They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me

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Next week is the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the evacuation of Americans and some South Vietnamese, which was the true effective end of the Vietnam War. And next week PBS will be showing a documentary Last Days in Vietnam. Tonight there will be a public screening and a panel discussion at Celebration South cinema, but last night there was a special invitation screening at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in downtown Grand Rapids.

©2015 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

The auditorium seats 250 and was not full. But the audience was one of the more mixed ones we've seen at special events. A large number of Vietnam vets were in attendance -- they were asked to stand -- as well as an equal number of Vietnamese evacuees. The setting was particularly appropriate, as not only was Ford president when Saigon fell, but through his Grand Rapids connections many of the first South Vietnamese refugees came here, and the iconic staircase from atop the U.S. embassy in Saigon is located in the museum. The Vietnamese community in Grand Rapids numbers over 10,000.

Last Days in Vietnam is two hours, of which we were shown the first hour. There is amazing footage, including the unscheduled arrival of Huey helicopters at the USS Kirk (DE-1087/FF-1087). What we saw was subtitled -- either in Vietnamese or English, depending on the speaker.

Panel discussion moderated by WGVU's Jennifer Moss, and L to R: Red Cavaney, Hung Vu, Phillip D. Nguyen. Lighting in the auditorium was very dim, there are no enlargements available.
©2015 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Red served three tours of duty in Vietnam as an officer in the U.S. Navy from 1965-69. Worked river interdiction duty. Currently President of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation. Hung was a 2nd lieutenant in the South Vietnamese Air Force, nominally flying the A-37 (A-37B?) -- but at the war's end they had no fuel and no ammunition. His family spent four years in a reeducation camp before coming to the U.S. as part of a Humanitarian Order in 1990. Phillip serves as the President of Vietnamese-American Communities of West Michigan and grew up in Hue, watching army officers take Jeeps filled with their families and drive them into the sea, rather than get taken by the NVA.

As people were leaving, I was struck by the two flags on the left of the stage -- of course the South Vietnamese flag has been supplanted in the now unified Vietnam.
©2015 Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (All Rights Reserved)

Vietnam had a significant impact on my life, but indirectly. In the small upstate New York town I grew up in during the 60s, going off to volunteer in Vietnam was something one did. Canadian TV kept showing a different picture than the American news. Still, I was shocked in 1968 when we moved to White Plains, near New York City, and found my classmates were strongly against American involvement in Southeast Asia. My 9th grade Geometry teacher changed last names in the middle of the year -- Mrs. Miller became Mrs. Rothenberg -- and we found out her first husband had come home from Vietnam in an aluminum box. Somehow it never occurred to us that teachers had lives... And I didn't graduate high school until 1976, and my class was the first who were not required to register for the draft -- and the first to be exempted when Selective Service registration was reinstated some years later -- so I never served.

Last Days in Vietnam will be shown on Tuesday 28 April 2015 on PBS' American Experiences.

Highly Recommended

Dr. Phil
Posted on Dreamwidth
Crossposted on LiveJournal
Tags: ford museum, gvsu, history, pbs, vietnam

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