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Accounts of the war as experienced through the eyes

of a former soldier

Karyn Lewis
Modern American History 301
Spring 2004

Involvement in the Vietnam War has left an irreversible effect on the thoughts and attitudes of
many soldiers involved, undoubtedly changing their views of the world and even human nature itself.
Spending his nineteenth birthday as an Army recruit as a means to quickly get away from an unbearable
family situation, Dan Halliday was one of these soldiers who experienced a profound change in heart and
mind through the experiences of America’s involvement with Vietnam. The draft had still existed at the
time, and he enlisted since he expected to be drafted anyway once he had dropped out of a local college
after a year of struggling with rough conditions at home. Even as he left home for military life, however,
Halliday considered himself a “very disillusioned citizen”. He soon became an active peace activist
against the draft and violent solutions to problems. In fact, he had almost been sent to jail once because
he had refused to serve on a mob control squad deployed to college campuses to ‘quell’ demonstrations.
Halliday’s predominate goal during this time became simply to serve his time and return to college with
the help of the GI bill. It is very interesting to compare his accounts of the events of Vietnam with those
learned in class, and reveal the reality of these events through the strength and passion that was truly felt.
Chosen to advance in training from a United States Army wheeled vehicle mechanic—mainly
trucks and jeeps—to track vehicle mechanics, including personnel carriers and tanks, Dan Halliday’s
mechanics class in Fort Sill, Oklahoma was the first in ages not to be sent directly to Vietnam. They were
to go to Thailand, which was, at the time, considered a critical support ‘theatre’ for the Vietnam War.
Interestingly enough, Halliday was sent overseas despite the fact there were no track vehicles in Thailand.
He arrived in Bangkok, Thailand in September of 1969, at the age of nineteen. After several weeks, he
was assigned to a supply company in Southern Thailand near a town called Sataship, where he was to
provide critical repair and re-supply for Vietnam and to prevent the expansion of the ‘Communist Horde’
into neighboring countries. Halliday’s rank during this time was Specialist First Class (Spec IV) which
fell between a Corporal and Sargeant. Upon arrival at his duty post in Camp Vayama, Halliday was
assigned to duty as a truck driver transporting goods among the various local military bases, as well as the
re-supply of a remote location in the central highland (Korat). Over the course of his one-year tour of
duty, his responsibilities changed. His next assignment was as a computer operator for a large warehouse,
then eventually manager of the same warehouse.
When questioned whether he would rather have been closer to the action, Halliday revealed he
was thankful his group ended up in Thailand. He admitted, however, there was a point when he
considered volunteering to serve in Vietnam. The more he learned about the war, the less he believed in
it, and the less he wanted to be involved. Halliday stated strongly that he never truly believed the United
States Army was defending America during the war, thus certainly not being of mind to take up arms to
kill other people. In fact, he felt his efforts in Thailand only contributed to prolonging that conflict. He
did feel it was important to help support and supply our soldiers in combat, but mentioned, “It seemed to

be a never-ending cycle of mindless violence.” As Halliday entered the military, he was just beginning to
look critically at what was going on around him. He mentioned he was barraged with a constant flow of
propaganda selling how important it was to protect America and the rest of the world from the scourge of
communism and the evil North Vietnamese incursion, and the more he learned, the less sense it all made.
Furthermore, when Halliday left Southeast Asia at the end of 1970, he left as a card-carrying “Vietnam
Era Vet Against the War”. Until just recently, he felt America’s involvement in the Vietnam War was the
greatest mistake our country made in his lifetime. He commented, “I don’t think we should ever forget
that event and the challenge is to learn from it and never let it happen again. And as I say this, I sadly
lament that we do not seem to have learned Jack from the experience. It looks like history will repeat
itself.” At the start of his own experiences, Halliday was doubtful of the ‘justice’ involved but, by the
time he had left the military, he was certain that there was nothing for us to be proud of.
In further regards to his feelings about the era and the leaders of the time, Halliday revealed a
strong hatred toward Nixon, and until recently felt he was the worst President in his lifetime. In fact,
Halliday had worked for George McGovern to defeat Nixon, becoming a staunch Democrat at this time.
He admitted he knew that many Democrats helped get them into and stay in the war, but none of them
were like Mr. Nixon. Halliday believes Nixon held himself above the law and did not answer to anyone,
let alone the American people. He admits, though, after three years of Bush he was wrong about Nixon.
He confirms, “I'm not really sure who Nixon represented, but it certainly wasn't me.” As far as the
country, Halliday believes those days were the peak of critical thinking in America. Being a strong
believer that the voice of dissent is also the voice of conscience in a true democracy, he was disturbed by
the reactions of many Americans to the soldiers as they returned from the war, but understand their
feelings. Killing the messengers though is not a viable solution. He spoke, “Maybe it was
disillusionment, frustration and a feeling of powerlessness, but I don't think soldiers returning home
should have been the targets of those emotions.” When asked whether or not he thinks the United States
could have won the war, Halliday conceded we were destined to lose it. This is simply because we could
not win the hearts of the South Vietnamese people. For the most part, the common man didn’t much care
who was running the country in Saigon—their lives were pretty much the same one way or another.
Halliday believes that communism Southeast Asia-style was probably a better system for those people at
the time anyway. He states, “I guess the biggest question is ‘who was this war for anyway?’ It seems to
me that everybody came out a loser.”
Through his entire experience with the Vietnam war, Halliday states the hardest part of it all was
“learning what ugly things people can do to each other in the name of God knows what.” So many of the
soldiers never knew what they were doing over there. He also mentions, “Another thing that nags at me
to this day is that we condemn people who take the lives of others as murderers; if you're in the military

during time of “conflict” (Vietnam was never really a WAR) then murder is something to be proud of. I
can't seem to fathom the distinction. I guess it's all in the context.” Although he was not among the most
at risk during his tour of duty, there was personal risk to deal with. At least once a week he’d hear of the
loss of friends and acquaintances who were recently killed a short distance away. When asked if there
was anything he could recount in a different light from what is most understood of the events that took
place, Halliday brought up the arrogant attitude of many Americans toward the local people of the places
where they’re sent. He agrees it's certainly not true of all soldiers, but there are enough of them to make
Americans look ugly. He said, “In Asia, many of my comrades show little or no respect for their hosts.
They made fun of the most sacred of their beliefs, like their religion or their government. In the worst
cases they corrupted the youth and turned them into greedy criminals and prostitutes. We left a great
legacy of fatherless children when we left. It really is an ugly trait to display.” Overall, Halliday states
there is very little in his life that he would change in looking back. He described,
“I like to think that I'm the sum total of my experiences, knowledge and emotions and what I can
make of them. Of course, I'd wish to change a debilitating disease or something like that, but my
experiences during that time are part of what made me what I am. If I felt that I could have saved
a life or lives if I had thought or done something different, I would certainly wish for the change.
However, I don't think any changes I might make would make a lick of a difference. That may
sound defeatist, but that's the reality of it. I did what I had to do and made the best of it. I was
neither successful nor unsuccessful. I simply survived along with many others and I learned from
Many others did not survive and he still mourns that fact, declaring it an ugly stain on our national
In comparing Dan Halliday’s account of the events and his thoughts and feelings in regards to
America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, I found a number of similarities with what we have learned
in class. In the interview, Halliday’s general attitude alarmingly matched those of the Vietnam veterans
against the war interviewed in the film Winter Soldiers viewed in class. Both Halliday and the Vietnam
veterans admitted to being confused and unsure as to their purpose overseas and how much they were
really contributing to positively affect the outcome of the whole situation. I find it quite interesting, too,
that both shared the same general grievances about the war, though the veterans spoke of their
experiences in Vietnam while Halliday’s experience with the war comes from his base in Thailand. There
seemed to be a recurring general feeling that an unreasonable amount of mindless violence took place,
and an agreement to the lack of belief that they were actually defending America during the Vietnam War
as well. Halliday’s accounts of the needless violence matched the testimonies of the Vietnam veterans in
regards to the brutality that occurred, especially with that of the soldiers’ behavior in Mai Lai, and there is

an overall shared feeling of grief and shame and mourning. Both admit to the general arrogant attitudes
of the United States soldiers who fought in the war, though the war itself and lack of instruction may be
blamed. In regards to how America fought the war, there is a strong agreement that America was going
about it the wrong way, ultimately being destined to lose the war because America could not win the
hearts of the South Vietnamese people. America’s strategies and tactics failed because they conflicted
with traditional Vietnamese customs and beliefs.
Though Halliday’s account of his experiences and involvement with the Vietnam War clearly
confirm the history of the war learned in class, it is overwhelming the depth of understanding the
interview has brought to me. Halliday is no doubt extremely opinionated to this topic, passionately
answering my questions as if the events took place last week. Through this interview, I have learned
many things about America’s past and lessons regarding human nature. To begin with, I learned that I
must be a conscientious consumer of information. Just because I read something, hear something or am
informed by a reliable source like my government, I must critically analyze that information and come to
my own conclusions even if they disagree with the common knowledge. Perhaps everything should be
open to discussion and public debate (the voice of dissent). There was a common belief in the justice of
America’s involvement in Vietnam at the start of the War that quickly lost public support. If people had
put more consideration into the consequences in our actions, we could have avoided the severity of the
conflict. I learned, also, to value life. So many were lost on both sides of this war. If human existence is
going to thrive on this planet, we need to learn to live peacefully with each other. It has been said that as
a species, we have a long history of aggression and violence against each other. This leads me to
question—is this our nature or can we learn to live in peace? Somehow, we have to find a way to use war
as the absolute last resort. I learned a great deal about diversity. There are so many differences in
cultures and values among different people, what would ever lead us to truly believe America’s customs
are superior to those of other countries? There is, without a doubt, many cultural treasures in the world.
Not material treasures, but treasures of the spirit. It’s amazing to me how deeply religious, patriotic,
fiercely independent, and dedicated to family the Vietnamese are said to be. Can’t we use the stories of
our bloody past to teach lessons and learn to deal with problems in a thoughtful, non-violent way?