Vietnam's 'Turning Point'
Their memories of Vietnam are as different as their military service during the epic conflict.
One remembers the “non-stop Fourth of July explosion” on the front lines of the Battle for Hamburger Hill; another recalls being met on the beach by girls carrying flowers during a raid against the Viet Cong.
Anti-war protestors, booby traps and photo reconnaissance missions are among other reflections of seven Top of Utah veterans featured in a new documentary on the Vietnam War airing Monday, Sept. 10.
“Turning Point,” which plays at 7 p.m. on KUED, is the second in a three-part series created by the station as a tribute to the Utahns who served during the conflict.
“Utah Vietnam War Stories” debuted in March with “Escalation,” a look at the war from 1964 to 1967. The final segment will premiere in early 2013 and is titled “Drawdown,” examining the war’s final years from 1971 to 1975.
The series isn’t designed to be a military history of the unpopular conflict but rather “a deeply personal statement by an incredible collection of men and women who served their country at a time of division and uncertainty,” said producer Sally Shaum in a news release.
The oral histories come from dozens of interviews with soldiers, airmen, sailors and medical personnel from throughout the state.
“Turning Point” focuses on the years 1968-1970, the period during and following the Tet Offensive. Local veterans who appear in the documentary include
• Wynn Covieo, Ogden: Covieo was a student at Weber State College when he got his draft notice in 1969, according to the news release. He remembers seeing his mother in tears because she had opened the document before he did.
The Ogden veteran served in the infantry with the 101st Airborne, which frequently went into heavy fighting, but Covieo said he always felt he would make it back home. He described the Vietnam War as an era of “a new military culture” in which orders weren’t followed and drug use was rampant — yet he did, indeed, make it “back to the world.”
• Dale Hartog, West Point: His base was attacked during the Tet Offensive but Hartog says he could only wait it out — he had no weapon as a “Seabee” serving in the Navy’s supply and transportation division.
Since the attack came during the celebration of the Vietnamese New Year, with firecrackers and guns going off, Hartog didn’t initially realize he was under fire.
“You just lie there, you just let it pass ... until you get blown out of your bunk, and then you run like hell,” he said.
• David Magee, Ogden: A Marine, Magee enlisted at the age of 17, just like his five brothers had done before him. He was in and out of Vietnam from 1962 to 1973 and said in the news release that on the way to his first big mission, he felt unprepared.
“I said, ‘Jerry, I’ve never fired the M-60 machine gun.’ He turns around while we’re running, he says, ‘I’ll teach you on the way.’ And he did,” Magee said.
Of the anti-war protestors common in the United States at the time, Magee says, “I was just as disgusted with them as they were of me.”
• Rick Mayes, Ogden: Mayes signed up for the Air Force while he was in college and became a courier for photo reconnaissance missions. He would work on scouting targets and the terrain of potential missions in Vietnam as well as searching for POW locations and occasionally retrieving downed pilots.
Mayes, who says he’s frustrated over the involvement of politics in modern military actions, was proud to do his part in Vietnam: “From a soldier’s viewpoint, we were drafted; we served our country.”
• Rocky Olson, Roy: This Utah veteran was the sole survivor in his unit after an early battle in Vietnam, losing all his friends within just an hour. Later he was a radio operator on the front lines at the Battle for Hamburger Hill.
After serving an LDS mission and preaching about God’s love, Olson says he next found himself in the infantry as “a paid professional killer” who relied on the scriptural verse “There is ... a time for war and a time for peace” to cope with the contradiction.
• Terry Schow, Ogden: His military service is the reason for much of his success in life, says Schow, who served in the infantry’s Special Forces. “They do instill some sense of competency and some sense of worth,” he said, noting that his experience helped him get an education, buy a home and receive health care.
Since Vietnam, Schow has worked for many years in Veterans Affairs and says he receives satisfaction in helping the causes of those who have served.
• Larry Strait, Ogden: Also featured in the first episode of the KUED documentary, Strait was 17 when he joined the Marines and 18 when his unit began sporadic combat with the Viet Cong. The war was not very intense at that time and Strait said he remembers on an amphibious raid in 1965, “The girls met us on the beach with flowers.”
A combat engineer, Strait was responsible for creating, detecting and disarming booby traps. He said he saw attitudes change during his three years in Vietnam “from the gung-ho, to the ‘What ... are we doing here?’, to ‘Let’s get the heck out.’ ”
Transcripts of the veterans’ interviews, both from “Turning Point” and the previous episode of the series, are available online at www.kued.org.