Vietnam veterans have a certain stigma attached to them due to popular Hollywood productions. In movies like “Forrest Gump,” and “Born on the Fourth of July,” these veterans are portrayed as having drinking problems or mental illnesses. To combat this problem, and to help students gain a more realistic view of Vietnam veterans, the University sponsored a panel discussion on the Vietnam War given by veterans who are employed by the University.
Sparked by the documentary “Hearts and Minds,” shown at the University last year, marketing professor Jim Mullen organized the event, which was attended by roughly 100 students, faculty, and family and friends of the panelists. At the beginning of the program, Mullen said that the mission of the panel was “to dispel some of the inaccuracies about the Vietnam War and those who served in it that have been perpetrated by the media,” and to provide a perspective from people who served so students could make their own decisions.
The panel was made up of six men: Dr. Jim Kirschke, Mr. Greg Bonner, Mr. Fred Delva, Dr. Jack Krimm, Mr. Jim McClosky and Mullen. After the mission statement was read, each panelist took a few minutes to introduce himself to the audience, before the panel was opened up to the question-and-answer session. Besides the obvious similarity that all the panelists served in the war, and the less obvious similarity that they all grew up in the greater Philadelphia area, the panelists has very different stories to tell.
English professor Kirschke was in a special landing force from 1966-1967. He completed 10 missions before being wounded on the 11th, and served mainly in the northern regions of Vietnam. “The country should be very proud of these men,” said Kirschke.
“I came back from Vietnam a changed man, changed for the better,” said Bonner who spoke mostly about why he volunteered for the Navy, saying that he felt a sense of duty to his country, and that he was appalled by the mass killings by North Koreans and feared the spread of communism. He also joked that if he ever wanted to run for political office, it would look good on his resume.
Delva said that he spent most of his time during the war in “Indian country.” He stayed in the service for 25 years before retiring. He said, “I was very fortunate in my job. It provided great opportunities to develop other skills.”
Krimm, taking after his father, practiced emergency medicine during the war, which prompted him to go through medical school. “I’m almost a poster child for the American dream, that’s what being a Vietnam vet is about,” he said.
McClosky spent 16 months in a village alongside what some called “Vietcong sympathizers.”
“I did a lot of listening. I listened to them. These were people who had been fighting for 30 years. They believed in something and I wanted to know what that was,” McClosky said.
For Mullen, college was not an option, so he decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. He served as a radio man in the war. When he returned, he was able to attend St. Joseph’s University on the G.I. Bill.
Though the six panelists provided very different views on the war, one theme stayed consistent: they were set to disprove the stereotype of the demented veteran.
“For the most part, they [veterans] got back from the war and went on with their lives,” Mullen said. “And during all my years in the war, I did not know one soldier who would not give anything to help someone get a little closer to freedom.”