The name carries with it a revulsion because of the calamity that struck the people who lived there, and the 58,000 American soldiers who died there.
Now, a book has been created by DK Publishing in association with the Smithsonian that provides timelines with a pictorial and text overview of Vietnam’s tortured existence from colonial days to its final fall into communism.
The elaborate, coffee table-size book titled, “The Vietnam War: the Definitive Illustrated History,” recently became available at Barnes and Noble Book Sellers.
It deals in a general way with American soldiers, though without individual names, such as Jim Allison of Lubbock who died fighting for what once was the possible liberty of South Vietnam.
And with men like Robert Bernero of Lubbock, who survived while serving faithfully in the military, but came home to no parades.
The United States had been in Vietnam in an attempt to keep communism from engulfing the world in the 1960s and 1970s. The ideology already had Russia and China firmly in its grip. Communism found propaganda more effective than nuclear weapons with which to defeat liberty.
France had conquered Vietnam in the 19th century and continued its colonial rule until World War II, when Japan occupied the country.
Then, at the end of World War II, France became active in the country again, while communists became intent on seizing it. When Vietnam was divided into north and south by the Geneva Accords of 1954, war and suffering ensued for a quarter of a century.
The South had been proclaimed to be the Republic of Vietnam in 1955, and the last French soldier left a year later.
Vietnamese people who were Catholics and living in North Vietnam began fleeing communism by moving in massive numbers into South Vietnam, where they were housed in huge tent cities.
According to “The Vietnam War,” Catholics in the tent cities survived on emergency aid from the United States.
And the stage was set:
American military advisers began providing assistance and training for the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam.
“The Vietnam War” includes a quote by Ho Chi Minh, the communist leader of North Vietnam, that must be one of the most ironic statements of all time: “Nothing is more precious than independence and liberty.”
North Vietnam also used conventional weapons, those suggested by China’s Mao Zedong in his “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” philosophy, and began working through guerrillas inside South Vietnam.
The first American soldier was killed near Saigon on July 8, 1959, by guerrillas.
Nine years later, 495,000 American troops were in-country, and in a single year nearly 17,000 had been killed.
Although enemy forces lost 45,000 men in its Tet offensive in 1968, it was considered a military defeat. At the time, national media coverage in the United States was keeping up a barrage of opposition to the war.
“The Vietnam War,” in a section on the media and the war, noted that Vietnam was the first war covered extensively on television: “The conversion of (Walter) Cronkite and other media gatekeepers from ambivalent onlookers to antiwar advocates was a major blow to the American effort in Vietnam,” the book states.
Eventually, a buildup of American troops over the years was reversed in the wake of changed public opinion, and by March 1973, the last combat troops had been removed. By April 30, 1975, the communists’ tanks rolled into the center of Saigon, and the war was lost.
Suffering didn’t end, though. Vietnam was formally united as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under hard-line communist rule.
Hundreds of thousands of “Boat People” left their country over the following two years, with an estimated 50 to 70 percent dying at sea.
According to “The Vietnam War,” more than two million South Vietnamese — that included former military officers, civil servants, capitalists, priests, teachers, intellectuals and others identified with the former regime — were sent to “re-education” or “thought reform” camps:
“An estimated 165,000 people died in the camps — from starvation, disease, exhaustion, suicide, and by execution.”
Also, the research found, “Religious people, especially Christians, were persecuted, as were ethnic minorities, including the significant Chinese population.” Many of the Montagnards, the mountain people who resisted the communists, were slaughtered.
Peace now reigns in Vietnam, but not liberty. President Bill Clinton reached out to the new Vietnam for a “normalization” of relations.
Jim Allison wasn’t able to visit the new Vietnam:
At age 5, he would wear a cowboy hat and strap on a holstered toy six-gun. He was a replica of a genuine West Texas cowboy. As an adult, he graduated from Monterey High School and attended Texas Tech before entering the Army as an infantry soldier.
According to a report in the Avalanche-Journal on Sunday, Nov. 3, 1968, he had been killed at age 21, on Oct. 31, 1968, in Vietnam. Genealogical research shows he was the son of Douglas and Marie Allison. Army records indicate he died by small arms fire while serving as a private first class.
He was a member of a Church of Christ congregation.
It was a lifetime that might have been. Still, he did his part in his moment to keep liberty alive in the United States and for the world.
Bob Bernero, who came to Lubbock in 1984 to work at Texas Tech and get a degree in social studies by attending classes at night, calls himself what the 17- and 18-year-olds in Vietnam called him when he was an old man of 22:
“A lifer.” It referred to his intention to make the Air Force a career.
He has shared his experiences in Vietnam and a bit of measured success with the protesters for next week’s A-J Remembers.