The sound of beating blades pounding across the skyline, the sights, the smells, the oppressive heat where a guy can almost taste the air comes flooding back in a wave of emotion and memories for the brave men and women who served in-country.
During 15 years of military involvement, over 2.5 million Americans served in Vietnam with 500,000 seeing actual combat. Of that, 58,272 were killed in action or in non-combat deaths and 303,644 were wounded.
The war in Vietnam tore a hole America’s social fabric. On the home front, antiwar protests that sometimes ended in violence, were as much as the nightly news as the war itself as television ushered in a new era.
Friday marks the 46th anniversary of the official end of the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975. Ellensburg High School graduate Steven Nourse, who retired in 2014 from Central Washington University after a long career in education, intends to honor the men and women who served with an upcoming 14-part radio series called the Voice of Vashon: “The 52-Year War in Vietnam.”
The series includes interviews with EHS graduates, Mike Dorsey, Lloyd Webster, Allen Aronica, Dave Watson and Mike Allen.
“The idea isn’t to rip the scab off or stir up bad memories, but to give a voice, not only to the veterans who were in-country, but to the families that were affected by the war,” said Nourse, who lived in Ellensburg until he was 23 and later retired from Central Washington University as a full professor in 2014.
“I interviewed quite a few of the Ellensburg graduating seniors from 1966. The first and last episodes are primarily music and narrative and the other 12 are personal interviews and stories of people’s experiences in Vietnam.”
MUSIC TELLS THE STORY
Songs like “Running Through the Jungle,” “Fortunate Son,” “Sky Pilot,” “Paint It Black,” “Machine Gun,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” and many others were the music of the day, documenting musician’s interpretations of what they saw on the nightly news. It will all be incorporated into the impactful description.
Episode 3 will feature Mike Dorsey and Dennis Larsen. Dorsey graduated from Ellensburg High School in 1966 and served the army in Vietnam as a combat soldier and as a machine gunner on a Huey or “slick.”
Larsen was with an elite group of soldiers who trained with dogs and served as a point-man to search out and locate Viet Cong. He went on over 50 such missions.
Episode 4 features Lloyd Webster and Jim McFarland in a one-hour episode. Webster also graduated in 1966 and joined the Marines. He served in Vietnam repairing highly complex components of jet planes, which used auto-pilot. McFarland graduated from Ellensburg High School in 1965. He supervised a squad of soldiers, who repaired Chinook helicopters.
VOICE FROM THE NAM
“What I’m most proud of with this series is that a lot of vets had never really told their story to anybody,” Nourse said. “They were glad they were be able to tell it and welcomed finally having a voice. With the guys I interviewed from Ellensburg, in particular, Allen Aronica, who received a couple Purple Hearts, it was a chance to learn about the guys I went to school with.
“Allen almost died there. He was very open. He went to Vietnam right out of high school. When you look at his picture, he looks just like a little kid, and he was. When you look at the pictures of all these guys that went, they were kids thrown into extraordinary situations and their stories need to be told.”
Episode 5 gave Aronica and Mike Allen a chance to tell their stories. Aronica graduated in 1966 and by October of the same year, he was in Vietnam serving on ground forces. He did a number of search and destroy missions in a variety of locations. He was injured twice and received two Purple Heart citations.
JUST A KID
Allen was a Marine and enlisted in 1968. He served in the 1st Marine Artillery Division and was stationed near the demilitarized zone. He served his tour and came home without fanfare or remorse.
“I don’t talk about it much. I did this radio interview because of Steve,” Allen said. “I hate all the Vietnam movies. When I was in high school in 1966-67, it was a given that you were going to enlist when you got out, so I did.
“I guess what I can tell you is that the Everly brothers were Marines. They did six years in the Marine Corp. reserve. Don (Everly) was asked if he would do it again? He said he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. That’s how I feel. I went to fight communism.”
At the war’s peak, the U.S. had more than half a million troops in Vietnam, many of them draftees. More than 58,000 American troops died in-country.
Aronica, a Kittitas tribal elder, was one who nearly paid the ultimate price serving in the 1st Cavalry Division.
“I received my draft notice two weeks after I graduated from high school in June ’66,” said Aronica, who was discharged with the rank of Sgt E-5. “My MOS was Infantry 6. I was originally assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, but on our way there it was changed and I was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division located at what they called Bearcat.
“After two weeks, I was assigned to Co. B, 3rd Battalion, 39 Inf. located in a small village in a place called Rach Kien.”
Aronica received several accommodations, including the National Defense Service Medal, Expert (M-60) Marksman (M-16) , Air Medal 2 O/S Bars, Purple Heart w/2OLC, Combat Infantry Badge, Vietnam Service Medal w/2 Bronze Service Stars, and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal w/Device 1960.
In the end, there were:
• 9,087,000 military personnel who served on active duty during the official Vietnam era from Aug. 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975.
• 2,709,918 Americans who served in uniform in Vietnam.
• 58,148 Americans killed.
• 75,000 Americans severely disabled; 23,214 were 100% disabled; 5,283 lost limbs and 1,081 sustained multiple amputations.
• Of those killed, 61% were younger than 21 years old.
• 11,465 of those killed were younger than 20 years old.
• The average age of the men killed: 23.1 years.
• As of April 14, 2017, there are 1,611 Americans still unaccounted for across Vietnam (1,258), Laos (297), Cambodia (49), and China (7).
THE WHOLE PICTURE
This series shows more of the “whole puzzle,” including history, personal stories, music, poetry and thoughts “from the Nam” to family and friends in the states, Nourse said.
The series premier’s on Friday at noon and will continue to stream at 4 p.m. Tuesdays on demand at voiceofvashon.org.