For generations of Americans, the Vietnam War is now what World War II was to their parents – a battle told through stories by grandfathers and late-night documentaries on television.

But for thousands of military veterans, the war remains real, as if it happened yesterday, never mind its 50th anniversary is rapidly approaching.

“Who would have thought that when I was 23 and over there, I’d be thinking what it was like 50 years later,” said Vietnam veteran Mike Dwyer. “I have a pretty good memory of most things, and there are some things that really stick out.”

At the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History last week, Dwyer stepped to a painting in the Vietnam gallery and noted the depiction of the USS Boyd refueling at sea – the same destroyer he served on during the war.

The museum is gearing up for the war’s 50th anniversary, which officially commences in 2015. It received a big boost this month when the Department of Defense named the Missoula museum Montana’s first Vietnam War 50th Commemorative Partner.

Tate Jones, the museum’s executive director, said partner status will enable the museum to bring in films, displays and national-caliber speakers.

The list of hopefuls includes Vietnam veteran Lt. Gen. Claude Kicklighter, and Col. Hal Moore, who commanded the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of la Drang in 1965, and later authored the book, “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young.”

“We’ll be unveiling more as the years go by with additional exhibits,” Jones said. “We’re always interested in hearing from vets who were active in Vietnam. We have a call for volunteers that way.”

In the Vietnam gallery, newspaper clippings remember the Cambodian Campaign, the Kent State shootings, the Easter Offensive and operations Linebacker and Lam Son. On April 30, 1975, the headline of the Missoulian declared “South Viets Surrender.”

Jones has already assembled a panel of newspaper clippings taken from the Montana Kaimin – the University of Montana newspaper. The clippings highlight the ups and downs of Missoula’s Vietnam-era counter culture, and the day’s mandatory service for men in the school’s ROTC program.

“It was a condition of land grant status – if you were getting land revenue from the federal government, you had to offer military training,” Jones said. “There was a controversy keeping ROTC on campus, and I do recall somebody setting a brochure rack on fire. But that was about as violent as it got.”

One of the largest local marches took place on April 16, 1970, when 500 people marched in protest of the Cambodian incursion. One photo on display depicts a park full of crosses and a sign noting that 234 Montanans had died in Southeast Asia up to that point.

“We were somewhat minor league compared to the big demonstrations – the tragedies at Kent State and Baton Rouge,” Jones said. “There were demonstrations and marches, but (UM) President (Robert) Pantzer, who’d seen combat in the South Pacific during World War II, approached it all with a level head.”

In 2008, the National Defense Authorization Act gave the Secretary of Defense the green light to conduct a program commemorating the Vietnam War’s 50th anniversary.

Jones said the events will honor veterans and their families, recognize the contributions and sacrifices made on the home front, and provide a clear history of the Vietnam War’s lengthy timeline.

“It’s just getting off the ground,” Jones said. “It’ll give us more resources, and allow us to bring in national-caliber speakers for our programs and events here. It all allows for some national coordination for the commemorative events, and it makes everyone aware what’s going on.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

(3) comments

rexmt2
rexmt2

I too vividly remember my welcome home by the itiots at the university of Hippies as I called it back then. I do now support the Uof M and its progress over the years. Time heals all wounds so they say, but those that say that, likely never had the same wounds as some of us. I remember all too well my homecoming parade of rotton veggies that was thrown at me and of the altercations that ensued when it was learned that I was one of "them baby killers". I am proud of my service (all 20 years of it) and am also proud to call Missoula my hometown even through all the hurts that were felt.

Roger
Roger

I was required to participate in ROTC my first year at UM - I didn't like it, but I did it. The next year, mandatory ROTC was eliminated. A few years later I was drafted. I didn't agree with the war in Vietnam, and I still believe it was a bad idea to get involved there. Unfortunately some anti-war people blamed the soldiers for the war, and reviled them - which was wrong.

old farmer
old farmer

As a Missoula born Vietnam returning veteran, I was shocked at the Anti American culture of my home town. The University proudly held Eric Fiedler ,head of the English department, in high regard, even though he was proud of his Communist membership. He held marches regularly. Several of my veteran friends, re enlisted and denounced Their home town. My blood boils when I see "GO GRIZZ. I am told to forgive and forget, but I think of the fine people who served. We were shunned. Shame on Missoula and shame on the University of Montana. The rest of Montana can be proud. I no longer live in Missoula, and still feel like an outsider when I return to visit.

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