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Vietnam War Records

Charles Kellar Burns Jr. (Army)           Interview        Manuscript       Memorial

Charlie Burns was born in Vallejo, California, but grew up in Crawford, Texas. He graduated from Baylor University. In 1969, he was inducted into the Army. While some peers opted for ways to avoid active-duty service, he did not believe that he was entitled to avoid service in Vietnam. It struck Charlie as fundamentally unfair that the burdens and sacrifices necessitated by an allegedly common struggle were largely borne by those with least education and resources. During Charlie’s Vietnam tour, he was exposed to Agent Orange. His unit operated in a free-fire zone, where anyone unidentified could be presumed an enemy combatant and engaged accordingly. Charlie understood the policy was intended to save American lives but struck him as absurd that protecting South Vietnamese people meant trying to kill them without engaging in further thought. He was assigned to a unit featuring several Tennesseans as an Artillery Forward Observer in 1970-1971. In 1972, Charlie was honorably discharged from the Army. Thereafter, he spent time counseling while pursuing a PhD at Rice University. Charlie served the IRS from 1979 to 2006 and later worked in private practice. Charlie made pilgrimages to concentration camps, desecrated synagogues, and abandoned Jewish cemeteries and photographed these sites to pay respect to vanished civilizations and bear witness. He grappled with unanswerable questions that grow out of tragedy and published several books documenting his experiences, including They Must Be Living Somewhere,Ham and Eggs in the Garden, Sugar Skull, Our War, The Jungle, and Black Hole . Charles Kellar Burns, Jr. died October 20, 2021, from cancer caused by Agent Orange exposure.

Floyd M. Byers (Army)       Audio | Transcript
 Childhood in Tracy City, TN; Enlisted 1948; 82nd Airborne stateside; 43rd and 5th Infantry Division, Germany, 1952-55, public relations; Warrant Officer School and Flight School (OH-13, H-19); Germany; 1960-64; Sikorsky C-H34 OH-6, OH-58, Huey, CH-47 Chinook; 1965-66 First Air Cavalry Div. Vietnam; Ia Drang Valley air support; Highlands; 1966-68 Germany; 1968-69 Vietnam, Mekong Delta; Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry; Retired 1978; Post-war, Tennessee Airways office manager and vice-president for passenger traffic.

Bobbie Collins (Marines)          Audio | Transcript

Born in 1942 in Knoxville, TN; Childhood in Knoxville before enlisting in the Marine Corps out of high school in 1959; stationed at Subic Bay, Philippines. 1961-1962; family life and choice to re-enlist for a career; Mediterranean Tour before first tour in Vietnam, 1965; heavy equipment operator in Khe Sanh, Huȇ, and Da Nang; handling Agent Orange; second tour started in 1969 at Dong Ha; downtime and interaction with Vietnamese; Okinawa and Camp Fuji, Japan in 1970; stationed at Camp Lejeune in 1974 until retirement as Gunnery Sergeant in 1979; Post-service career working at AA Awning, and North Knoxville Baptist Church.

John “Jack” S. Daniel Jr. (Army)       Audio | Transcript
Born in 1932 in Clarksville, TN; Father was a Major in Army, long military lineage, mother and father died, sent to Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, TN for high school; Virginia Military Institute for bachelors in History, joined army; trained at Fort Benning, GA, Airborne school, Ranger school; Sent to 8th Infantry in Germany, then to Special Forces School in Fort Bragg, NC; deployed to Vietnam in 1966 with 1st Ranger Group; Retired Lt. Col.

James Lloyd Griffen (Navy)          UT-Martin/Naval Pilot          Document 

James Lloyd Griffen was from Gates, Tennessee. He attended the University of Tennessee-Martin before transferring to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He first flew VA-83 “Rampagers” with the USS Essex and USS Forrestal from 1958 to 1960 during a deployment to the Mediterranean. He was then deployed to Vietnam in 1964 with the RVAH-13 “Bats” of the Reconnaissance Attack Heavy Squadron. He was shot down on May 19th, 1967, captured by North Vietnamese forces, but died 2 days later on May 21st as a POW.

Fred Hart (Army Combat Engineer)       Audio | Transcript
Born in June 1946 in Nuremburg, Germany; father an American serviceman; mother a German from Essau; returned to the U.S. in 1948; early life in Knoxville, TN; memories of John F. Kennedy; graduated high school in 1964; moved briefly to San Francisco; enlisted in the National Guard as a truck driver; trained at Fort Benning; drafted in 1966; served in Vietnam 1966-67; 69th Engineer Construction Battalion; Vung Tau Army Base; worked with the 9th and 93rd Battalions; worked as a transport and engineer service; 93rd Engineer Battalion; engaged in the Tet Offensive; visited Saigon; postwar; married in 1948; two daughters; many different jobs.

George Massey (I) (Special Forces)       Audio | Transcript
Childhood in Greenville and Fayetteville, Tennessee during WW II; visits to Knoxville; segregation; undergraduate study and ROTC at the University of Tennessee; infantry training at Fort Benning; assignment to 5th Special Forces; Special Forces Camps and operations in South Vietnam 1966-1967; relationship with South Vietnamese soldiers; Montagnards; return to Fort Benning; reassignment to Vietnam 1970-1971; rotation system’s impact on family life; assignment to Germany 1976-1979 and interactions with NATO personnel.

George Massey (II) (Special Forces)       Audio | Transcript
ROTC and infantry training at Fort Benning; assignment to Germany to 10th Special Forces; language training; reassignment to 5th Special Forces; advanced officer training; Army perception of Special Forces; operations in South Vietnam 1966-1967, 1970-1971; Vietnamization; graduate study at Vanderbilt University and assignment as an ROTC instructor; Command General Staff College; Germany 1976-1979; Fort Bragg, Special Forces instructor; Professor of Military Science, Eastern Washington University; retirement from the military; work as a stockbroker; retirement to North Carolina; perception of current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan

Marvin Mathiak (Army)       Audio | Transcript

Childhood in Horicon, WI; family background; undergraduate work University of Wisconsin-Madison (1963-1967); discussion of student radicalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and 1970 bombing; recollections of 1968 riots in Chicago; drafted June 1969 after finishing Master’s Degree at University of Chicago; Basic Training at Fort Campbell, KY; Advanced Infantry Training, Fort Poll, LA; assignment to 1st Calvary Division, June 1970; invasion of Cambodia; discussion of jungle fighting; Kit Carson Scouts; return to the United States; reception of veterans; post-war life.

John Morilak (Air Force)                            Video

Born in Cleveland, Ohio; wanted to enlist at 22 because of family service, was rejected by Navy for colorblindness, but accepted by Air Force in 1964; graduated top 10% in Officer Training School; attended aircraft maintenance school in Illinois; stationed in Thailand during Vietnam conflict; worked in maintenance and inspection while bringing in several new planes for the Air Force, including the F-111; served stateside in Colorado; did year tour in Saudi Arabia in 1976; stationed in Oklahoma refueling KC235s; retired at rank of Major in 1984; currently resides in Morristown, TN

Fred Owens (I) (Army)       Audio | Transcript
Childhood in Edison, Georgia; father’s service on U.S.S. Arizona; activities with the Civil Rights movement as a teenager; interest in radical wing of Civil Rights movement; enlistment, 1960; assignment to the 3rd Infantry Division; time in Germany; standoff with Eastern Bloc troops in Berlin, 1961; race relations in the military; discussion of pre-Vietnam military; peace keeping operations in Angola; transfer to 11th Air Assault Division, 1963; training in heliborne attacks; redesignation as First Calvary and deployment to Vietnam, 1965; Chu Pong; An Khe; operations in Happy Valley; Pleiku campaign; Ia Drang Valley.; changes in unit composition after Ia Drang.

Fred Owens (II) (Army)       Audio | Transcript
Bon Song I & II operations; wounded, recovery in Japan; return to the United States; readjustment to civilian life and Post Traumatic Stress.

Col. John W. Patrick (Ret.) (Army)       Audio | Transcript
Childhood and life in Detroit and Highland Park, MI; recollections of Pearl Harbor and war time life on the home front; Wayne State University; drafted April, 1943; Fort Benning, GA; role as instructor; deployment to Korea, 1945-1947; assignment to the 7th Infantry Division; life in Korea; ROTC instructor; deployment to 1st Infantry Division, Germany, 1950; integration of the military; reassignment to Taiwan, III Corps Operations adviser; return to Korea, 1961 as part of VI Army operations staff; Korea government coup, 1962; testing of nuclear munitions in Nevada; ; promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, assignment to Vietnam; preparations for deployment, including language and cultural training; adviser to South Vietnamese troops, promotion to colonel, return to the United States; thoughts on draft vs. volunteer military.

William A. “Bill” Robinson (Air Force)         Video | Transcript

Captain William A. Robinson was born in 1943 in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina.  He enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1961 upon his high school graduation.  After assignments stateside and a yearlong tour in Korea, Airman First Class Robinson was transferred to Thailand in Spring 1965 to serve as part of an Air Rescue and Recovery unit.  In September 1965, Robinson and his crew were shot down by enemy fire while on a mission to save a downed F-105 pilot in North Vietnam.  He spent the next seven and a half years as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam, making him the longest-held enlisted Prisoner of War in American history.  During his 2,703 days in captivity, he was held for a short stint at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” before spending time, among other places, in Briarpatch and Cu Loc.  Upon his release and return to the United States in 1973, he received a direct commission to Lieutenant by President Nixon in recognition of his conduct during his time as a POW.  He continued his service for eleven years after his release in such roles as a maintenance officer and a Logistics Management Officer until his retirement in 1984. He became the first enlisted man to receive the Air Force Cross, a medal of valor second only to the Medal of Honor.  He also earned a Silver Star, a Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, and a POW Medal, along with seventeen other awards and decorations.  His story is documented in the book Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, as well as his biography The Longest Rescue: The Life and Legacy of Vietnam POW William A. Robinson. He currently resides in Lenoir City, Tennessee with his wife, Ora Mae.

For other interviews with Captain Robinson, please consider the following: 

Samuel A. Shipman (Army)       Audio | Transcript
Childhood in Lauren, SC; desegregation of schools; Clemson University; ROTC; officer’s commission, Army engineer school, For Belvoir, 1966; life on base; assignment to Germany, 1967-1968; civil engineer projects and planning for Soviet invasion in Germany; interactions with civilians and life in Germany; deployment to Vietnam, 1968; 62nd Engineering Battalion, IV Corps, Mekong Delta; jungle clearing operations; tunnels, harassment by Viet Cong; Lai Khe, work with Ist Infantry Division; interactions with Australian, Korean, and South Vietnamese troops; Vietnamization; interactions with Vietnamese civilians; differences in morale between combat areas and base camps; return to the United States; perception of movies about Vietnam; activities in the reserves; work with Tennessee Valley Authority; road building in Panama, 1985; confrontation with Panamanian Defense Forces; Operation Just Cause and overthrown of Manuel Noriega; introduction of female soldiers into unit; Operation Desert Storm; retirement from military, 1994.

Ed Shore (Marines)       Audio | Transcript
Childhood in Maryville, TN; College years at the University of Tennessee; Air Force ROTC; Farmhand for a local dairy farm; Marine OCS at Quantico, VA; 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment and 1st Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment; Platoon interactions (“fragging,” etc.); Hue City; Field conditions during patrol; Operation Allenbrook; Go Noi Island; Wounded June 15, 1968; Marine psychological response in combat; Okinawa; Period as agricultural advisor in Vietnam; Tet Offensive – posted in Hue; Phu Bai; Infantry weaponry; Contact with Australian and South Vietnamese forces; Return home and discharge; Employment with Upjohn Corporation; Career in construction.

James W. Williams (Air Force)          African American Veteran/POW          Documents     Project

James W. Williams was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He attended Tennessee State University and participated in their ROTC program before joining the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and flew F-4D Phantom IIs in the 555th Fighter Squadron, known as the “Triple Nickel Squadron,” in the 432nd Reconnaissance Wing stationed out of Udorn AFB in Thailand. He was shot down on his 228th combat mission over North Vietnam, captured, and was a POW at the “Hanoi Hilton.” He was released in 1973 and continued to serve until 1995, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  

James “Jim” Ellis Wright Jr. (Army)                                                   Documents

Jim Wright was born September 8, 1942 in Detroit, Michigan. Amidst his parents divorce, he was sent to live with his grandmother in South Knoxville, TN, and though his mother recovered from tuberculosis and was able to reclaim custody, she was unable to care for him and he became a resident of the John Tarleton Children’s Home in Knoxville. After being dropped from the foster care system, he enlisted in the Army in 1960 and joined the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, where he was assigned to the 325th Airborne Battle Group. Wright was with the 82nd Airborne during the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, though he did not see combat at the time, and he became the youngest non-commissioned officer in the 82nd Airborne.  He completed Army Ranger School before joining Special Forces, where he deployed to Vietnam, the Caribbean, and South and Central America. Wright was shot down in a helicopter in Vietnam, but he made a full recovery. Wright worked on the development of the Humvee after serving in Vietnam, and he also worked for the Department of Energy at Oak Ridge. He is currently retired and living in Virginia.

Robert Yokley           Video    Transcript   Pictures

Robert Yokley was born and raised in middle Tennessee.  He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1969 to serve in Vietnam.  He was injured by shrapnel from a booby trap during his ten-month tour of duty.  After returning home, Yokley pursued his lifelong interest in chemistry.  He earned a PhD from the University of Tennessee.