By SARAH ROUSE
Vietnam War veterans sometimes stand in the shadow of the so-called Greatest Generation, the veterans of World War II. On May 4, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project honored Vietnam War veterans in a public symposium, "In Country: The Vietnam War 30 Years After." Thirty years before, on April 30, 1975, South Vietnam's capital of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and the divisive war was officially over. America's troops had pulled out two years before, but the U S. diplomatic corps staff had remained in Saigon.
The Veterans History Project's program brought together two military veterans of the Vietnam War and two civilian journalists who covered that war. The panelists were: retired Gen. Julius Becton Jr., Vietnam veteran and educator; Daun van Ee, a Vietnam veteran and specialist in 20th century military history in the Library's Manuscript Division; Bernard Kalb, a veteran journalist who worked in Vietnam during the war and is the author and founding anchor on the weekly CNN program "Reliable Sources"; and Stanley Karnow, a World War II veteran, journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of "Vietnam: A History."
Veterans History project Director Diane Kresh welcomed the overflow audience and gave a thoughtful overview of the meaning and historical value of personal accounts of wartime. Moderator van Ee's first question: "Should we be celebrating the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War?" After that, the wide-ranging two-hour conversation touched several major points, including the two views of the war—from the soldiers and from the journalists; U.S. home front antiwar activity during the war; the tenacity of the Vietnamese people throughout their history; and the current robust quasi-capitalist economy of Vietnam.
Following the discussion, Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), author of the legislation that created the Library's Veterans History Project, spoke enthusiastically about the growth of the project's collections—35,000 stories to date.
Kalb summed up the lively discussion by saying, "This conversation about Vietnam will keep going for a long, long time."
Through "In Country" and other public programs, the Veterans History Project is working to alert Vietnam War veterans that their personal accounts are much sought-after by the project. The oral testimonies of civilians working in Vietnam during the war, such as that of the two journalists, are also part of the larger story of that war, and within the scope of the project.
Vietnam veterans' stories, as well as a Webcast of the program, can be seen on the Web at www.loc.gov/vets/.
Sarah Rouse is senior program officer in the Veterans History Project in the Library of Congress.