Veterans reflect on impacts of fighting in Vietnam

Veterans presentation at UNO's "The Vietnam War: Lessons and Legacies" symposium (photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)
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November 11, 2016 - 6:45am

Decades have passed since the war in Vietnam, but impacts and memories are still strong for the millions of Americans who fought there. On this Veterans Day, we report on lessons learned and the impacts of war from four veterans who spoke at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“The emotion that I had in Vietnam was survival,” Jim Cada recalled. In the late 1960s he was an Army draftee fighting in Vietnam. Now he’s a lawyer in Lincoln. “It took a long time, probably 10 years, before I could even discuss it with anybody. With my wife, who I was married to before I went to Vietnam. With my daughter who I didn’t see for 11 months because I was in Vietnam when she was born. I just wasn’t able to discuss it.”

"Vietnam Veterans Voices" panel (left-right): Don Clarke, Jerome Johnson, James Martin Davis and Jim Cada (photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)


Jim Cada was part of the NET News "Generations of Nebraska Warriors" project.

CLICK HERE to watch Cada and fellow veteran Greg Holloway discuss their Vietnam experiences,

CLICK HERE for the "Generations of Nebraska Warriors" homepage



50th Anniversary Vietnam War Commemoration

UNO "The Vietnam War: Lessons and Legacies" symposium

"Echoes of War": 1999 NET Television documentary following Chuck and Tom Hagel as they returned to Vietnam 30 years after fighting there.

Cada and three other Vietnam combat veterans reflected on their experiences, and how they were impacted, as part of a recent two-day “Vietnam War: Lessons and Legacies” symposium at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Omaha lawyer James Martin Davis was drafted while a law school student and served with soldiers from very different backgrounds.

“I learned pretty quickly that the measure of a man is not guaranteed by his education or his family context or how much money he has,” Davis told the UNO audience. “The measure of a man is governed by a fundamental equation. That is whether or not, when it comes down to those fundamental situations in life, involving life or death, you can trust your life to that man.”

It’s a lesson Davis said he still carries with him today, whether it’s evaluating staff or courtroom witnesses.

Jerome Johnson left the south side of Chicago to become the platoon leader for two young Nebraskans: former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel and his brother, Tom. Johnson said he still carries some of the burdens of leadership with him.

“There was a lot of weight that carried even after I got out of the Army, just in the remembrance of the different people (who) did not completely make it, wondering whether or not it was because of my responsibility not being fulfilled. Or just the happenstance of war itself,” Johnson said.

“Survivor guilt” is a similar feeling that New Jersey native Don Clarke dealt with when he returned from Vietnam.

“That was the feeling that I couldn’t process, is I thought about the young guys (who) I went to war with who did not come back, and whose lives ended so quickly,” Clarke said. “When you come back you carry that responsibility to live your life I think differently than you would if you had not gone.”

All four veterans were part of a generation defined by the decade-long war in Vietnam, and believe there are aspects of that service that could benefit today’s young people.

“I wonder if there should be an obligation, whether it's military service or some other form of national service, to develop a sense of something greater than self,” Clarke said.

“I certainly believe that there ought to be some form of activity that everyone in the United States takes part of whether it be service to the community, whether it be service to other countries…in the military,” Cada added. “But I believe that it teaches a form of respect for our country that is missing to some degree in this day and age.”

“We were baby boomers. The Pepsi generation,” Davis said. “We refused to take out the garbage and do the tasks. We thought we were better than everybody else. But they took these young boys and in eight weeks and 16 weeks turned them into men. And turned them into individuals who thought more of other people than themselves.”

Clarke and Johnson are part of the oversight committee for the U.S. Vietnam War Commemoration, a secretary of defense initiative surrounding the 50th anniversary of the conflict. Clarke says their goal, like that of the UNO event, was to move discussion of Vietnam beyond war stories.

“We're not here to glorify what happened then,” Clarke said. “We're here to understand what that experience was like and how it changed us in our later lives.”



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