Son of a former Viet Cong Soldier sharing his story with us, Another experience of the Vietnam War

vietnam_war_mapBelow is a the story from a son of a former Viet Cong Soldier. He came across something  I wrote about and made contact with me.  He expressed how he appreciated what I had shared and asked how we could connect further and continue to bridge the gap between all who experienced and were affected by the war. I asked him to start by sharing some of his story.

You will also find at this link our interview with a Vietnamese woman, refugee during the war, who also shares her family’s story of their journey to America. (Missing video will return soon)

At this link you will find speech from a son of a former South Vietnamese General, Author, and Journalist who spoke at one of our events (Missing video will return soon)

Here is a link to some of my reflections of my family’s experience and mine as a daughter of an American Vietnam Veteran and Vietnamese mother.

________________________

Hello everyone,

My name is Phu, I am son of former Vietcong during the Vietnam War. I was born and grew up after the fighting ended in 1975. I am a history lover especially that of my homeland, Quang Tri Province, Vietnam.

I was lucky to meet Thuy Smith, and we found out that there were some common points that we could learn and cooperate from one another. She encouraged me to write out my father’s account as a former combatant, and how my family members became involved and affected. With this short article, I hope that you, the American Vietnam veterans, daughters, sons and grand-kids of Nam vets could have another experience about this conflict. The war has been over for nearly forty years now; it seems to be long enough to put painful memory behind. It is, however, a part of history of the two nations, so we should not forget. One thing we can do is to try to forgive for one another.

Located at just south of former Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) divided Vietnam into north and south after Geneva Accords in 1954, my home village in Cam Lo District, Quang Tri Province was one of the infamous corners of Leatherneck Square including Dong Ha, Cam Lo, Con Thien and Doc Mieu and home to the fiercest battlefields witnessed in the history of mankind. This place also was home to the most heavily bombarded ever seen in the history of mankind.

Born in a family as the oldest son with 4 brothers and a younger sister, my father joined in liberation forces in 1968 soon after General Tet Offensive took place. He was later captured in a Search and Destroy operation by US Marines not very far away from his hometown. He was then transported to Danang via helicopter and held there for several days before removed to Phu Quoc Island in the southernmost of South Vietnam. Phu Quoc was a very big prison used by the US to hold captured soldiers during the war that is said to be home to some about 45,000 prisoners of war (my name was named after the name of this place as a reminder of my father’s days there). There, he suffered for almost 5 years, and it was surely the unhappy experience for him. Fortunately, he was set free as the result of prisoner exchange followed by the Paris Agreement in 1973 that officially ending American’s involvement in Vietnam. Loc Ninh District, Binh Phuoc Province in south west of Vietnam was the former headquarters of National Liberation Front (NLF) where he served as a combatant again with other fellows. In 1975, following the Ho Chi Minh campaign designated to unify the country, he joined in the battle of Hue, on March, 1975. About 3 months after the capture of my father, his younger brother who had just came of age was drafted to be soldier of Army of Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). He then served in various places in central South Vietnam including provinces of Quang Nam (Quang Tin), Quang Ngai until the collapse of Saigon in April, 1975.

During the war time, people were not the decision makers to some extents. One has to decide to be with this side or that one. For many times, parents of my father and my uncle were in the deep sea and devils as they had a son who was a Vietcong and other was a fighter of ARVN. It was a relief that they who were on different sides did not have to face to face shoot at one another.

Since the fighting became escalated to climax, especially during the Eastern Offensive in 1972 when Quang Tri was the “hotspot” of the world attention, our family and most of the other residents fled to Danang.

After Saigon was overran by Northern Vietnamese Army in April, 1975, family members began to come back for resettlement. The first thing needed to do was to rebuild the houses from almost zero level condition. Out of about 3,500 villages in Quang Tri Province, only for 11 were unhurt during this period.

It was a greatest pleasure that my father, uncle and other members in the family gathered again in hometown. As time goes by, they are gradually open to speak out their own experience and get on well with one another, but none of them, as far as I know, want to mention about the political view. It is my experience that not many of former soldiers in my region would like to share the war memory with a stranger unless they are sure to know that person. After all, it is hard for those who have been the affected by the conflict to forget those evil days. The war has left a lifetime scar somewhere in a corner of their hearts.

Go to link to learn about another story-  Vietnamese Refugee and her family that made it to the United States

Burning incense in remembering all who were lost during the war at our first official Vietnam Veteran’s Day for WI (2010) organized by TSIO. Learn more here. Click image below for some of Thuy’s personal reflections of her and her family’s experience.

holding up incense
Read some of Thuy’s reflection from her family’s experience Amerasian Daughter of a Vietnam Vet and Vietnamese mother- click image

Conflict and Peace: Bridging the Gap

mike muller

Michael Muller is on the Advisory Board for Thuy Smith International Outreach. He is a Vietnam veteran, has a Ph.D. in psychology, and has counseled veterans for many years.  He writes novels under the pen name of Michael FitzGordon.

Conflict and Peace:  Bridging the Gap 

For many years as a psychologist I have listened to the stories of combat veterans and former POWs.  I suppose I have heard every horror story and human atrocity there is, and more than most people want to imagine or hold.  Once a former tank commander who had some horrific experiences during the Anzio invasion ask me how I did it.  He said I had the patience of Job.  I was a bit surprised that he noticed.  I didn’t pay too much attention to how I was bearing up under such a lifestyle.  I just took it for granted.  I told him it was an honor to be present as people were growing.

War exemplifies the horror and the glory of human existence.  I guess I was focusing on the glory of people’s bravery, endurance, and laying down their lives for others.  I was not fully aware of the effect that the horror was having on me.  Recently someone was telling me how cool fighter jets were.  I knew that they would just think I was odd if I told them that yes, those machines were glorious examples of human ingenuity, but they were essentially weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which is the horror.  They are flying guns.  Guns are designed to kill.

In the United States of America we have always had people fleeing from oppression and hostile regimes.   On the other hand, some of the original natives of North America say that the USA is itself their oppressor.  Today there are many former Cubans in the USA.  Some of them would like to overthrow Castro, while others, after so many years, do not think much about Cuba anymore.  They are American.  Many have forgotten how to speak Spanish.

The former Vietnamese in America similarly have a variety of opinions and orientations toward their former homeland and its government.  These are not just intellectual opinions.  Emotions can rise to a high pitch.  They have come to live in a country where many ethnicities are loudly proclaiming their intentions to retain their cultural identity.  Yet many have forgotten their native languages.  They are Americans.

In 1066 the Normans invaded England and conquered the Anglo-Saxons.  Their two languages gradually blended into what we know as English today.  For several centuries the words of French origin were upper class, while the words of Anglo-Saxon origins were lower class.  Today it would seem absurd if someone claimed to be trying to preserve his Anglo-Saxon heritage by only speaking Old English or by wearing Anglo-Saxon clothes.  The Anglo-Saxon culture is preserved in poetry, history, and museums.  The two cultures and origins have blended into a seamless whole.  This is the future of our planet—if it survives.

At a conference in the early 1980s I asked LBJ’s former National Security Advisor, Walt Rostow, what their plans were for avoiding nuclear conflict.  His answer was just that:  avoid nuclear conflict any way they could and hope that the next generation would come up with some better answers.  There are some people who always have some kind of rationalization for why we should aggressively stick our noses into the business of other people.  They seem to think that in every country where we see some wrong being perpetrated we need to jump in and correct it.  Of course there is always some rationalization about the strategic need for surgical interventions to maintain a balance of power beneficial to the USA and, of course, the entire world.  Some fools are always itching for a fight.

Should we beat our breasts and be ashamed of our interventions in the past?  Should those bad communists be removed from whatever country comes to mind?  It is good for us to be aware of our past mistakes so that we can avoid them in the future.  It’s good, for example, that we place the history of Columbus in the proper perspective.  But what is done is done.  We have enough to do trying to fix the present without trying to fix the past as well.  Let us be forgiving and tolerant.  Here is where we are today.  Let us move on from here.  If we are going to continue to hate those who made mistakes in the past, then the world will always be full of hatred.

The best way to resolve our problems is through peaceful and nonviolent means.  We cannot underestimate the influence we have on others through setting a good example.  Negotiations, peaceful initiatives, and mutual respect are the way to the future.  If the planet survives, we will blend into a seamless whole.  We will be one human family.  If we must defend ourselves against those who take up arms against us, then so be it.  Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.  But insofar as possible, live in peace with everyone.  Pray for peace.  Struggle for peace.  The longer you can delay conflict, the more successful you are, and the more opportunity there is for peaceful resolutions.  This is a basic principle of hostage negotiation, and it is a basic principle in every sphere of life, whether individual or global.  Insofar as possible, live in peace with everyone.  Beware of rationalizations and justifications for strategic interventions.  Seek peace.  You do not want to drink deeply of the horror and the atrocities.  Do not be itching for a fight, and do not be cocky about your ability to bring it to a happy conclusion.

In every group there are always those who seem to want to stand on some ground for argument or conflict.  Discussing and dealing with conflicts is good, and is a part of daily life.  Of course there are always those who are always just itching for conflict, and who are sensitive and touchy, and therefore always seem to be involved in conflict.  If you tell them about this and they will not stop, then it is best to get away from them.  But still, every day and every life will have conflict in it, and one of our most important living skills that determines our happiness or misery is our ability to deal with conflict productively.  Sometimes we weave our way around it.  Sometimes we confront it.  Sometimes we avoid it.  In marriage it is of course best to deal directly with conflict.  Avoiding it only prolongs the discomfort or misery.  But for each of us to have the greatest chance of creating peace, we need to have self-awareness of our usual habits and style of dealing with conflict.  Look into yourself to see what you do to create or destroy peace.  As Mother Teresa suggested, those who seek to create world peace must first create peace in their own hearts.

                                                      ~ ~ ~

Learn more about Michael and his book on our website’s Featured Person Section here.

Read some of his blogs here.

MACV CORDS operations advisor, Binh Chanh District, 1970.  Briefing officer for DEPCORDS Ambassador Funkhouser to CG & staff, III Corps Vietnam, 1971.  In addition to briefing the staff he briefed visiting officials such as the Secretary of the Army.  He was in Vietnam for one tour.

Disclaimer: If you are needing more extensive assistance or counseling, there are many available agencies to assist you. No blogs are ever meant to substitute a person seeking help through professional counseling. We allow our Guest bloggers the freedom to write from their experiences and perspectives.

My Unknown Soldier

Guest post: A unique connection between Jessica (Granddaughter of a Vietnam Veteran) and Tracey (Daughter of a Vietnam Veteran) who owns this particular blog- My father’s Notebook. Learn more about this new connection from Jessica’s perspective. 

My Unknown Soldier
by Jessica Zumhingst

It is quite a strange feeling to have such a strong connection to someone you never got to meet.  To never really know anything about them, but to always have a curiosity and longing to know more about their life.  For the past 25 years of my life, this has been my relationship with my maternal grandfather.

As a young girl, I didn’t think too much about why I never got the opportunity to meet my mom’s dad.  I am an only child, as is my mother, so it is not like the topic came up all the time at huge family gatherings.  Nobody ever really talked about my grandfather’s death all that much.  All I knew is that he died serving our country.

Clevenger_William_Henry_ April 26, 1969.My grandfather was William Henry Clevenger, a Sergeant Major in the United States Army.  I remember the day that I finally took the time to closely inspect the various medals that my mom had displayed in the living room.  This was the day that I first longed to know more about my grandfather and his life.

My mom didn’t talk about her father all that much.  He passed when she was just a freshman in college.  She would mention him in stories about her childhood, but I never really inquired about his time in the Army. I knew it was a painful subject for my mom and I didn’t want to upset her.  I decided to look to the Internet in my pursuit to know more.

In 2002, I found the Virtual Wall website.  I saw a picture of my grandpa, the same picture that was framed with his medals in my living room. I wrote a short quote from a patriotic song.  I was only 14 at the time and I didn’t know what else to write.  I set up my email address as the point-of-contact for his memorial.  About a year later, I was brought back to the website to find a post from Colonel Carl M. Mott Jr. about my grandfather.  Along with kind words about serving with Sergeant Major William H. Clevenger, he included a photo of the two of them.  This was my first small glimpse of my grandfather’s role in the Army.  According to Colonel Mott Jr., my grandfather was a “natural communicator” and the “finest Sergeant Major [he had] ever known.”

My own father enlisted in the Navy when he was just 18 years old and by this time in my life I was old enough to listen to his stories about Vietnam.  He told me what life was like in Vietnam and explained to me what his role and my grandfather’s role was over there.  My dad also told me about the letter his mother sent him telling him that my mom’s father had been killed. I knew that I could never begin to understand the pain that my mother had gone through as a young woman.

During the following years, I did gain the courage to ask my mom more questions about my grandpa and to explore the various websites that I found on the Internet regarding the war.  I never got the chance to visit the actual Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., but I did visit various traveling walls and took rubbings of my grandfather’s name.  My childish curiosity had transformed into pride. I may have not known much about my grandpa, but I did know one thing: I was proud to be his granddaughter.  I was determined to honor him and tried to do so in various ways.  I became more vocal about my connection to war and my grandfather.  I wrote a number of poems and research papers about WWII and the Vietnam War for my schoolwork in high school. Videos and books about war were now of interest to me.  I later went to college and became a teacher.  Every time a new school year would begin, I would consciously take the time to talk to my students about the importance of the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem and all about the sacrifices our soldiers make so that we can be free.

This past Veteran’s Day, the same day as my 26th birthday, I typed in my grandfather’s name online in hopes of finding a new story or photo posted of him.  Boy did I find a surprise!  I found a blog written by Tracey Wolfe about her father, Glen “Pete” Johnson.  Mr. Johnson arrived in Vietnam at the young age of 19. I read Tracey’s blog about looking for a certain name on the Wall- a man that her father had looked up to and considered a father figure during his time overseas.  That name was William H. Clevenger.

I couldn’t believe what I had stumbled upon! Her beautifully written blog detailed how her father had kept a piece of paper with my grandfather’s name on it in his wallet and how she and her family had searched to find his name on the memorial.  She also shared her father’s writing about the morning my grandfather was killed and how her father was the one who had found his body outside the bunker.  I immediately called my mother and read her the blog post.  It was hard to read some of those words out loud while fighting back the tears.  At first, my mom was quiet on the phone.  I knew the words had touched her.  She was just as surprised as I was.  I read her my response to Tracey’s post and told her that I would let her know if anything else was posted.

Katie&Jessica2It was then that I received an email from Thuy asking if it was okay if she gave my contact information to Tracey and her sister.  She told me that they would like to correspond with me.  I was a bit hesitant, only because I did not feel like I had much information to offer, but I told Thuy that it was fine with me.  Tracey contacted me via email a short while later.  She told me more about her family and the amazing man that her father was.  I gave Tracey my mom’s contact information and she contacted my mom as well. Tracey’s mother, Sally, has also shared such touching stories with us about her young husband leaving for Vietnam just weeks after they were married.  Reading their stories has made me both laugh and cry and I feel so blessed to have connected with such wonderful people.

Words cannot express how much this newfound connection has meant to my mother and I. Both sides agree that our angels in heaven definitely had a hand in it!  For the first time, my mom and I are able to have in-depth conversations about her childhood and my grandfather’s life.  I have learned so many things about the both of them.  In a way, our connection to Tracey and her family has started the healing process for both of us. I am so glad that my mom and I can finally talk about something she has kept bottled up for so many years.  As for me, I never realized that I had anything to heal from.  I guess in a way I did.  I would like to take a moment to share some of the information I have learned about my grandfather and his service to our country.

William Henry Clevenger was born in 1919 in Columbus, Indiana. He was an incredibly bright child with a bit of a rebellious side. He had 4 siblings, 3 sisters and a brother, but when he was young his mother moved with his siblings and left him to stay with his aunt and uncle. My mom thinks this was because he was a little “hard to handle.” He graduated from high school when he was only 14.  Like I said…I have been told that he was VERY smart (he was the kind of person that could do freakishly long math problems in his head…a gene his granddaughter did not inherit!) He actually joined the Army when he was only 16 years old, even though he said he was 18. When the army found out that he was not 18, his aunt was able to sign and give him permission to stay.  For about 30 years, the Army was his home.  He served in WWII, the Korean Conflict, and Vietnam.  My mom thinks he stayed in the Army so long because it was the one constant in his life and he felt secure there.

My mom, Katie Clevenger, was born in 1950 at Fort Devin in Massachusetts.  She moved all over the United States as a child, which was tough for her because she never felt like she had the time to really get accustomed to any one school.  In 1964-65, my grandpa went overseas to Germany.  According to my mother, my grandfather enjoyed going to Germany more than anywhere else.  My mom and my grandma were going to move there, but there was no available housing for them and my mom would have had to go to a boarding school.  When my grandpa returned to the states, the family moved around a lot.  Throughout my mom’s childhood, they lived in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, Kansas, and Hawaii.  My grandpa spent some time working at the Pentagon when they lived in Alexandria, Virginia.  Meanwhile, my grandma held different government jobs at the army bases and one at an air force base.  They were able to settle in Seymour, Indiana because my grandpa taught ROTC about an hour north at Indiana University. After that, he was sent to Vietnam. He was stationed at Tay Ninh Base Camp.

According to my mom, my grandpa never talked about Vietnam or anything having to do with war. He kept that part of his life to himself. He would write letters, but they were always short and to the point. On the morning of June 6th 1969, an attack took place on the camp at Tay Ninh. The camp was hit with over 200 rounds of rockets and mortars.  The base suffered shrapnel damage and some buildings caught on fire. My grandfather, SGM William H. Clevenger, was gravely wounded and could not be saved. When he was killed, my mom was only a freshman at Ball State University (she later became a second grade teacher for 37 years). My grandfather was 48 years old and would have been eligible to return home to my mother and grandmother just two months later.  His name now appears on Panel 23W Line 084 of The Wall.

My pride for my grandfather has only grown with each new piece of information I have learned.  I have always been proud to be his granddaughter, but I feel like my connection to him has deepened.  Every morning when I say the Pledge of Allegiance with my Kindergarten students, I think of him.  Every time I see a flag flying on a front porch, I think of him.  Every night when I lay my head down on my pillow with my husband and my dog, I think of him.  I am thankful for his sacrifice and the sacrifice that all the brave men and women that serve our country make.  I can only hope that my grandpa is looking down with as much pride for me as I have for him.

I would also like to express my gratitude for Tracey Wolfe and her entire family. Thank you for your heartfelt words and for sharing your experiences and stories with my mother and I.  Also, thank you to the Thuy Smith International Outreach for making this connection possible. God Bless you all!

Related Post (Tracy’s Reflection) My Father’s Notebook, One Name on the Wall

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