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Archive for Wednesday, March 2, 1994

VETERANS OF VIETNAM SHARE WAR EXPERIENCES

March 2, 1994

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Area Vietnam veterans told a group of KU ROTC students to take their training seriously.

They shared stories of being shot down, of helping wounded comrades and of coming home to a country that was less than thrilled to welcome them.

Five area Vietnam veterans shared their experiences Wednesday with about 50 Kansas University ROTC students, who listened in silence to the stories.

Their experiences were real, and the potential for another Vietnam remains, they said.

"Your frame of reference is Desert Storm; that's a good frame of reference. It showed the way it was supposed to be done," said Col. Cedric Hunter Jr., professor of aerospace studies in KU's Air Force ROTC who flew F-4 fighters in the last years of Vietnam. He also flew F-16 fighters in the Persian Gulf.

"Vietnam was a different war. It took place during a different time," he said. "The civilian leadership was different. The military was different. Even though it was a different war it doesn't mean it can't happen again."

One of the panelists, Capt. James Hough, professor in the Navy ROTC program, spoke for the first time publicly about his experiences in Vietnam, where he participated in river operations.

He said his unit attempted to stop infiltration of Vietnam's southern rivers and streams.

"Almost everyone on those rivers was unfriendly," he said.

He said handling combat is "almost like dying. At some point you detach yourself from life. It's not to say we're suicidal or crazy," he said. "You just personally need to come to terms with your own death in order to do your job."

Another panelist, Tom Berger, associate director of affirmative action at KU, served as Navy corpsman and was a medic with a Marine unit during a 66-day siege at Khe Sanh.

"We had 66 straight days of incoming," he said. "Sometimes there would be 30 rounds a day.

He said his Vietnam experience "changed my life forever. Nothing in my life will be as tough as being in Khe Sanh."

Another panelist, Col. Bill Byrns, a professor in Kansas State University's Air Force ROTC program, was shot down over North Vietnam and spent 10 months in a prison camp.

"When we got out, we told the press -- although they didn't always print it -- that the only thing that kept us going was Christ and our faith in God."

The fifth panelist was retired Lt. Col. Bill Radtke of Stull, who worked in an Army Special Forces unit.

He recommended students "take a good, hard look before you choose your spouse, because the one you leave behind has a lot of responsibility."

The panelists said they thought women should be allowed to serve in combat roles.

Also, Berger said President Clinton broke his promise not to drop an economic embargo against Vietnam until all missing soldiers were accounted for.

"We believe president Clinton broke his promise," he said. "On the other hand, personally, I think it's time to move on."

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