[What follows is a brief summary of Episode One of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Special “The Vietnam War” along with my personal commentaries, songs, and writings about where I was during this period. – Former 1Lt. Richard Morris, A Co. 2nd Bn 5th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) 1967-68]
Last night my wife and I watched the first part of the PBS documentary series, “The Vietnam War,” directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. We married fifty years ago, a few months after we met while I was still in Infantry Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, Georgia. A few months later, after a short stint as a Training Officer at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, I shipped out to Ankhe, Vietnam, near Pleiku, where I became an infantry rifle platoon leader with the 1st Cavalry Division. I had enlisted in the Army to go to OCS and volunteered for Vietnam to do my part to help hold back the relentless expansion of International Communism, which had already taken Russia, Eastern Europe, China, and North Korea. I believed in the domino theory, that if IC took Vietnam, the rest of Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Malaysia would follow.
I remember reading about when Vietnam was a French colony (French Indochina) with plantations producing rubber, tea, opium and rice alcohol, and about the Japanese conquest in World War II, and the U.S. aiding the Vietnamese at that time to fight the Japanese.
After the war, in spite of Ho Chi Minh’s entreaties to the U.S. to help him lead the country toward independence, Vietnam was split in half, the South administered by the British and the North by the French. Ho Chi Minh declared independence and began the first Indochina war against France. In the South, the anti-Communist State of Vietnam, led by former Emperor Bảo Đại, was granted independence in 1949. I remember reading about the victory by the Viet Minh army at Dien Bien Phu in the North, and the French agreeing to withdraw from Indochina if Ho agreed that South Vietnam would be independent. Ho agreed, but after the South’s President Diem refused to allow elections on unification of the country (which Ho’s Communists would have won), the Viet Minh began the Second Indochina War, now known as the Vietnam War, which was fought primarily by the U.S. after 1963.
I remember flying into Ankhe in the Central Highlands of Vietnam without a rifle, being rather terrified of what would happen next, and finding a “stateside” base with a library, chapel, and officer and NCO clubs with swimming pools, some of the things I satirized in my novel Cologne No. 10 For Men, which I wrote more than a decade later when I was no longer a war-hawk.
The next part of Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” airs on PBS at 8:00 P.M.