As a nation at war, what lessons can we learn from our past? What wisdom can we glean from young Americans who were consumed with Vietnam some forty years later? These are two of the questions that the Wayland High School History Project team endeavored to answer in An Age of Disillusion: Wayland During the Vietnam Era, the third volume in a multi-year effort to trace national trends and developments in our small suburban Boston town of 13,000.
Thirty one men and women responded to our call for interviewees in the springs of 2006 and 2007, full transcripts of which are included on our interviews page, where you can read their memories of life during troubled times. Each of their life pathways have an intersection called Wayland at some juncture, so this collection reflects the community of the past and of the present.
The soldiers fought out of duty to and love of country, and every one of them was profoundly altered by the life-shaping events and pressures of the era. These interviewees seem to remember their time “in country” as if it happened four years ago rather than four decades past. We spoke with a MASH surgeon, a Huey pilot, a B-52 navigator, a swiftboat skipper, sailors, CB’s, marine grunts, and more. More recent interviews were with men and women on the home front, including former student radicals, politically active professionals with young children, and folks who just wanted to avoid getting sent to Southeast Asia. All are proud of their pasts and most see a discomforting resemblance between Vietnam and the current Iraqi insurgency. The disputed 1964 Tonkin Gulf Incident echoes of WMD claims; President Bush’s Doctrine sounds like the Domino Theory in reverse; and the challenge of knowing your enemy is as difficult now as it was then. Are we fighting terrorists today as we did communists then, or are those who oppose a foreign presence nationalists first and any other identity second? As Mark Twain is said to have claimed “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
The WHSHP team learned a great deal from listening to the memories and viewpoints of our 31 guests. We thank them for their time.
Please check a special page of documents generously shared by the Collins family of Walpole, Massachusetts, whose son and brother Brian Collins paid the ultimate price in Vietnam.