From the Archives: Viet Nam: Freshman Veteran Discusses War

Each week we will reprint an old article from a past Dolphin issue. The following is an excerpt is from an article published on October 13, 1966.

By Mary Kay Quinn

A not very tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed young man scanned the snack bar last Tuesday evening. He waved when he saw me, looking a little surprised. He later explained that he never expected women on time. He pushed some leftover messes of what was apparently food aside and began talking.

David Hanlon is a veteran of the Viet Nam war. The twenty-three year old freshman bio major joined the Marines in 1961. He was stationed in Florida during the Cuban crisis, later in Japan and the Philippines, and finally in Da Nang, Viet Nam. Until his discharge in July, 1965, he had served as an aircraft mechanic.

“The situation in Viet Nam is rather well-known,” he said. The news releases the American public receives from Viet Nam are as accurate as they can be considering the situation.

Much information must be classified for a time, but when the information will no longer be helpful to the enemy, it is released. “The Viet Nam war is the best covered war the world has ever seen.”

Hanlon believes that an accurate account of those killed is generally given. Sometimes these reports are given in numbers and sometimes in terms of light, moderate, or heavy. The last three terms can refer either to a comparison between those killed and the number of men in the company or a comparison of those killed and the number of enemy killed.

The soldier’s primary source of news was a service paper which carried AP and UPI stories. The paper, however, was always in support of the war, since it was government supported. The men were aware that they did not always receive complete information on topics relating to the war.

News concerning anti-war demonstrations was slowed or at least de-emphasized. A lead story in the New York Times might be condensed to a paragraph or two. The men received news from home, however, to fill in the gap left by the service paper.

He said that he was personally a bit shocked to hear of the peace demonstrations in the United States. The servicemen were over there doing a job and the idea of people demonstrating against the government’s policy came as a surprise.

The anti-war demonstrations did not really hurt morale. The soldiers were already in Viet Nam. What protestors in the United States did or did not do was too late to help them or hurt them.

The morale over there was very good. He explained, however, that at the time he was in Da Nang, this area was not legally a combat zone, so naturally the morale there was better.

The pilots and the men who worked on the aircraft knew from photographs that their work had been effective and helpful to the war effort. This, of course, made quite a difference in the attitude of the men.

There is much discussion of the government’s policy of bombing military targets only. Many people feel that civilians will be hurt in the process. Dave pointed out that accidents do happen in war.

Hanlon had quite a bit of contact with the Vietnamese people. The farmers around the base where he was stationed generally did not care whether the soldiers were there or not. They’ve never been free anyway. As long as the soldiers didn’t disturb their rice paddies and their way of life, they were indifferent to them.

Students would often come up to the soldiers to find out about Americans and to practice their English. The educated people welcomed U.S. aid since they have a good understanding of the situation there. To the peasant, it is just another war. The educated and the businessmen realize that a communist takeover would be bad for them.

The war, Dave feels, is necessary. “If we don’t stop the Communists in Viet Nam, they will only move to another place. The U.S. has been working with the existing government there; we haven’t been trying to do the job completely by ourselves. We are wanted there.”

On President Johnson, he commented that he did not vote for him. He, President Johnson, was committing himself enough in Viet Nam to make himself look good. He is a very political man. He is as honest as a politician can be.

When asked why he joined, the ex-marine explained that the world situation wasn’t nearly so critical then as it is now. He went for much the same reasons a lot of men did — to learn a trade and to see the world.

Hanlon came to Le Moyne because he was interested in finding out about his religion and he felt a Catholic school would be the best place to which to go. Also he is helped financially by the government.

He lives at the International House, which, considering his anti-war housemates, could be a little difficult. He finds, however, that there is no friction as long as politics is avoided. In regard to the Vietnamese situation, he feels that he can add a little practical knowledge to his friends’ theories.

The life of a student is somewhat alien to him. In the service, the men and women were much more disciplined. Also they were quick; they did their work efficiently in as short a time as possible. It is difficult for him to get used to the students lounging and talking in the hall, blocking traffic. At Le Moyne, he finds a community spirit. It is like a family, while the service is a team. In a family, there isn’t much friction, but neither is there efficiency. A team is very efficient, but participation on one is not so enjoyable as is participation in a family.

Concerning his opinions on the war, Hanlon wanted it understood that his opinions represent his view only. He was not attempting to speak for anyone but himself.

As a final note, he added that he does not like war. If anyone can give us a better solution for securing peace, he is for it.