veterans’ advocate, ran into that discrepancy while applying for a business license. He approached Berg about finding a remedy to the 60-year snafu.

Purple Hearts for 17,000 Ex-POWs?

The Defense Department announced a new policy in October that could provide Purple Hearts to about 17,000 deceased U.S. prisoners of war. The Purple Heart, awarded to military personnel of all service branches who are wounded by enemy action, has in the past been denied to POWs who died in captivity unless it could be proven that they were wounded or killed by the enemy. Under the new policy, the burden of proof is reversed: Such deaths are presumed to be the result of enemy action unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary. The new policy is retroactive to December 7, 1941—the day Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor. Each branch of the military will determine the process by which family members or representatives of deceased service members can apply for the awards.

Righting a Wrong: Medals at Last

Nearly 40 years after her husband died in the Vietnam War, Kathleen Cardona of Vernon, Conn., finally saw him recognized for his service. On Oct. 19, 2008, U.S. Rep. Joseph D. Courtney presented Cardona with Vietnam-era service medals in honor of her late husband Ronald Cardona.

Kathleen wed Ronald, a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, in 1968 just before he went to Vietnam. He was killed in action six months later, and his military records were never updated to reflect his marriage. Kathleen therefore never received Ronald’s medals or the survivor benefits she was entitled to, as the Defense Department refused to correct its records—until last August.

Family Gets Belated Reminder of a Loved One Lost in Vietnam War

Herb Schaffner made a discovery at his Chinese wife’s family village near the North Vietnam border in September. Her relatives had found a U.S. Air Force Academy class of 1963 ring that belonged to Major Patrick Edward Wynne, who was shot down over North Vietnam on Aug. 8, 1966, while on an armed reconnaissance mission. His remains were found and returned to the United States in 1977.

Schaffner contacted Major Wynne’s brother, Michael Wynne, who was Secretary of the Air Force from 2005 to June 2008. Schaffner told Wynne, “I’m not sure I have the right Mike Wynne, but did you have a brother, Patrick, who was an Air Force pilot who was lost in Vietnam?” Schaffner said that when Wynne confirmed that he did, “I said ‘Sit down,’ and I continued to tell the story from there.” In October, Schaffner and officials of his company, Consortium Companies, presented Wynne with the ring on a bed of blue velvet.

Remains of Missing U.S. Pilots Recovered from Laos and North Vietnam

U.S. Air Force Captain Gomer D. Reese III of Scarsdale, N.Y., was flying a secret mission over Laos on April 24, 1970, when he was shot down. Reese was part of a covert CIA group called the Ravens attempting to interrupt the transport of weapons down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. With the help of Laotian citizens who said they had witnessed the crash, military investigators gathered crash-related objects over a period of several years, and human remains last spring of Reese and another pilot, James E. Cross of Warren, Ohio.

Air Force Captain Lorenza Conner of Cartersville, Ga., and his co-pilot were flying over North Vietnam on Oct. 27, 1967, when their F-4D Phantom II was hit by antiaircraft fire. The co-pilot ejected safely, but Conner went down with his aircraft. His ID tags were found in 1992 but it was not until 2007 that the wrecked aircraft was found. Conner’s remains were turned over to his family last October.

General Bernard W. Rogers, 1st Infantry Assistant Division Commander, ’66-67

A veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, General Bernard Rogers died at age 87 in October. After his promotion to brigadier general, Rogers served in Vietnam as assistant division commander of the 1st Infantry Division from 1966 to 1967. He distinguished himself in numerous combat actions, earning the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star of Valor and the Air Medal with Valor Device. Rogers served as Army chief of staff from 1976 to 1979 and supreme allied commander, Europe/commander in chief, United States European Command, from 1979 to 1987.

Francoise Demulder, Award-Winning French War Photographer

Francoise Demulder, who launched her career in the Vietnam War, was among those who helped break ground for women in photo journalism. She covered the war along with fellow Frenchwoman Catherine Leroy, who died in 2006. Following her work in Vietnam, Demulder continued to work in war zones in Cambodia and Lebanon, becoming the first woman to win the World Press Photo of the Year award in 1976 for a photograph of Palestinian refugees in Beirut. She died in September in Paris, at the age of 61.

Ike Pappas, Former CBS Newsman, Covered the Vietnam War and Kent State

When the Ohio National Guard shot four students in May 1970 during an antiwar protest at Kent State, Ike Pappas and his CBS News cameramen were the only network crew on the scene. That was just one instance of Pappas’ famous reporting during his 23-year career with CBS; he was also present—and attempting to ask JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald a question—just before Jack Ruby shot Oswald in the Dallas police station basement on Nov. 24, 1963. Pappas was also an acclaimed reporter of the Vietnam War. He died on August 31 of congestive heart failure in Arlington County, Va., at age 75.


Originally published in the February 2009 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here