Hill 102

How a patch of ground forged a man’s future, stole a part of his soul, and gave it back to him 30 years later

Although I never met him, I have been connected to Oliver Noonan since the day he died in a helicopter crash on a green mountainside in Vietnam. I was not far away, just 1,600 feet or so, in fact, when I heard the ripping crack of the rocket-propelled grenade as it slammed into the helicopter—and the subsequent duller explosion as the chopper fell to earth.

 
 
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Would JFK Have Pulled Us Out Of Vietnam?

A tantalizing archival discovery suggests the perils of historical evidence

As director of the American History Project for High School Students at the John F. Kennedy Library, I spend a great deal of time in classrooms exploring the critical connection between reliable evidence and the conclusions reached by historians. Most students, of course, have limited experience with historical evidence. They are eager to express opinions about history but, asked to back them up, often cite “facts” from television, films, or the Internet.

 
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Offerings At The Wall

FOR MORE THAN A DECADE NOW, TENS OF THOUSANDS OF AMERICANS HAVE BEEN LEAVING LETTERS AND SNAPSHOTS, CIGARETTES AND CLOTHING AND BEER FOR THEIR FRIENDS, LOVERS, AND PARENTS WHO NEVER MADE IT BACK FROM VIETNAM

The faces of the American Dead in Vietnam” was Life magazine’s cover story on June 27, 1969. Photographs and brief biographies of the 242 Americans killed in action during one week, from May 28 to June 3, marched on for pages. When the issue appeared, American troop strength in Vietnam was at an all-time high; President Richard M. Nixon had begun the secret bombing of Cambodia in March, and just days before press time he had announced plans to withdraw twenty-five thousand troops from Southeast Asia. Read more »

“The Lines Of Control Have Been Cut”

Jack Kennedy came into the White House determined to dismantle his Republican predecessor’s rigid, formal staff organization in favor of a spontaneous, flexible, hands-on management style. Thirty years Bill Clinton seems determined to do the same thing. He would do well to remember that what it got JFK was the Bay of Pigs and the Vietnam War.

In early October of 1963, Rep. Clement Zablocki, a Wisconsin Democrat, led a House Foreign Affairs Committee fact-finding delegation to South Vietnam. Invited to the White House when he returned, Zablocki told President John F. Kennedy he thought that removing President Ngo Dinh Diem would be a big mistake, unless the United States had a successor in the wings. Remember Cuba, Zablocki said. “Batista was bad, but Castro is worse.” Read more »

Present At The Apocalypse

Jan Wollett found herself on the last flight of refugees out of a crumbling Da Nang in 1975

Early in 1973 a woman named Jan Wollett applied for a job as a flight attendant with World Airways, based in Oakland, California. Her previous job had been as a secretary for the actress Jennifer Jones; she loved to travel and felt that working for an airline would give her a chance to see the world while earning a living. Read more »

Prescott’s War

A civilian adventurer gave us the best artist’s record of America in Vietnam.

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"I Had Prayed To God That This Thing Was Fiction…"

He didn’t want the job but felt he should do it. For the first time, the soldier who tracked down the My Lai story for the office of the inspector general in 1969 tells what it was like to do some of this era’s grimmest detective work.

In the early spring of 1969 I was an Army colonel recently assigned to the office of the inspector general in Washington, and I was not particularly happy about it; I have always disliked living in Washington, and I think that most infantry officers would rather serve with troops than investigate allegations about irregularities in procurement, which was most of what the IG’s D.C. office did. Our job was to look into complaints sent to us from the Executive Branch or the Congress, and seven or eight fresh ones circulated in each morning’s Read File.Read more »

Telling Our Children About Vietnam

I was saddened by the responses of so many eminent Americans when asked “What should we tell our children about Vietnam?” Myths about the nature of U.S. involvement predominate and cloud the real lessons that must be learned if we are to avoid another such tragedy. The truth is: Read more »

What Should We Tell Our Children About Vietnam?

That was the question an Oklahoma high school teacher sent out in a handwritten note to men and women who had been prominent movers or observers during the Vietnam War. Politicians and journalists and generals and combat veterans answered him. Secretaries of Defense answered him. Presidents answered him. Taken together, the answers form a powerful and moving record of the national conscience.

Last year my principal and friend, Rick Elliott, told me that he wanted the Vietnam War to be covered more thoroughly than it had been in the social studies classes at our junior high school in Pryor, Oklahoma. Although Vietnam was our nation’s most recent war, America’s combat role in it had ended before most of our students were born. When you consider that the war was the most divisive event in the past hundred years of our history, it becomes obvious that it is something that desperately needs to be taught in our schools. Read more »

Getting To Know Us

After a year at the University of Missouri boning up on American history, a Chinese professor tells what she discovered about us and how she imparts her new knowledge to the folks back home in the People’s Republic.

In my mind, my life has been very uneventful. But to other people, it seems that I should have nothing more to wish for: my husband and I both work at Lanzhou University in northcentral China, where my husband is a professor of Russian history and I teach the history of the world’s Middle Ages as well as ancient Chinese history. At the university, we are considered to have a good future. Besides this, I have two adorable children. It seemed that I should be content because life had blessed me with so much.Read more »