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tv   Green Berets at Vietnams A Shau Valley  CSPAN  August 23, 2018 7:02pm-8:03pm EDT

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on september 15, 2014, president barack obama awarded the congressional medal of honor to benny akin, for his actions during combat in vietnam 48 years earlier in march 1966., benny atkins talks about his experiences during the war with the co-offer of his book, a tiger among us, the story of valor. sergeant atkins describes how he and 16 of his berets were attacked by a large force of vietnamese and troops from march 9 and march 12, 1966. he also tells the story of a tiger who saved his life during the battle. the national archive posted this hour-long event. >> i ask all vietnam veterans or united states veterans who served in active-duty at any time during a period of november 1, 1955, to may 15 of 1975, to stand and be
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recognized. as you exit the theater after this program, the national archive staff and volunteers will present you with the vietnam veteran lapel pin. on the back of the pen is embossed the great nation thanks and honors you. the united states of america vietnam war commemoration is a national initiative in -- and in -- the lapel pin is the nation's memo of thanks. his program is related to our special exhibit, remembering vietnam. for this exhibit, our staff comes from a national records here, and across the country to find documents to tell the stories recounted in the 12 episodes of the exhibit. one of our most powerful features of the exhibit is hearing the voices of veterans giving their recount of the war.
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this exhibit opened last november. we have heard from many veterans here, sharing their own stories on this stage. today, we are privileged to hear from vietnam veteran and medal of honor recipient, benny atkins. benny atkins was drafted into the united states army on december 5, 1956 at the age of 22. after attending airborne school, he volunteered for special fork is -- forces in 1961, and served for more than 13 years. while on the special forces, he deployed to the republic of vietnam for three nonconsecutive tors. -- tors. during that second tour in march of 1966, north vietnamese force and taxed -- attacked his unit.
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it was during the engagement that he distinguished himself in actions to which he was awarded the medal of honor. after vietnam, atkins served as the first sergeant for the vacations the man. in arizona, he attended a's ceremony and el paso, texas. he retired from the army in 1978 . atkins earned his bachelor's degree and two master degrees from troy state university. he also established the atkins accounting service, serving as its ceo for 22 years. his many awards and decorations
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include the distinguished service cost -- cross. today's moderator is lamarr jackson. he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and book author, communicator and public relations and marketing specialist. he has worked for a wide variety of clients. latest enjoyment, please welcome, and katie lamarr jackson.
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>> how are you? >> i am good, we are under the bright light. i think the thing we are supposed to do is talk. >> we spent a lot of time working on this book in your living room talking. >> let me anticipate it took about 2 1/2 years to do that. what i asked you to do, and you were very capable in doing this, when we began, i wanted everything in the book to be true, and accurate. the only changes that were made were from some of the other american
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that were present, said i have some dates and times wrong. they were corrections that i saw that you may. >> we did have the opportunity for you and i to have these long discussions, day after day. i asked the same questions over and over again. you probably got tired of that. we also have the opportunity to interview the other men who were still alive from the battle, who had survived the battle. that was really important to you, wasn't it? >> absolutely, yes. it's not my story. the thing is, there were 17 americans there in that major battle. all 17 were wounded with unfortunately five paying the ultimate price.
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>> let's start at the beginning, you were born on a dark and stormy night? no. maybe a call up? >> anyone with my reputation would have to be born on a door -- dark and stormy night, yes. i was born in oklahoma. we were farmers. i loved the farm life. i was excited after high school that i would begin college. i believe i was more interested in the good looking girls, then i were in the academics. my father decided that it might
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-- he might be wasting his money on me for a while in college, so i dropped out of college. i was not unemployed for long, because i was drafted right into the military, once i was no longer in college, i became a soldier. >> right. as i recall, you had some nice deployments early on. i think you and elvis hung out together a little bit. >> i did. the military decided all things that i was going to be, a clerk typist. let's face it, there is nothing wrong with being a clerk typist. however, that did not quite fit my needs. the army decided on my first
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trip that they would send me to germany. i spent a little time in germany, and this happened to be the time that elvis presley traveled through there. i was working as a clerk typist. one of the duties i had to do was to fingerprint elvis presley, when he came into the country. >> when you got through there, i think you might have been a little bored? >> board completely. i think i needed to try to become a better soldier. i think -- thought i wanted to go with the infantry. i signed with the infantry at fort benning, georgia and i
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worked with the basic training unit. in this basic training unit, my duty at that time was a type of course where they are flying live ammunition over your head. machine guns locked into positions to fire way above your head. i did this for some time. i kind of became bored with that, also. there was an organization at that time called the army special forces. i decided at that time frame that i might this try this -- just try this.
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i headed to volunteer for special forces. i volunteered to be a paratrooper. i volunteered again for the army, to do this. i was selected to try to become a special forces member at that time frame. this required about a year and half of their extensive training , not only the physical aspects, but the mental aspects, also. >> you get this training and you end up in vietnam for the first tour, which was relatively mild. >> the forest -- first tour was relatively mild for me. i was just wounded one trip, not that first trip. yes, it was very mild. i spent a little time in vietnam. this
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was in early, 1963. it was relatively calm at that time. >> but, then he came back in 1966, or 65? >> 1965 and 66, i was back in vietnam again. in that time, it was not so common, one of the positions -- there is a story that goes with this, my sergeant major came after me and said i am going to make you my intelligence sergeant. keep in mind that this was an organization where you got to
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sleep in real beds, and had real food to eat, and this type of thing. i said i can do this. i cleared post and i reported to the sergeant major about two days later. he said, i have got bad news for you. he said sergeant earl patty just got hit out at the shau valley. they sent me to this location, and it was probably the worst in vietnam at that time. >> the location was the problem , correct? not only was it remote, but it was also surrounded by arrows, sort of hard to defend? >> it was an absolute amounts country. there were all types of intent
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-- and sex, all types of reptiles the major infiltration route for the north vietnamese was moving into the south vietnamese country. >> if i recall, it was also understaffed, even when you got there? >> it was understaffed and the indigenous troops that we had really did not want to be there. we found out at a later time, that many of them were petty criminals that they had sent -- been sent to us. they were at the saigon gels at that time, and were sent to us.
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that some of them were supporting the more -- north vietnamese. >> this camp was different, also, from some of the others you have been in on the previous tour, because the affiliations of the indigenous troops were different, the barnyard -- >> that is right. not only the amount yard personnel, but also some of the south vietnamese soldiers were of different ethnic groups. for instance, some of the training that we were doing sometimes we would have to work with as many as two or three carpenters to do some teaching. >> there you all are, and you start to notice that maybe there is some activity outside
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the edge of the camp? >> we did not have any problem with that. it was outside the camp at all times. we had two prisoners. they come in and said, told us that we were going to be attacked, and there was a large force to include a decent size of the north vietnamese troops that were going to attack us at this special forces camp. when the weather was so bad that we could not receive air support, that is when they were going to attack. >> that weather came a little earlier than expected? >> it came two or three days
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earlier. they did attack at that time frame. we were involved in a battle for 38 hours. we were under constant combat for that 38 hours. >> the americans in the camp included you and your special -- special forces team, but also the night for steam. do you want to talk a little bit about the might force? >> they were sent to reinforce teams. at the present time, we had a 12 man team that was down to nine, with the might force, they sent one replacement into us at the first american tent.
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with that, there were seven might force that came in, and they arrived three days before the attack. >> they were pretty fresh on the ground? >> they were. this is what they did for support, they supported the troops during the battle. >> the battle goes on for 38 hours, and a lot of casualties, and then the loss of a lot of men both on other side and on your side, as well as the americans. you were manning, as i recall, a gun? >> i was at the mortar position. at that time, my position was with the mortars, 81 millimeter
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mortars. this was an indirect fire weapon. also, at that time frame, i utilized my normal machine gun. i utilized two or three rifles, and i had a weapon that today probably would not be authorized to utilize. but, this was a shotgun. i had taken this pump shotgun and cut the barrel off of it, it was about this long, and i cut the handle off of it. i basically made a weapon that would work, if you were at this distance from a door, that shot
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would blow that door open with that weapon. this was ideal for close combat. also, i utilized, unfortunately, a lot of hand grenades. >> i know that all of you had already decided that you are not going to be captured, that you were going to fight into the end? >> that was something, we knew what was happening with this. a lot has been happening with it, especially with the special forces surges -- soldiers. if they captured one, they were executed on the spot. we made up our mind, no, we were not going to be captured. this was something that all of
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the living there had decided that, no, no capture. >> the odds of you all being able to survive, it seemed to me to be just remarkable. you credited the fact that you all were so well-trained. >> absolutely. i feel like -- i spent more than a year and a half in training to become special forces qualified. what this required was not only the language training, and comptroller training, but we had to learn and to assemble and disassemble every weapon,
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for instance, that was in the small arms, and rather than just a simple and disassemble the weapons, we had to become qualified with it. we were trained in operations and intelligence. we were trained in communications, and within communications, we are talking about am and fm radio. and, we did international morse code. we were instrumental in developing the system that we utilize in international morse code. when you were on 18, you would
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slow this down and in the burst system that would send the message about 200 words per minute. a receiver could flow it down at the speed that they used, you needed to receive this. the reason behind this was that the enemy was using direction finding equipment, and once you had that key, you better start dodging, because it would send some on you. >> so, you fight for 38 hours, and the call comes in to evacuate. talk about the evacuation and what happened after that. >> unfortunately, many of the indigenous troops, during the
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battle -- let me talk just a little bit about this. we had one company of the indigenous personnel during the battle, they would start a fight with the north vietnamese. they just changed sides, and this created a major problem. therefore, the enemy me came riding into our camp. they had help with the local troops helping them with this. keep in mind, during the battle, about 70% or 80% of the troops
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had been wounded or killed, or just left. >> you are evacuating, and they sent in helicopters to evacuate you. some of those were waived off? >> unfortunately, it is my understanding that they put 18 helicopters in the air to make an evacuation at the camp. only eight of the helicopters made it. tenant were shot down. so, when the order had come for us to evacuate the camp, myself
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and the executive officer, with the helicopters that did land, landed outside of the camp. the executive officer went back into the camp to get one of the wounded american soldiers on a stretcher. so, we did not have a ride. so, we had to hit the jungle. unfortunately, the american that was on the structure, while we were in the jungle, sir calmed. he did not survive his wounds. i was kind of fortune and the fact that -- my favorite weapon , the shotgun, i happened to have a little ht one fm radio
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that we utilized. keep in mind, that this radio, you could talk about the distance of this room in ideal conditions, however, this this did not have effect. so i stayed in water with my shotgun, and communicated with an airplane, someone in an airplane. they sent a helicopter in to pick us up. we rapidly cut through enough so that one helicopter could land in the jungle. and, they shot the helicopter down. there were a couple of the helicopter crew that was wounded in the crash when the
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helicopter was shot down. they sent them out on strange, and we had to go again. the north vietnamese were chasing us again. we had to spend another night in the jungle. this happened to be the night that we started hearing the noise. we were in the south vietnamese border, right in the posh on valley.
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that very -- noise that we heard happened to be a 400 pound indonesian tiger. this tiger stopped us, and unfortunately that tiger had been feeding off the bodies and so forth of the dead. that tiger stopped us that night , and the north vietnamese soldiers were more afraid of the soldier, then they were of us. they backed off from us to give us room to get away. >> the tiger did not bother you all, did it? >> that tiger saved our lives. so, i love cats. >> so, you finally get out of that jungle? >> yes, we did. then, the weather broke enough that they could send some aircraft in on that side of the jungle in a short time period.
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i had 18 body balloons from that combat. we spent a couple of days in the hospital shift. a short time later, i was in another camp doing the same thing again. >> there is not much rest for the weary, is there? >> not at all. >> after that, you were nominated for the medal of honor after that battle? >> that is correct. i was recommended at that time for the medal of honor from that battle. i received it. >> you were proud to wear that one? >> i wore that for 48 years
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with proud distinction, yes. >> let's talk about the medal of honor. would you did find out that 48 years later, this was happening again. >> i had a young captain at that time that was our commander , and he was severely wounded and received a distinguished service cross himself, and he retired as a senior colonel. he just would not let it go. he had recommended me initially for the medal of honor, and did not like the idea that i was not approved. 48 years later, i received a telephone call one day from the pentagon and they said at a
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certain time, there were be a telephone call from a higher up official. when the telephone rang at that time, it happened to be the president of the united states. he said he had approved the medal of honor for me based upon the classification of many of the activities, and some new statements that had come in with this. he said that the difficult part was, i had a wife and daughter that was there, and they had personnel in the pentagon that called a gag order on me. they said this cannot be disseminated until someone here in the pentagon -- my wife and
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daughter could not talk about it for a month and half. that was very difficult. >> so, you received the medal from the president, and then went onto the pentagon, talk about what that ceremony was like, and also who was there with you. >> i was fortunate enough for this i had family and guests of about 80 and -- or 90 people that attended the ceremony with me in the white house. the reception was great. it was very cordial and so forth in awarding the metal -- medal
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the following day, i was in the pentagon, and this was when they put my photograph in the hall of heroes in the pentagon. this was a very touching ceremony. then, the following day, i was over in the capital building with a member of congress from our state. >> you talk about when you wear this metal, it is not for yourself? >> it is for the other 16 special forces soldiers that were in that battle with me. it is so very humbling to this day to wear it, based upon the
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fact that world war ii, korea and vietnam, and the war on terror, 30 million soldiers had come in distinction, and today there is 72 million meadal recipients. to be one of those a super humbling. >> when we were walking in the building today, there was a young man who wanted to check your hand. he had never met a medal of honor recipient before. he must have been in the military at the current time, but was not in uniform. that happens a lot, doesn't it, where people recognize this meadal, and recognize what the credit means, and some people who don't? >> it changed my life to sub -- such a point. i travel all of the country, i am speaking, i
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had the pleasure of speaking at a major football game. there was about 110,000 inside the stadium, and about 400,000 trying to get in. i think probably something that i have probably enjoyed more than anything else was a prekindergarten class. i think some of the prekindergarten students had been coached enough that they asked me a couple of questions. one of them is said why is there war? i just could not answer back. this is the life that i live
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now, and i am not doing it for me, i am doing it for -- hopefully it will change the way of life for some young person. >> writes. when you got back from vietnam, you did a third duty there with the studies and observation group, but when you got back from those tors, you found that you are not welcome back home? >> it was a difficult time. that is correct, yes. >> finding a job when he retired was also difficult, is that correct? >> that was right. with that, finding work as a veteran at that time was something that -- i just developed my own business.
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>> i know that you have not got the foundation you have been working on, and part of that is to help soldiers that are going through the same thing today? >> yes, like i said when i came back, i decided to go back to school. i not only finished my degree, but i finished a couple of masters degrees, and did some postmasters work. through the school, i decided i need a doctorate. so, i moved on to business. i was raising a family and attempting -- and i did this for 20 something years. at the present time, while i was doing that, i was not on the operating of business, but i was doing some adjunct teaching at
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both the junior college and a major university also, yes. >> getting that education was really important to be able to have let you move from a military career to a civilian career? >> to the point that it was so important to me, yes, to the point that this is what we are doing with my -- i would not say my nonprofit organization, but today i am doing this with scholarships. it looks like this year we will probably award 25 scholarships. the scholarships at the present time, the board of directors has decided that it should go to the military for transitioning.
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i think they are going to award most of those to the army special forces, and it is going to be to the personnel who are transitioning from service. >> reporter: it is not necessarily an easier today than it was when you are transitioning, is it? it is a leap from military life to civilian life? >> i'll tell you what, when i visit most of the special forces organizations today, i'll tell you what, they are overcommitted, and overworked at the present time. >> i know you have mentioned to me in the past, that the number of people in the military, compared to the number of people who are civilians in our country, there is a discrepancy there, but, there are just a handful of people who are protecting the country? >> at the present time, it is somewhere between one half and 1% of our population. yes.
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>> there is a lot of sacrifice going on now as there was all of those years ago? >> yes, no doubt. >> so, i think that we have got time will we can now start entertaining some questions and answers from the audience. i think i've been told that if you have a question you would like to ask, there are microphones on the steps. if possible, go to the microphones to be able to ask questions. does anybody have any? >> thank you for the opportunity to talk for -- to both of you, and for you sir for your service and to come to share with us. thank you for your service. we welcome that you were here today. my question is, as mentioned, and i appreciate that you are wearing today the medal of honor, the captain who kept with it, is this a common
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practice? 48 years later, you were successful to finally be rewarded for your service. when was it that someone said you should be given the medal of honor, and they started that process? what is the process from that perspective, as you mentioned it is a humbling experience. there are many men and women who have served, and probably deserved just as well for their service, and there are the few that received it because of the paperwork and the other aspects that are required to receive that. i am just curious the perspective of, discipline, and -- the perspective of, did someone come in interview you a couple of times? what is your experience in regards to going down the path of the ultimate receive -- to ultimately receive that award? >> thank you for your question. i would say the major factor in determining this was the organization that that was -- i
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was in. at the present time, when i was recommended for the medal in 1966, all of the awards for the medal of honor at that period of time from vietnam had gone to the army special forces. at that that there was an air force pilot that landed his aircraft during this battle, picked up pilot, and the air force was awarded the medal of honor. this was a man by the name of fisher who was awarded the first air force medal of honor from vietnam. that was the option that we were in.
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this was also a reason for the delay. there was the service rivalry. other reasons were classification, most of the things that the army special forces did was classify, and much of it was top secret. >> just to follow up, you mentioned that you are among those that are living as well today, 78 i believe you said, is there a camaraderie? do you get together? is there a group since you all share the award? >> i had the pleasure last night -- 29 of the living recipients attended the all-star game. that was a great group, yes. >> thank you.
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>> again, thank you for your service. who was the president that awarded you your medal of honor, and what did you get the experience? >> the president that awarded me the medal of honor, this happened in 2014 and it was president obama. >> thank you. >> in your book, you mentioned that in the heat of the battle, you had a plan to try to escape capturing an officer from vietnam. tell us a little bit about how you were trying to develop that strategy to get out of there alive?
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>> this was something that each of us had some type of a plan that they were going to try to survive this and was to take a north vietnamese officer and survive going through it. it is necessary all the way to thailand on it. and, this was something that i planned to do to survive, yes sir. >> but the tiger got them question mark >> the tiger helped. the tiger now is thankfully, the tiger now is selling books that books that is going to do many scholarships.
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>> are there any other questions? >> you mentioned experience with the indigenous folks. i was curious if you had a chance after your service to go back or correspond with anybody or kept in touch with anybody? >> my last trip from vietnam, i spent a year and survived a year with the studies and observation group, which is an organization that did not exist. it did not exist. -- for 40 something years after this. i survived that organization. when i left the country, there happened to be a photograph of me with so much for me dead or
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alive and said what i like to go back to vietnam? i do not, the warning may still be good. >> i understand, thank you. >> any other questions? maybe talk a little bit about the studies and observation group on that tour. >> that is all i will talk about. >> any other questions at the moment? >> thank you sir. not having served in the military, but mike grandfather got to gold stars in world war
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i. i am wondering if there were certain things that you did to help yourself keep your head in all of these situations. i can only imagine the fights and the tracks in your planning, did you have certain mantras or prayers or guiding principles? i am just wondering how one keeps their head in that situation like you did. >> yes sir, thank you, great question. but i feel like with this is my training to become a special forces soldier, this is how a lot of people know me as a green beret, and it is training through this was so intense, i really did not know what i was getting into. i would not have gone with special forces. but, i had too much pride to quit. at that time period, about 3%
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made it through the class. to be one of those 3%, like i said i was super fortunate, yes, sir. i feel like it absolutely was the training. this not only saved my life in the vietnam era, but post- vietnam, i worked special forces all over the world. for instance, when i retired at 22 your service, i had been serviced and 177 different countries, and most of those was as an uninvited guest. >> thank you.
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>> thank you for your question, sir. yes, sir? >> how many still survive? >> at the present time, there are five of us still alive. all five were interviewed and have been put into the book. >> you said you were asserted into camps inside of vietnam. what was your purpose there for each of these camps? >> our purpose there was a prediction of the north vietnamese communications, and trying to stop some of the, i would say, their troops are being supported into that. >> so to cut off -- coming into
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the trail? and, cut off the supply for the vietcong? >> that is correct, to cut off certain supplies, and occasionally we might get a few of the north vietnamese. >> i know some of the programs like the cia and the green beret, they were kind of intermixed -- >> i have heard of the organization, yes. >> can't talk about that one. >> we probably have time for one more question. >> tell us a little bit about the statute that has been made in your honor. >> it is super humbling. there was a statue made, and i
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think this was someone in kansas who developed this. what this artist did with this was built the statute and put a soldier showing one of our americans who had his leg blown off, and also it has the north vietnamese weapons, it is showing the north vietnamese hand grenades. it has a copy of the dog tag of each of the five that paid the ultimate price. and, the statue is now in a park
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in my hometown where i was born. they did make me a second copy that i have. >> i know you have said to me more than once and two other people how important family has been through this process. >> i have a great family myself. i have a wife that happened to be the wife of a special forces soldier. we have been together 62 years. she said i don't count right, because that is her age. i said it is absolutely important to have that support.
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at the present time, i have two sons living. one son is a minister and has a doctorate degree in theology, and a doctorate of ministry. my other son is a surgeon and a practicing physician at the present time. i have a daughter who is doing graduate work. she, at the present time, runs my organization for me and takes care of the paperwork for me. >> even today, you are still getting some family support. >> still, family is a necessity a -- necessity for me, yes. >> any other questions?
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>> i am looking around, at every single person here, what advice would you give to people sitting here that you have learned? >> number one is education. young people get the education and you do whatever you want to do. then, try to be the best that you can be with whatever you want to do -- >> i want to thank everyone who came to listen to this talk today, and certainly for the national archives for hosting this. i felt honored to be here.
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it is amazing to be able to sit in this auditorium and to be able to talk to some at it like this. thank you for coming after being here, and letting us have this opportunity. >> thank you. archive bookstore. >> in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies.
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and today we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events in washington, d.c. and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. we are continuing american history t day weekdays what the house is on break this month. this week college lectures from across the country, part of the lectures in history series every weekend here on c-span three. coming up, how president johnson handled the vietnam war in 1968. followed by u.s. policy in vietnam between 19 sick that's 55-1975. and then of course on the operation romans under air campaign in the vietnam war. if you miss any of this week's american history tv programs, you can find them anytime online in the c-span video library at
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american history tv weekdays will continue until labor day. on friday the fight for civil rights in the u.s. from the zoot suit riots to the women's movement. we will spend next week on the presidency. monday we go to a museum on george washington, harry truman and gerald ford. tuesday a former white house chef has a look at the designers and stonemasons who worked on the white house. and then wednesday, how president deal with the media and press coverage. [ chanting ] he's one of the most qualified nominees ever picked for the supreme court. he has contributed a great deal to his community and the legal profession besides being an outstanding judge on the dc circuit -- circuit court of
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appeals. he had a special obligation to make his views on the topic clear given the president litmus test. that he would only appoint judges who would overturn roe. on that obligation, judge cavanaugh fails spectacularly. i look forward to watching judd cavanaugh's confirmation hearing and after conducting an objective review of his nomination, i am confident that judge cavanaugh will be an excellent addition for our nation's highest court. >> watch day one of the senate confirmation hearings for supreme court nominee right cavanaugh. live, tuesday, september 4 on c- span three. watch anytime on or listen on the free c-span radio app. arizona state university professor kyle longley teaches a class on president lyndon johnson and the vietnam war in 1968 we take it to his class next where he discusses lbj's reaction to the tet offensive in january. and the reasons behind the president's dec


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