National Archives pays tribute to Vietnam War veterans
WASHINGTON -- To coincide with Veterans Day 2017, a new exhibit opened Nov. 10 at the National Archives here. It is meant to educate visitors of the patriotism, service, and sacrifice of the many that served their country during the Vietnam War era.
The exhibit, titled "Remembering Vietnam: Twelve Critical Episodes in the Vietnam War," provides visitors an opportunity to understand the decisions that led to war, the events and consequences of the war, and its lasting legacy, according to Archive officials.
"As a veteran of Vietnam myself, I was determined to mark the 50th anniversary of the height of the Vietnam War with an exhibition," said United States' Archivist David S. Ferriero, during a Nov. 8 media day at the Archives. "Our records, some recently declassified, continue to yield discoveries and provide insight and evidence to people seeking to understand the war."
The United States committed to the Vietnam conflict more than 50 years ago. Still, Archive officials say, historians continue to make discoveries that address three critical questions, including why the United States got involved, why the war lasted as long as it did, and why it was so controversial.
Many have expressed their embarrassment about their lack of knowledge when it comes to the Vietnam War, said Alice Kamps, the curator for the exhibit. "Some even seem haunted by these questions. We all need to answer these [questions] to move on."
In support of the exhibit's grand opening, three Vietnam War-era aircraft were on display outside the National Archives building, including a Bell AH-1 Cobra, a UH-1 Iroquois, and an OH-58 Kiowa.
A small group of Vietnam veterans were available near the aircraft to answer questions and discuss their lives before, during, and after the war.
"It is an honor for us to bring the helicopters here and allow people to look at some Vietnam's history," said Phillip Keith, one of the veterans.
Assigned to the 14th Transportation Battalion during Vietnam, Keith flew 157 missions. Some of those missions provided crash recovery support to Soldiers throughout the region.
"I have lost several friends that were close to me during the Vietnam War," said Keith, when asked about Veterans Day. "Jimmy Crisp, a great friend of mine, left behind a new bride and a young baby that he never met. Tom Jones -- I flew instruments with him in flight school -- left a beautiful wife and a young boy. I reflect on them mostly during this time of the [year]."
Peter Gotch, who was a warrant officer during Vietnam, served two tours in that country. During his time there, he directly supported the 4th Infantry Division as a AH-1 and UH-1 pilot.
UH-1s played a vital role during the Vietnam War. As one of the primary aircraft for medevac operations, they helped provide medical treatment and transported the wounded to safety. The UH-1 also supported the logistical needs of Soldiers in the field by delivering food, clothes, and mail, Gotch said.
Not all the wounded Soldiers who were airlifted by the UH-1 made it home alive, however. Gotch knew some of them.
During Veterans day, Gotch said, "you think about all the good people that never made it back. I have some good close school friends that never made it back. It's tough to deal with it."
Sharve Easterwood, an instructor at Bridges Academy, in Washington, D.C., brought some of the academy's students to the exhibit to learn more about the war, to talk with the veterans there, and to see the helicopters.
"History is one of my favorite subjects," said Easterwood. "[When] kids see these places for the first time, it is nice to see their smiles. I let the kids know that history repeats itself constantly. It's important to learn as much as possible."
Along with his fellow instructors, Easterwood helped lead a small group of academy students through the outdoor exhibit. The students had a chance to ask the pilots a variety of questions, but many of them were more interested with the internal equipment inside the OH-58 cockpit.
About a mile from the National Archives, another event was taking place in advance of Veterans Day.
In commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a group of veterans, family members, friends, volunteers, and service members participated in a "reading of the names" event.
The volunteers paid tribute to veterans by taking turns reading aloud each of the more than 58,000 names inscribed there.
"[The reading of the names] is an appropriate way to pay tribute to everyone that sacrificed during Vietnam," said Col. John Dowling, assigned to the Military Postal Agency in nearby Arlington, Virginia. "Some of my first noncommissioned officers and officers had experienced combat in Vietnam. I learned a lot from what they have told me.
"We should take a whole month and recognize all veterans for their service," he said.