It was the year of the reality check, when Americans and their own government began to realize just what they faced in Vietnam — a resourceful and tenacious enemy, quarrelsome allies and an Asian society whose complexity they could barely understand. Back home in 1966, the U.S. administration struggled to sell the war as a noble and necessary sacrifice to stop global communism and save a weak, backward people from an evil aggressor seeking to enslave them. At first the effort was successful.
Sounds of the era | Officers reunite after five decades | Pilots, once enemies, now friends
Bob Ford and his thousand missions | Decades later, vet goes back to Vietnam for good | My experience
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Stars and Stripes reporting from 1966
The sonic revolution and one-upmanship that defined 1966 make a compelling case to call it the greatest year in music history. Just two years after the Beatles fired the shot across America’s bow that started the British Invasion, the mop tops had matured as songwriters and recording artists.
In August 1966 they released “Revolver,” a fully-realized work that helped the album supplant the single as rock’s dominant art form. The other major players in the game of catch-me-if-you-can, The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan, released albums on the same day that are regularly ranked with “Revolver” on the best-of-all time lists.
They were not alone in defining the sound of the Vietnam era.
LEFT: Illustration by Bev Schilling/Stars and Stripes
Most of them took the military road before they knew it was headed to Vietnam. They were high school graduates in 1962 – intelligent but not necessarily wealthy, and for many, ROTC scholarships meant a free ride to college.
By the time they chose to become Marine Corps officers, there was no doubt where they’d be going. The war that would define them was burning on the horizon. It was their calling, and these boys on the verge of manhood were eager to fight.
Navy ROTC University of Oklahoma, artillery officer in Vietnam 1967-68, CIA intelligence officer 1971-2001, founder of martial arts school, opened Chinese medicine and acupuncture practice in 2001.READ MORE
F-4 Phantom pilot
Navy ROTC at Harvard University, flight school 1968, flew F-4 Phantom jets in Vietnam 1960-70. Thirty-year Marine Corps career, law degree and two master’s degrees. Chief judge and staff judge advocate of the Marine Corps.
Retired as brigadier general, was executive director of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, appointed general counsel for NASA. Retired in 2014 and loves to ride his motorcycle.READ MORE
CH-46 helicopter pilots
Roger “York” Hunt, 71 Navy ROTC the College of the Holy Cross, Navy Flight School in Pensacola, Fla., 1967-1968. Flew CH-46 copter in Vietnam 1968-69. Left Marine Corps in 1970 and became a U.S. postal inspector. Retired in 1999.
John “Ace” Astle, 73: Enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves out of high school, Marshall University in West Virginia and Platoon Leaders Course, 1962-66, Navy Flight School in Pensacola, Fla., 1967-68. Flew CH-46 helicopter in Vietnam 1968-69, served as a pilot on Marine One, retired from the Marine Corps as a colonel after 30 years. Spent several years as a police pilot, and since 1982, has been an elected official in the Maryland legislature – first in the House, then in the Senate.READ MORE
Marine Observation Squadron-6, Vietnam 1968-69
John Sullivan, 71: University of Southern California, Platoon Leaders Course 1963, comissioned 1966, flight school 1966-68. Flew Huey gunships with Marine Observation Squadron-6 in Vietnam 1968-69, retired as colonel, 1994, became associate business professor and college athletics director and founded a leadership teaching ministry in Africa
Robert Lund, 72: Navy ROTC College of the Holy Cross, Flight school 1966-1968. Flew Huey gunships with Marine Observation Squadron-6 in Vietnam 1968-69, released from active duty 1971, career in information technology.
Rifle platoon commander
Ord Elliott, 72: Princeton, 1966, Platoon Leadership Course, rifle platoon commander in Vietnam 1967, left Marine Corps 1972. Earned a PhD at Purdue University in 1974, associate professor and professor 1973-1982, management consultant and business strategic adviser, founder of two companiesREAD MORE
Tu De, a 16-year-old from Hanoi, spent most of 1966 learning how to fly fighter planes in the Soviet Union. Capt. Pete Peterson, a 10-year Air Force veteran, passed up a potential deferment that year, kissed his pregnant wife and children goodbye, and headed off to Vietnam.
The day I graduated from the University of Oklahoma, I wrote a note to my father saying, “Dad, thanks a million. Looks like you’ve done all you can. Now it’s up to me!”
Michael Cull is sipping a smoothie on a beach deck at the Sailing Club, sitting in nearly the same spot he did as a soldier 50 years ago.
As Stars and Stripes looks at the monumental moments, actions and people from the Vietnam War on its 50th anniversary, we struggle to do justice to the life-changing war. So we’re hoping our readers can make sense of it. In six words. It’s not a new concept. Two Army veterans launched the Six Word War project, a crowd-sourced memoir of Iraq and Afghanistan.
We want to do the same for Vietnam. We’re looking for descriptions in six words of your Vietnam War experiences, at home or on the front lines. Whether you served, protested or lived the war through someone in your family. We’ll publish the results as part of our Vietnam at 50 project. Please submit your six words through Twitter with the tag #Vietnam6Words, or on our Facebook page.