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The Vietnam War: One Veteran’s Experience

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This is a guest post by Megan Harris of the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.

What can one individual’s experience tell us about a larger historical event?

The Veterans History Project (VHP) contains over 80,000 oral history collections that document the experiences of America’s military veterans. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, VHP will highlight a series of collections related to Vietnam veterans. These collections have been compiled to offer a glimpse into what veteran Tom Hagel called the “millions of Vietnam Wars.”

Schwab at first light after ground assault on FSB Maury lifted and after wounded were dusted off
Larry Schwab

One of the “millions” of war experiences was that of veteran Larry Schwab, who gives a vivid account of his service in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. A surgeon, Schwab had strong misgivings about the war and serving in the military. Despite serving in a medical non-combatant role, he witnessed intense action and violence, particularly during an attack on his small artillery base in Tay Ninh province in May 1968.

Following his military service in Vietnam, he practiced medicine around the world and became involved in the international movement to ban land mines.

Schwab’s collection offers primary source material from which students can draw conclusions about one soldier’s experience during the Vietnam War.

After listening to, viewing, and reading Schwab’s collection material, students can:

  • Compare Schwab’s experiences with those of other Vietnam veterans presented in From the Home Front to the Front Lines and in the Veterans History Project online exhibit Experiencing War.
  • Discuss Schwab’s decision to take part in the war despite his anti-war sentiments. Have students consider how they would react if they were asked to participate in something that was against their beliefs.
  • Consider Schwab’s oral history as a source of historical information. What are some of the benefits and challenges of using oral history to understand historical events?

Veterans’ Stories: The Veterans History Project and the Veterans’ Stories: Struggles for Participation Primary Source Sets offer additional suggestions on using VHP collections in the classroom.

How does studying Schwab’s collection affect your perceptions of the Vietnam War?

Comments (3)

  1. For those persons who were born after the Vietnam War, having an oral account offers the student a first hand account. It teaches the student analytical skills regarding any event. It is important for the student to acknowledge the subjectivity of such an account as he/she gains perspective about the historical account. No two person remember the same event with the same intensity, same elaboration etc. Awesome way to teach about historical events.

  2. I don’t see any link to Schwab’s account. How can we read his “story?”

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