tv James and Tuy- Cam Bullington on the Vietnam War CSPAN June 17, 2018 6:46pm-8:01pm EDT
great war" online at loc. gop/wwi. department, foreign service officer, was assigned to vietnam during the war. it was there that he met his future wife, before natural who served as a translator. next, they talk about their time in vietnam including the 1966 burning of the u.s. consulate. they also describe how mr. bullington describedim as a french priest when they were trapped behind enemy lines. foundation,to work conducted this interview which is about 75 minutes. they name is martin with witness to war foundation. virginia williamsburg -- williamsburg, virginia.
how are you doing today? john, isst question where are you from? >> originally from chattanooga, tennessee. joined the foreign service right out of auburn. >> what inspired you? >> getting the hell out of chattanooga. i always had some interest in overseas activities. was one radio inspiration, talking to folks overseas. i originally, really wanted to go to the military and go to west point but i had polio as a teenager and it left me with a gimpy leg so they would not let me into the military.
>> how about you? what was your life like growing up? >> i came from hanoi, the capital of vietnam. doing? your family doing? was your >> my father was in for the government and my mother took care of all of us. >> were you in school? yes, a school for all girls. >> did you know what you wanted to do with your life? st learning? >> during the time of the workingwar, i was still for the u.s. government.
in the early 60's, what were your opinions of the vietnam war as a group? -- as it grew? >> we do not know much about it. even in the state department, i buted in december of 1962, it was not a big topic. even in the state department. it became so as time went on. out, after a cup of years in the state department in washington, that was my first overseas assignment was to vietnam. in 1965, i got there in july at the same time the u.s. introduction of large scale combat forces was beginning. about 1960, wet,
had had a large advisory effort and logistic support but we do not have any combat troops until 1965. >> you and at the same time the calvary went into the country? >> yes, the marines were the first unit who came in in march of 65 but it was in july of 65 decided to -- lgb start sending a massive buildup. >> what was your specific role in vietnam? >> my assignment was to the consulate. we had a small post. basically, as a political reporting officer and i traveled throughout the five northern most provinces of south vietnam visiting each of the provinces and assessing how the war was
going. all the insurgency was going. how the local political situation was going and sending reports back to the mc in saigon and eventually, washington. working at the consulate has a foreign service national locally engage personnel. that is where we met when i arrived in kuwait. ->> can you tell me how you became a foreign service national? >> before that, i was looking about six months and we aroundmilitary aircraft. i do not like it. friend as i heard from a who became very good friends.
totally -- totally there was a vacancy at a u.s. consulate. they were looking for a translator and interpreter. i applied and i got it. then, i started working there. >> how did you like the job initially? it is a very nice job. . was the only girl there i was sort of like a general manager taking care of buying newspaper reading the and translating articles into english. for the purpose of explaining
his one who has not been to vietnam, can you explain it geographically and what's worth for living there? narrow, central part of the anon. -- vietnam. separated north and south vietnam. south vietnam was separated into 45 provinces and five of them --e in the first quarter core military region and extended right on the coast. that is a capital of the province. there's a big seaport. there are two provinces south of that. >> what were some of your favorite places having lived in the country?? >> of course, my hometown.
it is very beautiful. it has a river, the river, the ocean, and the mountains. ->> did you go traveling to the country at all? >> yes, but never to the north. washe north not good to travel? >> it was under communist control. >> as you are both living and working in vietnam, what are some of the memories that you have? >> just arriving in vietnam. those my first overseas assignment in a foreign service. job,getting to know the learning about the people, seeing the different culture. making the adjustments that one has to go through to become a diplomat, a foreign service officer. kid on myry green
first overseas assignment so i had a lot to learn. to be atry exciting the heart of the most important american foreign engagement of that. . -- that period. ave the opportunity to travel around and make oftenments which different from the military reporting that was going in had a different perspective. we were not part of the chain of command. often, the history suggest that those reports that were coming to the chain of command, or overly optimistic. i had a chance along with my colleagues to present a different perspective.
sot went back to washington that they can make their judgments as to what the policies should be. was news media -- >> was news media ever present in your area? ep comingda with the introduction of american troops. troopse american combat got there, the reporters followed. i got to know quite a few of the reporters over the course of the three years. there were just some distinguish journalists. do a good job of getting out to the countryside to learn what was going on but tended to pick up more rumors
and secondhand information. some of the journalists were quite outstanding. macarthur, my good friend. others, were not so reliable. i try to work with tm because i think it is important that they have the perspective of the u.s. government personnel on the ground. i worked with them quite a bit. was sort of efforts were there to make sure that state reports were getting mentioned in independent use. it was really a sharing. some of the best religious, with their brains too. it was a sharing of information. there was a lot going on especially, in the first tour.
in the first assignment i had, it was interesting politically because that was the heart of the buddhist struggle movement, it was called, led by a well-known buddhist monk. antigovernment movement. it was not part of the communist movement. they were very much anti- government and to some extent, anti-american. i had the chance to be right at the heart of that. eventually, they burned down the and our information library and we had to close the consulate and evacuate all of the americans. that was very exciting and dangerous time. she went with me on sel with buddhist
leaders because many of them did not speak french. it known at that time, was still very francophone. all educated vtnamese speak french, the language of instruction in schools were french. some vietnamese but not really enough for a professional conversation. when i needed to speak to a vietnamese leader who did not speak enemies, she usually went with me and she was the interpreter. there were a lot of meetings. ask your opinions on the buddhist struggle initially when you found out about it. he had a younger brother who
is very much against buddhism. brotherdvantage of his being the president, he declared that this year, buddhist would notte ceb buddha's james: that was in 1962 and 1963. there was a two-year time of great instability with a lot of military coups and changes in the government. the movement that began continued and continued through about 1966. this is when they were very active in ichor and the parting -- burning of the american
consulate took place as a lot of other instability was going on. >> did you know each other before the burning of the consulate? james: we knew each other from the time i arrived. >> what was thexrience that attack from your perspective? tuy-cam: the students were right in front of the consulate. they threatened to throw rocks and destroy it. the leader of the group, i knew him very well. one day, they decided to pick their figures and get the blood
out. they wrote a letter to president johnson. he approached the consulate, asking to see an official. he took them out and received the bloody letter. jim was sent out, holding the letter like this. later on, he came in and he was peaceful at that time. several times that followed, to throw rocks at the door and windows. james: it escalated violence. they first burned down the american cultural center. we knew things were heading downhill and the consulate was
very much in jeopardy. we decided to evacuate all the americans not directly working, nonessential people that we needed to get out. just a core of us stayed there, half a dozen, until they actually burned the consulate down. we went to the military assistance for the advisors were located, we were working out of there. they were working out of there when it became too dangerous to circulate around the city. they set up roadblocks. i remember one occasion when he had written president johnson a letter and he responded.
i was alone there. i was the only diplomat. he went with me and we had to navigate through these roadblocks with armed students and so forth to deliver president johnson's response. it was a very adventurous time. thankfully, we were able to get through the roadblocks without being shot. approximatelyll what the letters said? and what the president's response was? tuy-cam: i did not read them. >> was anybody lost in that attack on the consulate? james: no, except a couple of the students. as they were burning down the consulate, they didn't realize we had propane gas tanks.
they blew up and blew up a couple of students along with them. >> were they able to rebuild the consulate in the years that followed? james: no. it was decided to relocate it. they moved to a much bigger city that was the ichor headquarters. that's where the marine assistance was located. that was a better place to have the consulate. it was a more important city by that time. it was reestablished as a consulate general in late 1966. >> what did you learn from the experience that you took forward into the future? tuy-cam: i thought very
seriously that we might be in trouble. the escalation of the war and the lack of military assistance from the u.s., we didn't have a lot of hope by then. james: it was a time when you can see the impact of the political instability on the south vietnamese government's ability to prosecute the war. we were winning all the battles in the countryside. but we were losing the war. the insurgency was gaining in strength. by 1964, the north had started sending regular units of the army.
things were clearly going downhill during that time. they continued to up until the tet offensive in 1968. after the consulate was burned down, we were transferred he embassy in saigon. my job there was to be a staff aide to henry cabot lodge. she was working with the economics section at t embassy. >> was your family still there? tuy-cam: yes. james: were you worried for their safety? tuy-cam: i was very worried about them. >> tell me anything memorable that might have happened in saigon. james: this was 1966 through 1967.
we left in the spring of 1966. as aod there for one year staff aide. that was an exciting job. it was one of the coveted jobs for a young foreign service officer, to be right at the heart in the right hand of the ambassador. i accompanied him on a lot of meetings. i had no real substantive part. i was carrying the briefcase and the notebooks. i did get to meet all of the principal characters. general westmoreland, the head of the cia, visitors like vice president mphrey. mcnamara, all those guys. that was pretty exciting for a young officer. >> any stories about those individuals?
james: there are a lot. henry cabot lodge himself was a very interesting person. he had been a very serious candidate for president at one point for the republican nomination. when he lost his senate seat to jack kennedy, he was appointed ambassador to the u.n. he had been very active throughout the 1950's and 1960's as a leading republican. he was the vice presidential nominee for the republicans when nixon was defeated by kennedy in his first run. was a very- lodge
interesting character. the contrast was pretty great. i learned a lot from him. one of the people i got to know during that time was henry kissinger. he came and stayed at my house for a couple of days. he was just a harvard professor then. after he left vietnam, -- after , my firsttnam assignment after vietnam was to a real combat zone, cambridge massachusetts at the school of government there. i took henry kissinger's class. that was one interesting contact. lledi caim up and asked him what he thought i should take.
he said, "my course, of course." that makes sense, so i did. >> you are working in the economic division? tuy-cam: i was assigned to a lady whose husband was with the usaid. she was working on economic and infrastructure in the country, vietnam. we became very good friends. she was very happy with me and i was happy with her. until the u.s. consulate officially opened. tom hawkins was the council and i went to the personnel section, asking them to send me back to the consulate
general. it was agreed and a week later i was right there, and everyone welcomed me with open arms. i stard working there. >> when did you go back to vietnam for your second tour? james: i never really left. i started working at the embassy in saigon. >> i thought you went to harvard after saigon? james: that came at the end of my tour in vietnam. that was after the tour with was 1967.ch we had been courting since i got there. i went home after the end of my second tour. quickly, i decided i didn't want to stay there.
it was cold and i want to get -- wanted to get back to vietnam. i had enough contacts because of my job with loe. ewho to ca a ias able to arrange to go right back to vietnam. i was just in the u.s. for four or five weeks. then i went right back. by that time, she was back in denang. i want to go back to ichor. there was no job open. they needed someone in the northernmost province.
it was the counterinsurgency program. it was an antecedent predecessor to the province reconstruction teams. people are now familiar with those in afghanistan and iraq. it was a civil military organization. it had been put together in 1967. they were many unsuccessful efforts to bring about better civil military coordination. finally, lyndon johnson personally took matters in hand. that's what it took to make the military and the civil agencies to work together finally. it took a personal effort by the president of united states.
he assigned a senior guide to be his person for establishing it. he became known as blowtorch bob. he knocked heads together in and heton and saigon brought the reluctant organizations involved in the counterinsurgency together and y unteied orgazation. it was something that had never been done before. it hasn't been done very well since. the prt's were a pale comparison of the unification we achieved. even to the extent of writing one another's performance
evaluations. in the team where i was sent, i was sort of a number two deputy. the boss was the prominent senior adviser, a cia officer. his deputy was an army lieutenant colonel and i was a third level deputy in charge of most of the civilian side. working for me, in addition to the state department, i had two army captains and half a dozen ncos. i wrote the captains' performance evaluations and in government can tell you how important ats. my evaluation was written by the cia officer. he was evaluated by a state rtmentfficer who was a deputy and that guy was evaluated by a marine three-star.
it was truly an integrated, fully effective counterinsurgency operation and it worked. we turned around what had been winning all the battles but losing the war. after 1968, our side began winning the counterinsurgency war for a lot of reasons. the changed strategy, the focus on population security rather than search and destroy. we got general abrams to replace general wesley. it was the organizational instrument for influencing this licy a the new policy worked
untit 19l ou. our side had effectively won the war. the counterinsurgency war. that did not matter because congress cut off the support to south vietnam for a lot of reasons and we left them alone to face the north vietnamese army. the war ended not with an insurgency. it was not insurgents that took oversight on in 1975, it was the regular army of north vietnam. it was a conventional cross-border invasion. we turned around the insurgency. > i want to go back, but were you keeping correspondence when
you were back in the states? did you know he was going to be back in north vietnam? tuy-cam: not really. he was mad at me at that time, and being very shy, came from a very close-knit family and one night, he took me to dinner and he came home, opened the door for me to get out and said can i give you a good night kiss and i was so scared, and i ran around the car and refused him. he was so mad. he went home without calling to say goodbye or anything. james: i only stayed home for about four or five weeks and
then i was back. >> when did you meet up again? james: when i got back. i went to my assignment. the headquarters was in denang and my boss was there, and so that was the first place i stopped on the way. tuy-cam: one day he showed up around noon time and asked me to go out to lunch with him, and we did. >> i want to talk about tech -- tet. if you could walk me through your experience on the tet offensive. james: by late fall of 67, we were engaged and we had set the wedding date for march of 68,
when my tour was to end and we would go back to the states. tet coming up was to be her last before getting married and going off to this foreign country. it is a big deal in vietnam. it is the one major national holiday and everyone focuses on it. everyone that possibly can goes home and she was going home for the tet of 1968 and i came down to meet her and join her and her family for the tet celebration. i arrived on january 30, 1968.
i got the shuttle flight into town. this was a bad time to visit because along with me, there came three regimens of the north vietnamese army and a major attack. i was staying with a french friend. his company ran the power plant and i had done some favors for him, putting them on airplanes when the roads were blocked and so forth. he invited me to stay in a guesthouse they had at a power plant. that is where i was. we had dinner at her house along with a couple american friends, one who was working at the consulate general and came as a tourist.
the other, a foreign service classmate of mine who was working with the u.s. information agency. the two of them and i had dinner at her house, a big tet dinner. i went back to the cottage i was staying in and was soundly asleep until about 3:00 in the morning when the incoming mortars and so forth began to get loud and woke me up. i didn't worry about it too much because i had been through that sort of thing before and i could tell they were not coming real close. never before have the been attacks on urban areas where they came to stay. there had been plenty of attacks, but they were just in
the nature of raids and the enemy was gone before the sun was up and they can go back to their rural sanctuaries and avoid retaliation from the americans and south vietnamese forces. this was not a raid as it turned out. i did not know that when i woke up, and i got up and got dressed and walked across the courtyard to the power plant, looking for my french friend and found him and when i got there, he pointed to the end of the courtyard and said, "didn't you see him?" and
i did not notice him but there were this group of guys with ak-47s and brown uniforms and they were not south vietnamese soldiers, they were the nva. they had occupied the power plant because they intended to stay. they had occupied everything except the headquarters of the first division on the north side by thecity bisected river. on the south side of the city, they had not occupy the compound where all of our advisors had managed to resist. there were only these two spots that had not been fully occupied by the communist forces, because there were no friendly combat units in town. they were all out on the countryside. of the army first division, they were only the cooks and that sort of thing. the advisors on the south side of the compound. everything was occupied.
my friend said, "get back in that room and stay there and i will try to move you out of here this evening because these guys are here to stay and it would not be good for either one of us if they find you here." i waited a long day for him to come back. he did at about 6:00. >> i want to get some perspective. where is this power plant in relation to the city? james:ig in the middle of town. he came back and we worked out a signal to cross the courtyard and the nva soldiers were at one and cooking dinner. they were grouped around a fire they had built.
they must have saw me but they may be assumed i was a frenchman working at the power plant and did not bother me. my friend led me over some backyard fences, down the road a few houses to the home of these two french priests who had been in vietnam for a long time and they had agreed to take me in. they did, and they gave me the black gown and the beads and the whole priestly outfit and for the next nine days, i was a french priest behind the north vietnamese lines. for an east tennessee hillbilly who grew up in the church of christ, that was an adventure. it was exciting there of course, to try to just survive and that
is all i could think of doing at the time with the city totally occupied. we did have a lot of incoming artillery, including a direct hit on the priest's house, which blew off the second story. we were downstairs of the time thankfully. on the ninth day, i heard some american voices, the first english i had heard since i had joined the priests. it was the marines, who were sweeping up from the compound since they hadeinforced and sent a couple battalions to the south to retake the south side of the city. they eventually got to the power plant and the house where i was with the priest and it was the hotel second company of the marines.
they came to the house and they called up the company commander who was a young captain. he was grievously wounded two days later in the fighting, for which he was awarded the navy cross. i briefed the marines on what i knew, and they wrapped me in a blanket and carried me out as if i were a wounded marine because we did not what the neighbors to see that the priests had been hiding an american. the next day, i was able to get a flight to report in and get a change of clothes and a bath and so forth, but at this time,
tuy-cam's house was not that far from the house i was in, but it was across the canal and the marines could not for several days get across that canal, but i needed to get back to her. the bosses at the name, my bosses,- da nang, my said you can't go back, the combat is still going on. it's very dangerous, you would just be a burden. but i disregarded those orders and went out to the airbase and hitched a ride with a friendly army helicopter pilot and went back to look for her.
>> i'll pause it right there because i want to pick it up with you. tell me about the tet events from your perspective. were you at your parents house? tuy-caes i had gone home to prepare for the holidays and my brother was a graduate from the military academy, it is like west point, and he was a lieutenant at that time, serving in the pvince as an intelligence officer. and i was very happy to be home and a day later, another brother who was a cadet of the and thise air forces guy here was scheduled to go to the u.s. as a pilot in february. he was away from home, but he told me, looking at the barracks, all empty.
nobody was around except for me and a few other guys. so i can't stand it and i jump in the train and come home. so the whole family was there, grandmother, everyone was in the compound. we had three houses in t compound. we get together and we celebrated tet. right after, jim and the other two americans went home, we started playing a traditional game. and being an intelligence officer, he told us that they might attack either toght or in the very near future. so we went to bed around 12:00
at night and hardly slept until we heard the wailing of a woman in the back along the railway station. my grandmother allowed them to get a house there because there was a refugee from the village. they came. it turned out that the north vietnamese running from the mountainous area to where i was . went there first and grabbed the husband and the oldest son away and she was crying, begging for their release. and we heard footsteps running very, very fast outside, so my mother said all the boys go up to the attic right now. so they climbed up there and two
,eenagers, who are also boys and we came to believe that they would come here very soon and soon enough, there was a banging on the door. they used in their rifle butts to bang on the door. so we opened the door. they said everybody out. no hiding. anybody else hiding, please come out. so we all went out and there was a group of about 12 north vietnamese socialists and they use their rifle butts to push us. then we were gathering at a place not far from home, about 100 yards or something.
there we met a lot of people in the village. in the area, all of my neighbors and people far from there. and then up in the air there, there was a helicopter. i don't know whose. it must have been a vietnamese helicopter. it didn't do anything. it just hovered around. the north vietnamese men and women started shooting at it and it went away. so for a long time, we stayed there and nobody did anything else. and i look across. across from us, there was a group of people and i was so surprised to see a well-known american international voluntary
service. she was there. ody.name was anne somebd i saw her and said, oh my god, she's here with us. one of the female soldiers went to anne and tried to talk to her about something, and she did not understand it, so the woman soldier said anybody here speak english? and nobody did anything. i could of course but all of my neighbors near to my home did not say a thing. they just pretended not to know, not to look at me. they couldn't find anything. they performed propaganda and
said uncle's heart is bleeding for you. that's why we're running from the area, from the mountains, all the way here and in order to liberate you. is there anybody who wants to tell us where the u.s. lackeys are? whether government puppets are? and they'll be rewarded later. and nobody said anything, so they performed propaganda. they said the textile facility will be open and life will be improved and if you cooperate with us -- he was a very good guy. so you have to lose something
for him. he's there to liberate you and we all suffer from hunger and all the misery and life to become soldiers to liberate our country, to drive the u.s. imperialists away from here. so for a long, long time, they didn't say anything else, but around 5:00 in the afternoon, they allowed all the women to go home. and they kept my youngest brother and my cousin there and they said when you go home, the job is not finished yet. we're here to fight for your freedom and you have to support us.
please cook a dinner and we will be there at 6:00 to have dinner and to check on you. not long before we got home and then my brother and my cousin went home, they said ok and went home. so everybody was home. and my mother wanted to send the two brothers and the cousin up attic, saying the north vietnamese were coming back. so she ordered my house boys to get busy with the dinner. they are coming back at 6:00 and she looked up there and said the brother would stay there and not come down.
at 6:00, 7:00, they came and they ate dinner and they thanked us and they left. the next day until the seventh day, different groups of north vietnamese came. excuse me. james: it's important to point out that during this time, this was a little-known but the greatest atrocity of the war was going on. they were rounding up everyone they could find who worked for the government, who worked for the americans, so she was in direct danger. heads of political parties, religious figures, just about anybody that was not on their side, and shooting them. i'm not talking about collateral
damage of the combat. these were people who were taken out and executed, many of them buried alive in mass graves. we found the bodies after the battle was over, nearly 3000 south vietnamese were murdered, including some of her close relatives, by the communist side during their occupation. so this was a very dangerous time for her and for all the south vietnamese, in spite of the kind of propaganda they were putting out. >> you were there when the marines came in, correct? tuy-cam: um, yeah. about seven days or eight days, i lost track. my brother, the lieutenant was moving around in the attic looking for the west or the east
side, whatever, the two corners of the roof. and then one day, he said that it seems like the other side has been pacified. or something. there's much less fighting and not a lot of fire or sound. and something is coming up pretty soon. so he saidhahe crawled down to the opening of the attic to the house and he gave us a big smile on his face and said there is a chance that they may come here pretty soon. so then he went back there and the next day, he looked again and he sent us a piece of paper
with a sentence saying it seems like the u.s. soldiers and the vietnamese soldiers were here, e hereand be prepared for the worst. i did not understand what it was. why we were there for the worst. they should come and we should be grateful for them coming to rescue us. it turned out that soon enough, there were artillery's. i don't know who was damaged the two bridges, left and right from our house. and he said that before they go, the north vietnamese destroy the
bridges, not us, in order to stop their advancements of their allies coming. so the two bridges were broken, but he said that i saw the soldiers on one side and the fire seemed like that on the american side. we don't have these kinds of weapons. it's very different from the north vietnamese. it's different from the south vietnamese. a new kind of weapon. so he came and he saw more and more and he heard tanks, a lot of them. and he said that before they do that, they would clear up this whole area where we are now, so
what are we going to do? either we would be killed to the north vietnamese or we would be killed by the friendly forces. so what are we going to do? stay here and get killed or get out? and by grandmother, who is 82, 83 years old at that time, although women said let's get -- all of the women said let's get out. if the allies are here, we might have a chance to live. but if we go, the north vietnamese will be withdrawn. so it was a big decision to make. and the two brothers in the
military didn't want to go. they knew it was better to stay and all of us just didn't know what to do. all of a sudden, a big mortar landed right on the corner of ou and i heard running from the attic to another safe area. and that did it. we decided to go. or we would have been killed right there. not only one mortar, but several thousand that landed somewhere else. so, we got together, my brother, and my brothers took turns to c my 81 years old grandmother on their shoulders,
on their backs. and we left. very little we knew on the way to an area, where it was the headquarters of the north vietnamese. we ran into them directly. so, immediately after that, the viet cong came and identified my brother, and said this guy is a lieutenant of the military, right here, this one. and the north vietnamese took his hand. get over here. and tied him up. and he looked around, and i sort of looked at him and i knew exactly who he was. he was amazing.
when my mother tried to build a -- he was a mason. when my mother tried to build a house, he was one of the masons there. it was a very small place. everybody knows one another. and he stared at me like this. and didn't say a word. he knew where i worked. he knew where i was. he knew everything about us, and especially me, where i worked. but he didn't say a thing. but the other guy, the one who pointed at the first brother pointed at the second brother, and said this guy here, i understand he is in the air force. and he was asked to come join his brother there and was tied
it was a big cellar. there was a buddha. he carried me in there and gave me a blanket. he went out and told my mother and said, from now on, don't mention her name. her name is lucky one. i was there and the north vietnamese there, and did not say anything. we stayed there for one night, crying our hearts out for our others, and then decided to go home. thewhen we went home,
destruction right there it was not bad. the big house was still in tact, so we lived there, eight there there and slept there. >> you took a helicopter back? james: yes. just to finish off her story, after that night back at their house, they had to leave again and went to a refugee camp, which had been established at -- near maxey at way university. they were there and she came for news about me. found out that i had gone to -- she came to the helicopter pad to try to get a ride back where she worked for she thought i was. while she was waiting there, a helicopter landed, and i got off
of it. and of course, we were reunited there at the helicopter pad. neither to that time, knowing for sure that the other was alive. she had heard rumors from the house boy that i had survived, and so forth, but we didn't really know. but it was february 14, valentine's day, and so it was a good time to be reunited. and we were, and we stayed there just a little while to try to get some food to her family and so forth. and went back for a couple of ng and then came back again, bringing supplies and things to try to get her family resettled and stay there several days until we eventually left and went back to our jobs for a few more weeks before getting married in march.
and instead of the big traditional vietnamese wedding even byhich, march, was still a lot of combat in the area and it wasn't very secure. and the city had been totally destroyed. it was like scenes of germany in 1945. the destruction was pretty vast. ang we were married in da n at the u.s. consulate in hue in a civil ceremony. this was march 16 we were married. we spent a couple of weeks in saigon getting paperwork done to get her out and consultations and left for the united stes and back home. >> i wish we had another three hours to keep talking. sadly we are running short on time. i just have a couple of other questions for you. why was the vietnam war so
important for your generation? james: well, it was absolutely defining for those of us who were involved and almost everyone had to be involved because you had the draft there. and of course, you had the resistors who thought it was somehow noble to go to canada and burn their draft cards. but most of us were very directly involved, and every family had someone, just about, who is there an participant in it. and people don't realize today what a terrible conflict that was in the united states by particularly 1969, 1970, the political turmoil in this country was much more difficult than what we have today. we think of conflict today, and divisions in our country, they were much more profound at that time.
so, everyone has to be affected. i continued working on vietnam up through the end of the war throug1975. i was on the national security council staff having met henry kissinger. that was my next job out of harvard working on his staff for a while. and then working in the state department on the vietnam desk. and we were there in 1973 to fall of saigon, and i was involved from the washington side. i visited vietnam several times during that period. but she was there, and tried to help with the refugee resettlement and things like that. it was just a total, major part of our lives and very formative for me as a young man
to have that experience, of course. so it was fundamental to the course of our lives. >> what do you think current generations remember about the vietnam war? james: not much. they're mostly educated by people who were anti-w protesters, the university students who went on to become university professors, and are now teaching about the war, and in my experience, they do not teach about it very accurately or very well. and so, the impression that most of curnt generations have is very distorted by that particular perspective that they picked up in the educational system. i do what i can to correct it, but -- and i'm sure others do as
well, but i think that is pretty well set into the national culture now that we americans did terrible things in vietnam. everybody has heard of me lie. no one has heard of what the enemy did in hue, which was vastly, vastly worse than any bad things that we did. and there were some. but the perception is not good. the perception is that we lost the insurgency. wen't. we won. we then proceeded to withdraw our support, which assured the south vietnamese would fall, but not because of the south vietnamese were incapable of resisting. they could had they continued to have the support from our side. we basically abandoned them.
tuy-cam: it was a collapse by the south vietnamese army. it was not -- they fought and i lost a lot of male relative s during the war. would be 100 of them. so, it was a collapse. james: most americans today, i think, still see the story of the war through the lens of the big combat units. american combat units. they don't understand what was happening with the south vietnamese, and the insurgency war, which was fundamentally more important in the long run, but they don't get that picture very often. >> and a question for both of you. do you have any advice for
future generations who are watching this interview? james: well i hope, particularly, the future generations that are charged with national security, the military and people like me, and diplomats, and intelligence people and so forth, will take a good, hard look at the lessons of vietnam, and put aside what is in the textbooks that they may have read in college. and to draw on these lessons because they are important. we saw this in iraq most recently when general mcmaster and general petraeus and others went to leavenworth and relearned these lessons of vietnam, and were able to implement a successful change of policy in iraq in 1967. the surge was not so much about
putting in new people, it was about a change in policy, and that policy was drawn from the lessons which they rediscovered about vietnam. and it was successful in iraq just as it was successful in vietnam. i hope that future generations don't have to learn that once again. >> we can somehow keep these lessons of what went right, what went wrong, and how to fight a nonconventional war, because will probably be faced with it again sometime in the future. >> your thoughts? that thanks to people like you and your organization, it will help them understand the situation better. and that is my hope. >> it's a real honor and
pleasure to hear your voice. you have an amazing tale of hardship, but it has worked out well in the end, i can tell. for taking thech time to share your story. thank you so much for your service. >> thank you. >> you are watching american history tv all weekend every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span history. twoext on the presidenc dublin architects talk about the jamesborn james hogan, -- hoban. this hour-long session was part of a daylong symposium hosted by the white house historical association and focused on the history of british and irish connections with the white house.