As part of the 3-Week class “The U.S. War in Vietnam,” students recently heard first-hand accounts of the war from Vietnam veterans.
Professor of history Vivien Sandlund, who teaches the 3-Week course every three years, invited the three men – Bob Sallaz, Charlie Morris and Jay Jenkins – to describe their own perspective on their service in the war and to share a personal slice of history. They visited class on April 29, 2013.
“Students are eager to hear about the war from the people who served and experienced the fighting first-hand,” Sandlund said. “The veterans described for students the fears they felt, the tragedies they experienced and the feelings of shared sacrifice and closeness that the veterans have developed with each other.”
Sallaz served in the Army in 1964, repairing and setting up radios for the South Vietnamese army. He was officially an adviser to the South Vietnamese army, but he explained that at age nineteen, he did not know how to advise anyone, and he didn’t speak Vietnamese. His friends were captured by the Viet Cong, and they were later tortured and killed.
“I made up my mind right then not to let this happen to me,” he said.
Sallaz proudly displayed to the class his uniform, which still fits him.
Jenkins served in the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam from 1971-72. He repaired planes at a base in Da Nang that was regularly shelled by the Viet Cong at night. He asked to work at night and sleep during the day so he would not be killed in his sleep.
Jenkins said that one night, a nearby barrack was hit, and more than forty American men were killed in the fire that erupted. He feared that he would never see his wife again, but he survived.
Morris served in the U.S. Navy from 1970-71. He described his love of helicopters and his pride at being chosen for the Navy Seawolves helicopter unit.
Morris was shot in the head while riding in a helicopter over a South Vietnamese village in 1971. He lost the use of his right arm as a result, and he was not expected to walk again. But through hard work, Morris regained his ability to walk, and he went on to write the book, Just a Regular Guy.
He said that besides fighting to recover from his physical injury, he struggled to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.
All three men said they are proud of their service, and they would willingly serve again if called.
“Students in the class said afterward they were struck by the sense of brotherhood among these veterans and their pride in having served the nation,” Sandlund said.