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U.S. Leaders

Lyndon Baines Johnson
LBJ’s domestic work is failing – the war on poverty is in fading fast, and racial unrest is breaking out across the U.S.. He’s forced to send in the army goes to massive race riots in Detroit. When the protest occurs at the Pentagon Johnson goes into high alert, believing the demonstration is a ploy from communists. He sends the FBI in after them. Soon after, his office rolls out a PR campaign to shore up America’s support for the war. As part of this, Johnson states that the end of the war is in view, and the military releases a new number of enemy forces meant to show the amount of damage done by the U.S. military – only 2/3rd of what the CIA believes to be true. But LBJ’s PR succeeded, and America’s began to believe in the war once again.

General William Childs Westmoreland
The military is split amongst 4 quadrants in South Vietnam – and while many amongst the U.S. government and military advisors believe the war is amongst the people in those area, Westmoreland is convinced that thousands of North Vietnamese are planning to seize the two northernmost provinces. Destroying them becomes his primary goal, and he says that the time has come for an all out offensive against North Vietnam.

Robert McNamara
Robert McNamara, Johnson’s secretary of defense, has grown disillusioned, telling the president that he believes continuation of the war is costly and dangerous – Johnson quickly arranges for McNamara to become president of the World Bank, and replaces him with Clark Clifford, a prominent DC lawyer who Johnson is sure will be supportive of the war. McNamara stays quiet about his misgivings.

North Vietnamese Leaders

Ho Chi Minh
During this time, Ho Chi Minh was suffering from ill health, leading toward Le Duan becoming even more of an executive power in the war effort of the country. After a brief medical trip to China in April, Ho Chi Minh returns to the country in time to approve the Tet Offensive.

Le Duan
In Vietnam, none of the U.S.' bombing or Johnson’s requests for conversations had any effect on Le Duan – but North Vietnam was in trouble. The war was reaching stalemate. Commanders in south resented Hanoi’s tactics; North Vietnamese civilians have grown weary of the war and the constant bombing. So, Le Duan devises a riskier plan designed to send the South into chaos – the General Uprising, also known as the Tet Offensive, set to occur on January 31, 1968. In preparation, companies of the North Vietnamese Army are withdrawn from their positions, issued more weapons and food, and sent south with grand fanfare.

North Vietnamese

Ho Huu Lan
Lan remembers that when they shot one U.S. soldier, they knew someone else would come to get the body, so they waited and shot that person too. He feels that while, “sympathy and hatred are intertwined, on the battlefield, hatred is dominant.”

U.S. Military

Roger Harris
Born in Boston, Roger Harris was used to the neighborhood racism between Dorchester and Roxbury – but was not prepared for the level of hate he felt as an American in Vietnam. He had originally joined the army because he wanted to be a warrior. He wanted to kill his country's enemies. He was positioned at Con Thien in 1967. On July 28 he was with the second battalion as they moved out of Con Thien and into the southern half of the DMZ itself in Operation Kingfisher, which ended with 23 dead and 214 wounded. Of the operation, Harris said, “I’ve never been so afraid before or since. There was nothing you could do.”

John Musgrave
John Musgrave joined the marines to be part of the “varsity team.” He didn’t feel he was doing his duty unless he was fighting the North Vietnamese Army directly. He was sent to Con Thien, just a few kilometers south of the DMZ – which his fellow marines called the “dead marine zone.” In their time in Con Thien, Musgrave’s battalion suffered so many losses they were called the walking dead. It was there, under artillery fire, that he first began to develop a hatred for the Vietnamese based in fear. When the Battle of Con Thien began in earnest, Musgrave begins to think that he’d never go home – it was like the NVA were shooting fish in a barrel. But by early December, when a depleted NVA slows their attacks, Musgrave’s company is sent out on a sweep of the countryside. They run into an ambush and Musgrave is the first to be shot – and when a fellow marine tries to rescue him, he’s shot again. With a hole the size of a fist in his chest, he’s dragged from the jungle, his fellow marines sometimes using their own bodies to shield him from further attack. Finally taken to medical care, he’s passed over by triage three times, left for dead before a surgeon takes him in. He wakes in the ICU days later, and survives.

John McCain
Lieutenant Commander John McCain is the son of US Naval Commander. In a operation over Hanoi he is shot down and captured. He lands close to the base, and the North Vietnamese run out to capture him. They don’t know who he is – until the radio announces it. After bringing him to the hospital to be treated for his injuries, the North Vietnamese allow a French journalist to interview him. Having just had his broken bones (his leg and both arms) set without any pain killers, he appeared in pain and cried on film. After the interview, McCain was beaten for not expressing sufficient gratitude to his captors.

Other Key Figures

Bill Zimmerman
There was a big demonstration each fall and spring in DC or NYC. He was part of the group that decided to march on the Pentagon in 1967 – their plan was to go to the demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial, and lead as many people to the Pentagon as they could. 50 thousand people wound up marching. When they arrived they found concentric defense perimeters, which they tore down. “God knows what we thought we’d do,” Zimmerman reflects. Some people wanted to vandalize the building, others wanted to just talk to the people inside and distribute information. It was the first time antiwar demonstrators had confronted active duty personnel – they perceived them as victims, but saw the government as the enemy.

Dennis Stout
Stout was a marine who moved to reporting after being wounded three times while stationed with 1st brigade of 101st airborne. As a reporter he was stationed with a hand picked team of guerilla soldiers known as Tiger Force. Tiger Force was run by leaders who encouraged vengeance and brutality – and were admired by Generals for their ferocity. In the summer of ‘67, Tiger Force, with Stout, went to Song Ve Valley. While the entire population of the valley had already been herded to refugee camps, some farmers had returned. However, the valley had been declared a free-fire zone – which the officers of Tiger Force took literally. They decided there were no friendlies, and shot anything that moved. They killed scores of unarmed civilians, including blind, old, infirm, monks, women, children – all reported as KIA. At another point, Stout witnessed the marines rape a girl for two days before killing her. When he protested, the battalion’s sergeant major said it happened in all wars. Stout than talked to the battalion’s chaplain, who went with Stout to the sergeant major once more – the sergeant major told the chaplain to stick to religion. Finally, another soldier brought forward accusations against Tiger Force – though 18 were tried for murder and assault, no charges were brought, and the records were buried.

The Vietnam War employs some of the most powerful folk ballads and rock anthems of our time. The team over at Front Row Boston has collected the songs used in the series into one groovy, funky and far out playlist – enjoy!

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