Even after more than 40 years following the Vietnam War, it’s still not clear how historians will close the book on it, much less interpret its final outcome.
Some say it was a proxy war fought the result of the Cold War following World War II involving three major superpowers - America, China and the Soviet Union.
Ron Chandler, Post 163 Adjutant for the American Legion in Weatherford, said he’s comfortable with letting analysts figure that out. His main concern, however, lies in the remembrance of the war, and to bring awareness to one of the largest veterans groups in Parker County.
“Even though we show on history’s calendar the Paris Peace Accord was signed on Jan. 27, 1973, you really don’t see anything on a functional, day-to-day calendar about the end of the war,” Chandler said. “This got my interest and so I started asking questions and realized that very few people have brought this to the level of awareness.”
On May 8, 1945, the country celebrated the victory in Europe with VE-Day; on Aug, 15, 1945 America celebrated again with the victory over Japan with VJ-Day.
Chandler said the sacrifice of Vietnam Veterans, their dedication and service to country resonates; that their spirit lives on and needs always be remembered.
“We have 163 Vietnam Veterans that are members of our post, which makes up half of our membership,” Chandler said. “All total in Parker County we have 13,000 veterans, a large portion are Vietnam Veterans and we want to reach out to them.
“It’s exciting to see veterans from that era getting more involved now. We’re going to Congress and petitioning for more benefits and better assistance.”
Chandler said though better awareness as to the end of the war and its remembrance has never been brought up.
“We’re trying to make sure that there is a special day recognizing the official end to the Vietnam War,” Chandler said. “I’m not talking about a celebration, just a remembrance.”
So on May 9, a day of remembrance will take place at the Vietnam War Memorial in Parker County. American Legion Post 163 desperately wants all veterans from Parker County to attend the memorial service, but specifically the Vietnam Veterans.
In the weeks leading up to the memorial service, the Weatherford Star-Telegram will be publishing a series of stories from the soldiers of the Vietnam era. If you were a Vietnam Veteran, we would love to hear your most memorable moments and your reflection following 40 years. Please contact Lance Winter at 817-594-9902, ext. 102 or come by our office at 112 S. Main in Weatherford.
The following is Part 1 of a gentleman named Ken Wood, a pilot for Air America who received his training from Fort Wolters and his extraordinary experience.
“What left an indelible print on my mind was seeing so many Vietnamese clawing to get into the helicopter. We picked up to a hover and I knew instinctively that we we’re not going to be able to take off. We were to heavy and so we had to kick some people off.”
Ken Wood, at 75 years old today, recalls clearly his experiences in Vietnam from his Houston home despite the decades that have passed. But for the Air America pilot, one day sticks out in his mind more than most - the day of the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.
“I remember that particular day, we were flying a mission south of Saigon,” Wood said. “We knew if we heard over the radio the song White Christmas, we were to start the evacuation process.”
Sure enough the song, so eloquently and softly sung by Bing Crosby, was broadcast loudly.
“We flew toward the embassy rooftop but had to land short to get some of our supplies we left in the operations building,” Wood said. “We saw some C-130’s with Vietnamese markings on them fully in flames and knew that airport was being attacked.”
He said he and a friend quickly raced to helicopter with a pair of friendly Vietnamese soldiers and headed to the embassy.
“We picked up as many as we could with the power we had in the aircraft,” Wood said. “It was late in the afternoon so we could fly only one mission from the embassy rooftop to the USS Hancock, an aircraft carrier in the gulf.”
Wood said he remembered thinking that the U.S. Navy was well prepared for such an evacuation. That as he walked across the flight deck and looked down into the hold where planes were usually stored he was surprised at what he saw.
“There were so many provisions,” he said. “Cots stacked side-by-side and end-to-end, there was no more room - there had to be close to 3,000.
“When we got underway, steaming up to Subic Bay in the Philippines, there were so many in boats and rafts desperate to get on board, but the captain had his orders and we had to keep going.”
In the closing days of the war, Wood was part of another evacuation effort in Da Nang. He helped load a C-46 with as many provisions and as many refugees as he could and flew toward Saigon.
“On the flight back, we flew along a road known as Highway 1 and I saw nothing short of a sea of humanity,” Wood added. “People with rickshaws, push carts and all they could carry - my heart bled for them.”
For the soldier that received his training at nearby Fort Wolters, Woods looked at the approaching anniversary with mixed emotions.
“In my opinion, I feel like the American people let the [Vietnamese] down,” Wood said. “However, from an American standpoint, I understand the thinking, ‘How much longer can it last?’”
He said if the Vietnamese had confronted its leadership - with all of the corruption that was going on - and been more willing to fight for their country and freedom, the war might have ended a little differently.
“I recall reading, long after this was over, that the opposition forces were just months away from quitting - that they had enough,” Wood added. “Look today at what happened in the Middle East. [President Barack Obama] pulls everyone out and it creates a vacuum. So who do you see moving in?”
He emphasized, though, the differences between the two wars was clear.
“The war in Vietnam was communism versus capitalism,” Wood said. “In the Middle East, that war will go on indefinitely because it’s a war of ideology versus ideology - religion versus religion, and they won’t give up.”
Lance Winter, 817-594-9902, Ext. 102
Air America was established in 1950 and was covertly owned by the United States and was initially a CIA project for intelligence operation in China. Air America was used in various other governmental agencies like the USAF, U.S. Army and was used by the U.S. Government in covert and clandestine operations posing as a civilian air carrier.