|The Whole World Was Watching
an oral history of 1968
Sheila Nippo: Where and when were you born?
Micheal Kapreilian: I was born in Providence on November 22, 1949.
Brian Fish: Where did you grow up?
MK: In Providence.
SN: Can you briefly describe your family and your neighborhood?
MK: I started out in one neighborhood, and it was the traditional neighborhood up on Smith Hill and Douglas Avenue, and if you ever go up there, you'll see a couple of flag poles, one would have the American flag, and one would have the Armenian flag. I am the second generation American-born, and my grandparents were refugees of the Genocide, and so we started in that little neighborhood where you could live all of your life and not even learn English sometimes, but that is the first four years.
My grandfather had a grocery store and that was sort of like the epicenter of the neighborhood, and it was a place where you could, you know, have your dreams and, you know, go on and so on and so forth. Somebody said when I was a little boy I got on my tricycle and I was riding away from home, so I guess my thing is to ride away, in fact, be adventurous.
Then I moved to the East Side, near Wayland Square, and I grew up in a different kind of community. There weren't any Armenians there at all. It was a nicer community as far as the houses were concerned, but I started to become really more Americanized and so that's what my neighborhood was like and that was what it was like growing up, going to John Howard Elementary, Nathan Bishop and Hope High School.
BF: What were your parents' political views?
MK: My parents never really expressed it. My father was an extremely quiet, you know, man, very thoughtful, very artistic. When he speaks, he does say things, but you know, I don't know what it is like growing up these days, but in my days, and just in my household, politics wasn't the talk of the day. It just never appeared to be. My mother will always say that I have five kids and they are like five different fingers, so every one of us is different in the family. I remember one year, though, that in a family that doesn't discuss politics, that when Jesse Jackson was running for president, that we had discovered that all seven of us had voted for Jesse Jackson, so you know, the idea about politics of the family, but other than that, I don't think we've ever agreed on anything.
SN: What things did you want to do when you grew up?
MK: I grew up in a period of time that we were fearing the Cold War, and we didn't know what the future was. We feared the bomb, and I'm sure you have all heard this before, and so the first time you were ever really asked to think about what you wanted to be when you grew up was in the 7th grade. They had like a career day. I don't know if you keep on doing these things, where you try to think about what you want to do, and I think you are a little bit past the stage of being a fireman, or whatever, and although things may have been more limited, there are so many different careers these days, and I think it was especially limiting for women, and I am so glad things have changed in that area. But, I was just something in the tides of what was going on.
You talked about politics in the question before, and you followed up with this one. One of the things that I did really early on, and I'll always remember it, and maybe if you wanted I should have brought it, is that on career day I thought that maybe it was inevitable that there was going to be a nuclear war, and maybe I should learn how to do something in the aftermath of that. You know, to crawl out of our bunkers or holes in the ground, and see if the world is safe to go out in. And, I am thinking while I am talking here, and I never really thought about this before, because it almost became symbolic of the kind of things that I do now, but I thought I was going to be a Naval officer. I was a Junior Naval Cadet when I was a little kid and I wanted to go to the Naval Academy, and I wanted to be an officer and then if there was a nuclear war, then I was going to be the one that was going out with the Geiger counter and measuring the ramekins and the radiation, and saying "Okay everybody, it's safe to come out".
So that's pretty tragic, you know, and that's the kind of paranoia, if you will, that we kids were brought up with, you know, the ducking and getting under the table, and the sirens going off, and that kind of thing. Kind of limiting?
BF: Were you aware of any discrimination against people in your family or in your neighborhood?
MK: Yea, it was kind of discrimination, it is so much different these days where people know about different cultures, you know, in Providence at schools, they speak 30 different languages spoken, but when I first went into my neighborhood there weren't many Armenians, there was a lot of Yankees if you will, there was a good sized Jewish community, but not too many Armenians, and they didn't know who we are. When I went to school, and I said my name, "My name is Michael Kapreilian", and they said "What kind of a name is that?", and I always had to say, "Armenian". They would say, "What kind of people is that?", "Where are you from?" and all of a sudden, you had to get just a few bits of information so you could just say enough. They would say "Oh", and they wouldn't bother you again.
My mother and father named me Michael. Practically every year they would pick out the most popular name for boys, it is Michael. Maybe that year the name for girls was Patricia, but Michael is a popular name, but later on, I preferred, by the time I was in college, when people found out my middle name was Monuk, which is my grandfather's name, and they would try to tease me about my ethnic name, in a nice way, and I said fine, I'll just use it, and from then on, I kind of used it all the time. There are very rare occasions when I would need to use Michael, you know, if I am in a war zone or something, you know, but that is another story.
SN: Where did you go to college?
MK: I started to go right here at URI in 1967. I wasn't planning on going to college. You know, it wasn't a big thing to go to college back in the Sixties, as big as it is today. And, it seems the one most compelling thing to go to college back in those days is the deferment, so you wouldn't necessarily be drafted, and I was not in any college preparatory program in high school, at all. But I did take the SATs and I did quite well in the mathematics end of it, and reasonably well on the English, enough to be qualified or be looked at by the engineering school here at URI, and they said "We want you here, but you haven't taken Trigonometry or Solid Geometry, can you take it right after you graduate during this summer". And, I did and I did very well in both, and I came to the University of Rhode Island to study Engineering.
The question is why did I choose Engineering, or was it chosen for me? Back then, it seems like they didn't have the kinds of counseling I suspect you might have today, where you have more choices. Can you imagine someone looks at your college boards and sees a high math score, and says you'll be an Engineer? I always kind of picture the guy putting a whiskey bottle back in his drawer after he said that, or taking it out after he just told me, and telling everybody else.
And, I was kind of an athlete in high school, varsity football and wrestling, and I wasn't inclined to go partying and things like that, or even go to proms or things unless I was asked, which fortunately I was, but in college I got more into the social environment in 1967 and was asked to run for Freshman Class President, and I noticed that my grades were weakening, and after the first semester, I was the top third of my class, and discovered fraternities and all that, and then I started to waste my parent's money, so that's my college.. Your question was where was I going to college, and I was telling you how well I was doing in college, so you go to the next question. Are we going to stay with the script or.
BF: Was that sort of the reason why you went to URI was to defer from the war, or...
MK: I would probably say, I can't recall. I just think it was the thing to do. Again, it was the thing to do in the 7th grade, to worry about the nuclear bombs and stuff. It was the thing to do for the majority of people to go to college. There was a minority of people that were drafted and went, but there was even more of a minority that took the draft. There is an expression that more people volunteered to join the service. Well, those are people that volunteered for the most part were being drafted.
When I was drafted, I volunteered as well, because I don't care if you are Dan Quayle, who went into the National Guard, or Mike Kapreilian, who went to the US Navy, you know, I loved the Navy. I have a history with the Navy. I was a Junior Naval Cadet, like I said before, and I wanted to go to the Naval Academy, so I joined the Navy. Instead of waiting for the time you are going to tell you where to go, you have the say where you want to go.
If they tell you that you have to go in for 2 years, if you decide, basically, you go for 4 years, so I joined the Navy for 4 years.
SN: Do you recall how you felt as you left home?
MK: When I left home for college, it was a different thing then when I left home for the service. When I left home for college, I really didn't want to go home. Every time I went home for the weekend, I would get in a big fight with my parents, and they always say that URI is a suitcase college, that during the weekends, if you are from Rhode Island, everyone goes home, but I would stay on campus.
I remember during the snow storm that it would probably be my only footprints going up and down the elephant walk on the weekend, but, that is the way I wanted it to be. Maybe it was that little kid that was on the tricycle, or that is just like all of us. We all argue at sometimes, with our folks, but I do remember when I finally started to really go away, and appreciate everything my parents had ever done for me, including "You can't have a motorcycle", and "You can't do this and that", because I found out all that time that they didn't hate me, they loved me. So, this is the time I am going away to boot camp in 1969, and then back here in Newport. I could have lived at home again when I was stationed in Newport, but I didn't. I actually went back to the street that I grew up on when I was up to 4 years old again, and it was sort of like a bittersweet time in my life, because my roommate was a wounded Vietnam veteran, and I was thinking that I don't think I'll be going there. I mean, I kind of skipped over Woodstock, but I didn't think I was going to go there at all, but, you know, that is basically about me going away from home.
And then, the years that followed, during the war, I'd been in some 23 countries by the age of 23, and then coming back to America very quietly, very stealthily, and actually coming back to my folks place until I got a job as a caretaker in Franklin, Massachusetts, and sort of lived in the woods for three years, went to college and studied real hard. That was it, I've always kind of been on my own since then and not been out.
BF: What did you understand the purpose of the American military presence in South East Asia was to be?
MK: Well, I was just a kid that believed in my country, believed in everything that we heard, and maybe thought it was propaganda, but I believed what was being said at the time officially was right. I actually went into the service believing that. I was in ROTC in college at URI. I was in the Persing Rifles Drill Team, we would go to Seaton Hall and compete, you know a fancy drill, and those Springfield rifles with the chrome bayonets and so on, and I was very into the military thing at the time.
While I was stationed in Newport, the word came that they were sending Lieutenant Commander up to Anapolis and they indeed wanted me to go to the United States Naval Academy. They had my college transcript and I said no. Because at the exact same time, I was starting to question everything I believed in because there was a little incident at Kent State, Ohio, and I think you know about that. Then all that stuff that was happening to me from the age of 14 or even 12 to 19, all of those dreams were questioned. That and the fact that I have a very high standard.
I met a lot of officers and I didn't think they were sort of that caliber of An Officer and a Gentleman, you know, that sort of high, high moral grounded. Maybe my standards were a little bit higher than the Navy's, so I think that had a lot to do with that, and I didn't really feel as though I was ready to join, and that was the first of three times I was asked to go to the Naval Academy. So, I didn't. I didn't, and it's because I had questioned the war.
SN: So, did you stay in Newport?
MK: That's a good question! No, I didn't stay in Newport. I can't figure out why I didn't stay except that soon after that and a couple of other events, and maybe because I spoke up about how I felt or about the war and the Invasion of Cambodia at the time, some higher power, and maybe if I write to the Freedom of Information Act, I will find out someday. I all of a sudden decided it was time for me to go someplace else, and Newport wanted to keep me there because they liked my ability to print up books, and training books that had a high clearance and so on and so forth, and the next thing you know there were orders for me to go to a Visual Communications school, which I was destined to go to at sometime, I was earmarked to go to, and I went, and I remember during the period of time they asked for volunteers who would go to Vietnam, and I don't think many hands went up, and I certainly wasn't one of them at that time. And then when the classes were done, there were only one or two of the whole class that was getting orders for Vietnam, and I was one of them. And when I asked why, one reason was "You did very well, and you are going to be sent on something experimental" and this other thing, and it wasn't. I mean, the technology on this patrol boat was very special, but it was definitely the worse kind of duty you could get in Vietnam.
When I got those orders, my parents, my whole family, was up in Canada, and I remember this because it was quite funny. I went to the Naval base to get a one-way ticket to Canada, you know, because my parents had the station wagon, the Chevy station wagon, and we were up helping at the Armenian athletic thing, and it was my last leave. I went to Canada and although the guys at the Naval base didn't want to give me the ticket, they said it is a one-way ticket to Canada, but they did get their jollies with side bets saying "He's not coming back". My intention was always to come back.
What I saw up there went even further to strengthen my intentions to come back and that was a lot of young men, Americans. It seemed to me that at every curve there was an American sitting. In Old Montreal, I was walking the streets with a friend of mind, and I was looking at these guys begging for money. These were all Americans up there. I mean hundreds of them, all evading the draft. I mean, there could have been some that were AWOL, some that received orders like me that decided that they weren't going to go, and they ran to Canada.
I looked at them, and maybe what I saw was "I see this is not an alternative, I would rather take my chances in Vietnam", but I came home and I went to San Diego for my training, medical, guns, survival and everything else. Then we went to San Francisco, in my blue uniform, and flew to where the boat was, which was under repair in Guam, and saw a guy that seemed pretty strung out and said "Where the expletive-deleted- have you been?" He couldn't wait for me to replace him.
I was hot. I remember that day how hot it was to be in that dress blue uniform, me, 19 years old, never aware of anything in life, and not old enough to drink, not old enough to vote, and not old enough or curious enough to do anything else, meeting all of these guys that some were my age, none of them really had a uniform on, they had bandannas, beards. They were patching up the boat because it had so many holes in it. It was all made out of plastic.
They took me down to where I could sleep, and there was nothing military about that. I saw the sheets on the bed were like Disneyland and Pinocchio and things like that, and I always remembered that they made TV shows like McHale's Navy look more straight then them, and they had been through a very different and strenuous experience, ambushed, missile attacks, and all this other stuff, and I could see why that guy was so desperate for me to take his place.
So that was the beginning of that adventure, going to Vietnam, and we still skipped over Woodstock.
BF: Did you every have to engage in any kind of combat?
BF: Can you explain that, go into detail?
MK: Some of what the life is like and how dangerous it is something that I didn't realize. There was a good friend of mine, I though he was a good friend, and he turned out to be a good friend. I thought he was a friend, and then it turned out he was a real friend, and just prior to going to Vietnam on this little tiny boat, the smallest thing the Navy has that they would allow to cross a large body of water, and there was only 24 of us.
We had been to a club in Saipan, and sitting in the back of a truck, and all of a sudden he punched me in the face, and I said "Why did you do that", and he said "Because I saw you are a very trusting person, you are very open and stuff, and there were bad people in that club, and you were just so open and so honest." He said "Where we are going next, you act like that and it is going to kill you". And he was right. He was right. And I had to, after the way I was brought up, you know, my church and my community and everything, he is telling me I have to change, and that if I don't change, I won't survive. I tried as hard as I could, and maybe not hard enough, because I had some instances. It's different being on two ends of the gun. I could tell you that the first night in Vietnam was very strange. We were sitting tied up onto pontoons, and the water underneath us was lit up with lights like swimming pool because you have to look for people that are going to put a bomb or a satchel charge on the side of your boat.
These guys had all been to Vietnam, but they just wanted to go to sleep. I'm wearing a jumpsuit, and with an M16, and I have these sort of like bandolieros of cartridges, and I'm standing out there, and I'm going "Gee, what's that", and it would be one of these manta rays and stuff sitting in the light, and I didn't know whether to shoot at it or not. There was another time I was on watch and there were guys - during the daytime - and there was fighting going on behind us, and they were playing cards. But they were shooting out there, and they said "Ah, don't worry about it", and that kind of thing. You would see shooting off in the hills, and our job was to go on patrol. My job - I always got these jobs- you know, they give it to me,the young guy,"You're going to go on that possibly enemy boat and search it. And I would wear my jungle boots and a pair of shorts cut off, cami's and a flat jacket. Now they have bullet-proof jackets. This just stops other stuff, and I had a 45 pistol and I had this sort of rod thing that you used to clean rifles with, and they all stood behind me with grenade launchers and machine guns, and shotguns and everything else as I would to onto the boat and go through everything, all the fish and everything, and I would see if there was anything, enemy supplies and so on and so forth.
But you could see where they had been, too. If you didn't find enemy supplies, you would find helmets that they would use. Maybe they would put a stick through it and they would use it to scoop water or empty boxes where ammo used to be, and they used to store things, and these are American things, how other than an American had died to give up the helmet. And they cried, I mean they were really worried, and I guess you would all be worried if people were just pointing guns down at you. And I'm there, and I'm looking through the whole thing.
I didn't know how sad that would have been except there was a scene in Apocalypse Now of somebody doing exactly what I was doing, and somebody moved the wrong way, and when they had their fingers on the trigger, and they thought something was happening, that they accidently or whatever, annihilated all the people in the boat. That did not ever happen to me.
Then there was one funny story where the boat broke loose and I was just floating away, but..
MK: These guys are laughing, but the work was,I always remember the work being tough, because I smelled so badly. It was time to eat and I would come down and they would all throw me out the galley and say "You stink" because I had been amongst all these dead fish, and all this other stuff, and so they would tell me, "Go take a shower and change your clothes" and then I could eat. It was that kind of thing.
I know it's probably of your interest for me to go right to battles and things like that, but I am trying to tell you the story of a kid that is a teenager, 19 or 20 years old, and what it is like through my eyes. Just before we were in our biggest battle, I'll just tell you one thing, there was myself and two friends, Steve and Ron, and we thought we could sneak out at night and go to the village and meet some women. They had girlfriends there that they really cared about.
We got some South Vietnamese to give us a ride in their boat, and we went over and we asked them to pick us up the next morning, and there are two things that I remember. There are a lot of things that I remember in this just 24-hour period, but first of all, you would never go by yourself because there are mine fields all in that water, and someone had done that and blew themselves up, they were American. The village was off limits. By this time in 1970 and 71, a lot of things were becoming off limits. The war was turning. It was after 1968 and the Tet Offensive. I walked the streets, there was three of us, three couples, and I saw, I saw, heard, and felt part of their lives in that village, the place where you go and have your photographs taken, a little three-sided no roof place to have a drink or some food and so on, and I remembered running into an American soldier and saying to him "What are you doing here? The war's all over for you, its time to go. You're supposed to be going home". And he put his arm around a woman and two children, and he said "I am home, I am home."
And you might hear a lot about POWs in my age and all this other stuff, in 1987, when I went to the first convention, my first convention, of the Vietnam Veterans of America, there was going to be a resolution passed and it was going to say something to the effect that we are not going to help any veteran that was held that was found over there that was not held against his will, in other words, he wasn't a prisoner, or wasn't proven to be a prisoner.
And I stood up and reminded everybody in the room what it was like, especially for a post-Tet guy, about how people were treated when we were blamed for doing all that horrible stuff when we came home, and that I indeed separated in Italy, and I waited in Europe and traveled through Europe, and finally, when my money was running out, kinda came home and never spoke about Vietnam to anybody. And I remembered that, I reminded them that they left a lot of children there, they made a lot of children there, and I concluded by saying "If you pass this resolution, you are going to have to call someone who is willing enough to take care of the families you created that and deserted." And when the vote came up, they defeated that resolution. And it never came back again.
I'll always remember that, I'll always remember that guy. I don't know where he is today, except that was a first-hand experience.
So the next morning came when we wanted to get back, we had to get back, before they took muster on the boat, and we wanted to be, you know, muster is where they count all the heads, and we woke up late, it was 7:00, we asked them to be there at 6:00, because we know it would take an hour's journey to get back before 8:00, and they were out waiting for us, the same guys that brought us. And, I mean what I'm telling you now my parents don't even know, nobody in my family knows. We got in the boat, we said "You guys are great, you're #1", and everything else. And they knew something we didn't know was that my boat was called into action. They didn't see action, they were called into it. There wasn't anything out there, but they had left in the middle of the night, they were looking for us to be on that boat when they left, and these guys in the boat, who the war maybe not meant one thing or the other to them, decided when we got into view of the pontoon and we saw there was no boat at the empty pontoon, the only thing that was there, also, was the South Vietnamese with American PBRs, and for the most part, they weren't using them to fight the war. You know, I always was wondering why we were fighting this war when I saw a lot of guys my age and they weren't.
And then they took out our guns, M16s, and held them up to our heads. They wanted everything we had, they wanted all our money, and obviously we escaped.
And I felt right now when I paused that I should tell you that I have no bad feelings about these guys. And you might find that strange, but I have been in enough disasters in this world to know that the immediate victims of brutal, brutal brutality, torture, and so on and so forth, they have a sense of what they have been through, and these people who are second-hand hearing it, they are the ones that formulate even more hate and revenge.
Maybe to leap forward in this event 25 year after that experience, or 24 years after that experience, that I went over to a war zone in 1995 as a psychologist to recover women that were brutalized and tortured and raped, and mutilated, and there were Muslims, and Christians, and when I took them to a neutral spot for recovery and operations, they stayed in the same room together, even though it could have been their brothers, or uncles, or whatever countrymen, that did that to each other.
So I just wanted to reinforce the fact that I don't have, I mean I have a lot of Southeast Asian friends to this day, I don't have any hatred of them. As a matter of fact, I almost have a bit of understanding of why they were doing that to us.
The details of how I escaped is that two of us were left hostage and one was going to go and get more money if he could find something, something to get us out, and just at the time when Steve said to me "Let Ron go, be cool", Steve jumps onto the pontoon and the boat is going away, and I jump into the water, and then there is a PBR, which is this river boat, that is trying to run me over, back up over me, and the other guys came back with the pontoon, there's only one way out, and that is towards the land, and they are pulling me out and we're heading to run down the pontoon, the boat, that has the guns and it's going right to the end to cut us off at the end of the pontoon, and just as they went over there, this Jeep came over the hill. It was just like a clandestined extraordinary event which had Americans in it. For any number of reasons, they could have been coming over, but not to save us, but it ended up because of their presence it saved us.
So now, we got out of that trouble, but we were still in trouble because we missed the boat. I always think about the violation it is for somebody to do something like that. You think of somebody that has been a prisoner of war for 8 years, they will never forget the very first moment when they were put at gunpoint. You know, with, sometimes its not how long, its just the radicalness of the violation, whether it is someone being sexually assaulted, or somebody being taken capture. So we had to stay there, and we went and reported in, they radioed back to the gun boat that we found your wayward children. I needed dry clothes, I got new clothes. We got a Jeep, and immediately I drove these two guys back to the land side, where there was a barb-wire fence, to go to that village again. I couldn't believe it, all I know is that as soon as I dropped them off, all I could hear was what I though was just explosions that were coming in, and I was stuck in some sand, and I put it in 4-wheel drive.
The guy that was with me, Pete, said "Oh no, that's outgoing". You know, that's the explosions of those big guns shooting away, so I drive back and I go back to that place where we were almost killed. There were these SEAL teams there. They were gone, too, the NAVY SEALS, they were there and they were leaving, and they said, "Here, you can stay in our hooch". It was a little building with beds in it and stuff, and they gave me a gun. It was not a modern gun, you know, it was just a gun, an M1, and I got into bed, went to sleep that night, and there was a battle outside this hooch, and there was no Americans around, there was just nobody around. They were shooting and I knew that one door had a padlock from the outside and I could come around and lock my door from the inside, and I opened the door, and bullets went by, so there was no idea of going out the door and padlocking it from the outside and then coming around and locking the other ones from the inside, so I just locked the one door, climbed into bed, pulled the covers over my head with the machine gun.
The next morning, the birds were chirping, and he was like "Wake up, wake up, your boat is back". And then it was "Where's the other two guys?". Finally that was all rectified and those guys were in serious trouble, and the Skipper said, "Well, you're going to be restricted for like 30 days for what you did unless you can sink an enemy or whatever, and lo and behold, we got into the biggest, what was said to be the biggest battle since the Korean War, where we had taken on the Chinese communist trawler, which was loaded with munitions and bringing supplies into enemy troops in South Vietnam and they had bigger guns then we did, we had, and we know because the recons since then that sometime they are going to make a run into the coast across the international lines, you know, into the jungle, muddy waters that we were very good in and we were very shallow, and we had this sort of jet engine, and so we'd look like a little fishing boat, you know, we don't show up, we're not even metal, so the only thing metal is the guns. Even the things that protect the guns are like plastic.
I have a picture to show you what the boat looks like. It was 11:00 at night, and it was time to go in and we went into the, we have this phantom jet engine inside, it's a General Electric LN1500 jet engine, and we can go from this little putting around within 1 minute, and go like 60 mph and this just.. engine just flies and we did. We just caught up with them and I was up there, and I'm a visual communications officer, they would call me and I spotted them, and it was just stretched out like this, and they say "OK, just shoot it, it's right there". And you can't because international law says you have to charge it friend or foe. And the ship was completely docked and had to turn its light on and go like this, you know, a light with a broom handle, and it did not respond the correct way, and then we'd shoot it a warning shot, and then the next thing you know it's turning so its like pointing towards you, and you don't have that broadside shot. And then the battle commenced.
It was pitch black, it was just pitch black. I remember I had a machine gun on the side of the railing and there was nobody to sort of feed the belts of ammunition, and I had this Parmesan cheese can that was there, so the ammunition would roll over into the gun, and the next to me was
[not intellegible], and he used to drink a lot, and he had these 1250s. The ammunition we were using for those things were like left over from World War II and they kept on jamming up. It was a 3" gun in the front, with 40 mm cannons in the back, and the battle was just going on and on, and helicopters were coming in and shooting and they were chasing the helicopters off. The helicopters would keep the guns from pointing at us. The ship was hit right underneath me, dead bombs would hit and the water was like splashing me, and I just, you know, they just ran out of the biggest ammunition we had, and now it was only these three guns left on this side of the ship.
His was jamming up, so I dropped mine and I went and fixed his, got him pointed up again, and he found them, and the other gun followed the tracers, and finally the whole thing blew up. And that was at 3:00 in the morning. Can you imagine this little boat with big piles of empty casings all around it.
We went down below, fixed our damage, had a drink, and came home. We were very lucky that nobody was injured in that battle, which turned out to be a very significant battle.
I found out when we came back that the Army and Marine guys had heard about it, and we had come back and one of the things you do when you have a battle like that, is that you hoist up brooms to sweep on your masts, just regular brooms, and they would cheer, and we were nominated for the Presidential Unit Citation, but never received it. And the reason, we got the Meritorious Unit Citation. And the reason was, was simply because this was the time of the war that we wanted to turn the war over to the South Vietnamese and get out. We didn't want to be there as Americans anymore, and even in the middle of a battle, we would stop so the South Vietnamese would go in and finish it off, but they sort of ran away, they weren't too interested in doing that, and meanwhile the enemy ship would be covered. They would have a big explosion on them, you know fire raging, and they would put the fire out. They fought so valiantly, until the time when we finally located them, and I guess they, They were so close to the shore, they got stuck up on a reef and the next day we got the SEALS off the Bodai River where they were and they went to look at the damage, and they saw enough that the ship had exploded.
I remember the explosion, there was actually a guy who was an officer, who also was from URI, and he had his camera, and I don't know why. He was the damage control officer, he was not fighting the battle, but this explosion lit up the whole sky and it was like the nuclear bomb that I always wanted or expected to go off, and there was this huge ball of fire like this, and a column of smoke, when this thing broke up. It broke this trawler up into so many tiny pieces, that there was nothing to recovered, and it also was apparent that some had escaped, because there was a small boat that made it to the shore.
So that was all we learned, and I have photographs, so, of the guys. So, those are, that's enough just to talk about battles and experiences in Vietnam, to wet your appetite.
SN: Could you describe your homecoming?
MK: Same expletive deleted, as my brother says, "Get in the blankity, blank car", you know, that was it go to Grandma's house, everybody was just treating us like nothing happened. I mean we went there alone, and we came home alone. From the time you came across the ocean, and I finally got to see my nephew, because the first time when I crossed, when I was on leave, the morning I was leaving they were so concerned that I wouldn't, you know, I had time, they wouldn't let me stay for another flight, they wouldn't let me stay to see that baby, that little baby, so it had to be all this time after I got back from Vietnam that I saw the baby, and I took a lot of gifts to the baby, but anything that my folks saw on the news they tried to make it not have happened to me, and I tried to also not let them believe anything was happening. I was on the phone and I talked about this battle that I just mentioned to you.
Up until then, I couldn't care less if they knew I was in Vietnam or not. I cared that they actually knew, thought I might not be in there. I did not want them to worry. I'd always think it was a parent's right not to know and so I never mentioned a lot of things, but I did say, "Did you read about it", you know, in the newspaper had just gotten out. The fact that it was over and I'd survived it would have put them at ease. My father, you know, desperately was looking in the paper, had heard something about it, but the thing that set him off was that my phone call was monitored and the guy said you can't talk about that. Censored, they hear your conversations, and the reason I was told after was that they were looking for revenge for whoever did it. Which changed our plans to go to Hong Kong, you know, because that, they figured that would be a safe place for the guys that did what we did, the Chinese would be upset.
BF: Are you still in touch with anyone with whom you served?
MK: You guys caught me at the exact right moment because at 19, it's been almost 28 years since I met these guys and thank goodness for the World Wide Web, because they just found us, and I got a call a few months ago from a guy in Connecticut. He happened to be the guy on the other side of the boat that we were shooting at, his name was Richard Smokey, my nickname was Cappy, and he said they were looking of you, and then they went to another, and they got a phone call from Norfolk, Virginia, and we're having a reunion, in Purnia, Illinois, this August, so yeah, I'm going to be meeting all those guys again.
Although some guys, when I was in the woods, one or two guys, would show up on my doorstep. One guy tried to call me on the night he was attempting to commit suicide. And it is funny, and I must say this, he was not in Vietnam with me, he came on to replace other people that were on the boat. Also I would tell you it was a very bad time when we came back, cause I did have, we all had problems with drinking and so on, and I was very glad to get over that and I started to go back to college and educate myself, and once I got to Europe, I traveled a lot, but this one guy, fortunately, he wasn't successful. He didn't reach me, he wasn't successful, but I met him since, he was originally from Alaska.
But it proves to you that it was very tough just being in the service at that time, to wear the uniform, to be part of the military. I agree with David Berry who was a playwright who wrote the first play, who is someone you should definitely interview. He wrote the play GR POINT, which means Greatest Registration Point. He is a Vietnam veteran, and he said you didn't have to go to Vietnam to be a Vietnam veteran, which is a good place to start, because whether you are protesting against the war or I would even say if you were a Southeast Asian or living here in Rhode Island, in some way or another you are a Vietnam veteran. Something that effected your life, whether you were clubbed on the streets, or you were a woman that was probably working in the library now who demonstrated against the war and didn't want to see any more of us go over there and was gassed. You know, she had nothing to gain or lose, she did that because she felt that she should do that.
And I know that you are interviewing people that were involved one way or another, but you still haven't asked me about Woodstock.
And there were a group of people that did nothing, for 10 years, you know? We talked about 1968, the height of all this, and we were going through so many changes. I talked to the President. I ran for college president here in 1967 or 68, at URI, and I met the guy, again, that beat me, and I said I'm going to be interviewed by some students at South Kingstown High School and I said tell me what you thought it was like on campus here in 1968, you know, we ran against each other, and I wanted to change things, I didn't want curfews for women on campus. We had curfews. We had to be in our dorm by 10:00. We would be locked up, you know. We had to wear jackets and ties and dresses just to go to dinner and things like that. That's the way it was in 1967-68. I mean they said, "Kapreilian's crazy", my competition would say, and you know, "Those things will never change", you know, and really, its just that. And he told me, I said "Did you protest against the war, did you, after I left, later in 68?" No, he was sort of like respectful, he cared, he didn't want to hurt the soldiers. But that is also an extreme, too. Look at the Gulf War, look how this whole country rallied about, around the Gulf War veterans the first time in `91, and again.
You know, I think it is a democracy, I know it is a democracy. It is a very fragile thing. It is a very young democracy, and I think the thing that hurts us the most in a democracy is when people do absolutely nothing. It is probably the only group of people you haven't selected for this project is the people who did absolutely nothing. I was working on the PBS series, the 12-part series, on Vietnam, and there was a guy there that later we saw in Providence, and I remember Wayne Smith, who was the president of the Black Patriot's Foundation to put a memorial to the Revolutionary War veterans, the black Revolutionary War veterans, and he is in Washington, and this reporter from Channel 6 said "For all that time, I feel real bad. I wasn't for the war, and I wasn't against the war, I just went on like nothing was happening during all that time." You know, and here's me, I'm just so sympathetic and I started feeling bad for him, and Wayne goes "What! With all the problems that we have, you're going to feel bad for him?" And I only conclude that the fact that pretty soon you will see a monument in Rhode Island, that even with Smithsonian and the Museum of American History is taking great note of, and it's the Vietnam monument in Rhode Island, and it might be because we're from Rhode Island, you know, have this wonderful tolerance, and we're the sons and daughters of the Anne,and Roger Williams, and those hushed reverberations which are the starting, which reverberates and says, still are in us, me and you and all of us, that we would come up with a Vietnam monument in Rhode Island which would be dedicated to everyone's life who has been effected by the war.
Not just the guys who were killed or wounded, not just those that died from Agent Orange or post-traumatic stress, but include in that number, the children of those people, the parents of those people, the brothers and sisters. Include in that number the people who protested against the war to try to bring the war to an end. You know, a guy who is an artist to this day who took a severe beating in the head with a club, you know, that hasn't been right since. The librarian who was pregnant and was tear-gassed, or even cradled someone in her arms that was leaving for Vietnam. Or maybe leaving for Canada. So you have the people that protested against the war. Keep in mind that we have one of the largest populations of Cambodians in the United States, and Rhode Island, and we have also the Hmung and the Laotians and the Vietnamese, in this descending order, but all of them, all these Southeast Asians lives were radically changed and came to Rhode Island.
I mean if you all trace back our roots, there was one reason, the potato famines in Ireland, or the Holocaust or the Genocide or what happened in Guatemala, any one of those reasons could have been reasons we came here, and sometimes reasons not of our own choosing. And for all those reasons, we will have a monument to all whose lives were effected by the war with Southeast Asia, and it will be written in all those languages. And it will be at Water Place Park, that is where it is destined to be.
And I thank you. Do you have any other questions?
SN: Can you describe Woodstock for us?
MK: Woodstock was really neat. I wonder if it helped me, as well as Roger Williams, to even conceive of this monument. Because I never knew what Woodstock was, all I had was a brother in a rock band, a blues band, and he and his friends said "We're going to a music concert, do you want to go with us?" I was on leave from boot camp, my hair was cut real, real short, almost as short as this. And we got into a bus, we went to New York, and from New York we were going to go to upstate New York, Bethel, New York, and at the same time it was called like the disaster area, don't go.
You know there were guys who made it, never mind Rhode Island to New York City, Florida, and they go "No man, it's a disaster area, it was claimed a disaster area, don't go, don't go". And there was these enterprising bus drivers that knew that we had money and they could make money, and you can't drive their buses, so they went and got U-Haul vehicles, you know like the ones you move furniture in or the vans, and they packed like 50 of us in there. It was a really dangerous thing to do. And my brother and a group were in the U-Haul van. His manager, Joe Caffey, who was big in the civil rights movement, and I had just met this guy, ended up in the U-Haul truck with my brother. They never left, they decided not to go. I didn't know that.
We were down the road, and people in there half taking their clothes off because it was so hot in the back of the truck, and we got within 20 miles and the truck's water pump broke, and we all climbed out, and as hard as this is to believe, we could tell how wonderful this Woodstock was going to be, because we stuck out our thumbs and the cars lined up to pick us up. I mean it was like --those cars just lined up. I mean there must have been a mentality before you even got there how nice things were. Well we got within 10 more miles, so we had to hike the rest of the 10 more miles. We got to I think Monticello, one little town just before Woodstock, and you could probably see it from that hill. There was no water pressure. You opened the water in the bathrooms, and there was no beer, there was only hard liquor left, I mean there was nothing. The town was drunk dry, literally. It was "dink, dink, dink". That was the water left in this town.
You knew you were going into a disaster. You kept on going, you walked and walked, and we got there. And in five minutes, I lost the guy that I just briefly knew and knew nobody, and including the bands, I didn't know any of them. I didn't know these bands at all. All I know is that I'm in Woodstock, and I'm tired, and there was naked people washing clothes, washing in the river, and someone asked me for my soap, and I gave it to her and washed my hands and stuff. I just went on carrying his sleeping bag, thinking he needed it, and couldn't find him.
I went up to the top, there was these burnt out stands where they had foods and concessions, and I just laid there and there was Janice Joplin, I was there and there was Janice Joplin, Canned Heat, other groups, whatever it was, The Who. They were just like busting up their instruments and there was dusk, and I put my head down and when I opened my eyes, it was still like the same, like light, and people were nice to me, they were bringing food, or whatever, and, but it must have been from all that walking, all that traveling and everything, I must have slept from dusk to dawn, but the level of the light was the same, and I thought it was just that I had briefly gone to sleep, and it was just going to get darker and darker, except when Gracie Slick and Jefferson Airplane was going "Good morning people", it started to get light.
I slept, I don't know who played that night, I slept the whole night through. And everybody was nice. The motorcycle guys were just wonderful, they were helping and working with the police, and I saw somebody ask the policeman for a cigarette and the policeman went around and after cigarette smoking, brought him a whole pack. The motorcycle guys were helping to get people that were injured out. One guy was in the back of a truck leaving with a bottle of wine. Someone wanted a drink and he left his ride just to give somebody a drink. I mean those are some of the most poignant things. I mean the other things you can see from the movie, you know, the mud and everything, and I mean, I had that mud all over me, and I said "How am I going to get back to Providence from here" and there was just jump on anything and just work your way back.
And I, like the vast majority of people, did not stick around that last moment when Jimi Hendrix played the National Anthem. There were so few people left. What a great moment that was. Again, it was Jimi Hendrix. I did not know, and we got, I got to the Port Authority, and I still had the same clothes on, the mud. I know the woman I met on the ride, she changed and she looked like she was ready to go to a church, and I was like, she changed, went to the ladies room, and I get back to Providence, call my dad, who came to pick me up, and I was just like a little kid, saying "Gee Dad, it was so wonderful, everybody was real nice to each other, you know, everybody, you know", I was just like enthralled.
I didn't do any drugs, at all, and I wasn't into any of that stuff. I probably looked really strange, because I had this crew cut and I was walking through Woodstock and I was so moved by how many people, half a million people, and how kind. There wasn't a voice raised, there wasn't a fight. That people could be that good to one another, people from every different background. And police, and Hell's Angels, and all these things, and people were so giving, it was just a wonderful sort of utopian community of people and how they could behave, and of course in my naivety, I probably would never have done anything to do with drugs or anything like that, and that people could believe, and I've always believed that people could believe, and this state was founded because they thought people could believe. In a sense, it was a Woodstock persona to the state of Rhode Island, because if you read Roger Williams, and you believe in what we call "the lively experiment" that Woodstock was, another lively experiment, it is written right in the State House to embark in a lively experiment. That is probably the best summation about Woodstock and Rhode Island, I think the two like went well together.
I would say that the guy that I lost I think there 19 years later. He was a champion as you very well know in Atlanta and some of the people in the civil rights movements down there, one of them being Sons of Julian Barnes, and Julian Barnes had come to Rhode Island to speak at Brown, and then, or speak, and we go out after and then we will spend some time at my place on the East Side and then late night he will go back to the hotel, fly out the next day, and the next time he was coming to Providence, he called me and said "Let's get together". He would be down at Leo's having a beer and talking to the people while he showed all these old civil rights bill and there is Julian Barnes in town.
So he said "Meet me at the Marriott Hotel, I'm speaking at this conference, this civil rights conference down there". Soon as I'm done with my address, we would go out and I went to the hotel, this is 19 years after Woodstock, and I went to the hotel and this Christine Roundtree, who is the head of the Human Relations Commission, goes "What are you doing here?" I said "I'm picking up Julian Barnes". She said "No, you're not". I said "I'm not?". She said "No, no, we're getting a limosine, and Joe Cathy is out there, he's calling us." I said "Where is he?" She said "He's around the corner." There was this elegant looking man, a black man, in a suit, and I look at him, and he turns and looks at me, and I go "Jules" and he started crying. That was the guy that I was holding the sleeping bag at Woodstock. He goes "What happened?" So needless to say, we all went to dinner, and Julian Barnes was very, very pleased to have been the catalyst or whatever that we had met each other, reunited us after 19 years, and I don't want to tell any more details about what he experienced in Woodstock compared to me, but it did end up in The Providence Journal on the Sunday of my church picnic and it was a little bit embarrassing to see little Sunday school kids pointing and laughing at me.
BF: What do you do, what do you think the reason for everybody being so nice at Woodstock was?
MK: I don't know, maybe you know when something so novel, you know, nobody has control, you know, and there was the survival element to it. And that is a real great question, Brian, because, there has got to be a deeper reason, and it can't be not everybody was on a particular high that would make you that way. The conditions under which people, the stressful conditions under which people exist, you know, I'll put it another way. When you see these snow storms coming, and you see CNN and you see people beating up each other in the 7-11 over some bread and milk, right, well how come that wasn't happening, you know, at Woodstock? I mean I have been in earthquake areas since 89-90, and then war zones, where people have just lost everything, wiped out, and they are taking care of each other. It could be that, it could be the pain. 94, 89, 94, trapped in the snowstorm. You know, people would take care of the weaker persons. I was just trying to get to help one person out so he could get out, but unfortunately, 6 people froze to death, and out of the 41 people trapped there. We were all trapped in separate little vehicles, in the Caucussus mountains. I should have waited until the weather cleared and took the helicopter back, but , I just wanted to go shopping and I wanted to get something for my nephew and niece, and I had some immediate things to do back in the capital city. The people really take care of one another in situations like that.
And I told you when I was working, recovering these women, I mean these women were enemies, and they were taking care of each other. There is sort of an inner good I guess if you were around in the blizzard of 78, people were taking care of one another, and just this year they had the 20th anniversary, those wonderful stories that people shared about how strangers took each other in and took care of them and how they didn't ask questions. I mean it is almost all that prejudice that you learn from an early age about people.
I mean there was a time for all of us when we were little kids that we couldn't even distinguish another color of a person's skin, whether it was red or yellow or brown, just try it. If you have a nephew or niece that is 6 years old, I mean I noticed it in my nephew who is Armenian and Irish, and he is trying to explain to this kid in his kindergarten class to my sister, and he says to her "Mom, he's the kid that is this" and he mentions one quality, and she says "I don't know who you are talking about". And he says "He's this", the second, third, fourth, fifth, he sees all these things in this kid, and then my sister keeps on saying "Adam, I don't understand who you are talking about". And then he goes to my sister, he says "He's the kid with the brown skin" and then she knew. Now what she taught him wasn't very good, because he will start out by saying, "I'm not going to go through all that, I'll just say the kid with the brown skin".
But what that child taught me is that if we do that today, we could unlearn that and go back to see all those other qualities that he saw in the kid. We're not born this way, we're taught this way. And we are carefully, carefully taught this way. People go through great measures to teach you prejudice, you have to watch that. And that is one of the things that I am very much involved with these days.
I know I could learn a lot from you if I turned the tables.
SN: Were you involved in civil rights movements too?
MK: Most of, no I mean.. The civil rights movement was happening at the same time, you know, I mean it was almost by accident that the things when I was here in 1968 and went into college, you know I was thinking of women's rights, actually, and who knows if it was the women's rights or we just wanted the women to have the freedom to be out as men would do. Sometimes you end up fighting for you don't know you have done it. My mother, for instance, had a piece of property to rent on the East Side, and at this time there were no people of color in our neighborhood, and she rented it to somebody. You know, she didn't feel for the problem and all of our neighbors that knew us for so many years turned against us, for awhile. A lot of them did. And then there were people with mansions down the street, and things like that, and the property values are going down, and stuff like that. I was proud of my mom, you know, whether she did this by accident or desire.
There is an expression that I use, it is that a lot of people say I've never done anything wrong, I've never hurt anybody, you know, but it is civil rights, especially, is a big one. If you don't do it, to me, you're doing something wrong. The brutalization of women is the same thing. There are people that do things wrong that think that you and the civil rights, you two, are saying go ahead and do it, because we never say object to it. We never raise our voices. There are men who look at Brian and I and Josh, who think if they mistreat a women, that we are cheering them on, that we are in the stands behind them cheering them on, they think that we are cheering them on, and we never tell them no, it's not right. Believe me, here I am and I would use every breath in my body as a decorated Vietnam veteran, as a veteran who has been chosen by a bunch of people to be the next president of all the Vietnam veterans of America in the United States, to try to put an end to that. Not only here, but around the world. In your interviews, you might find people like us who want to fight a better fight, a good fight, at least the kinds of fights you want to fight.
And all of us in this world who are white were born with powers over people that are not, that we never earned. It goes back to the slave days, and if you would feel in your heart that you have this unearned power over people then I think you have to wake up every day and find a way to right that wrong, you know, so for those two things, one I just mentioned and the other ones I've capitalized, and encapsulized in a phrase called "For evil to continue, it only takes good people to remain silent". If anybody of color says to you, and not to be belligerent or anything, but they might say well you don't understand, or you're white, how can you help us?
Those two things are ways you can say right back in anyone's face, you know, look, I wake up knowing that I was given power and so on and so forth, and then I'm in an environment where the other people go out and do things that I don't feel is right, and as long as I'm quiet, they're going to think that I agree with them, so that's what I am going to do, I am going to tell them I don't agree with them, I don't agree with the way you treat that woman, or you treat that guy, or you treat that person of color. That is the kinds of things that we all have got to do. I don't deserve any of the things that I got for just being born white, and I tell you, I'm doing very well. I would rather compete in a larger circle.
I tell you, I've certainly had my share of not getting a position because I wasn't a woman, or you know that kind of thing. And I have a degree in Women's studies. I might go to a job that a woman is going after, and has to do with women or something like that, and I say I'm more qualified than the woman, and all those little times that, when, two or three cases when that happened, when they were looking for a woman to help women that were tortured or mutilated or raped and everything, and the United Nations called me, and I said "Oh, I'll help you look for that woman, you know, I'll find someone who has been in Bosnia, Croatia, and stuff like that" and then I say, "I'm 45, I'm not going to do that", you know. When they asked me for my resume, and then I ended up going. It is a very humbling experience, but I went out there. There was a documentary being made, and my resumé refers to the fact that if you want any details on that line of work, that it is more recent, then you will know the work that I do.
Well, I think you guys do a great job. Do you feel as though you stayed on track here? Do you have any more questions?
BF: Overall, however did the Sixties effect you?
MK: Overall, to say how they effected me is to say how it effects you guys, too. The Sixties was a very exciting period of time. I felt as though it played a place, played a substantial role on me, and I think for one person, I played a substantial role on it. Being 17 when you come into college here, 18, 19 years old, 17, 18, 19 years old to have some effect on the Sixties in the history that was being made. All those little stories about running for your class presidency, trying to change the Yankee Conference School like the University of Rhode Island, I mean that was revolutionary, and most seniors did it.
There was even a poem in 1968 that this guy whose name was Baldwin made about me. It went something like "Mike Kapreilian is one in a million and wish he was one in a trillion". You know, it was like a really jokey poem. And they played John Phillip Souza song, you know, and they said "Can't buy the day, can't be too proud, Mike Kaprelllian is just a name in the crowd." And things like that. And it was all about the fact that I ran and lost on this agenda of changing things, but everything did change by 69 for this school, even though the other schools were way ahead of them, and they even talked about how if you were married, and then I had kids and then I die and they bury me at the bottom of 38 Acres Lake. And that the buriers will be there and they will bid farewell by lowering your casket with rocks, and just these kinds of things, but you know, whether it is a poem, where this disk jockey for WRIU at the time, you know, picked me of all the characters to make a poem about, and I'm really kind of a quiet guy. It was sort of like an honor to be recognized. As PT Barnum would say, "it's public relations, they know your name, they know who you are." It doesn't matter, did they say something good about you or bad about you. They know who you are.
And I think that the Sixties for me was going through that incredible transition, oh you know, maybe if you look me at me, there is such an extreme. You study the Sixties, from the early Sixties and how the civil rights movement, something that I really didn't get into, but I must have in some ways it was something that you have to go to it to do something really active. But for me to wake up when pushed, if somebody from the civil rights, if something was on the street, if something would definitely prick my consciousness on that.
So I entered the Sixties from the Cold War days, you know, as the kid that wants to do the best for himself and his country, is going to be a radiological monitor and crawl out of the ground after the nuclear blast to see if it was safe for everybody else to come out. And then I'm moving through these junior naval cadet days and thinking about being an officer in the Navy, and then going to URI, but not thinking about college, and because it was what the flow was, so it's sort of like the river that went through the Sixties, I was just like a leaf floating on it, you know? Wherever the river bended or went like this, I went that way.
And it all, anything that could have impacted on me, it did. And it shaped me, you know, as I said before, you have these hushed reverberations and I said that a monument that we are putting up in Rhode Island may have the effected the philosophy that I wrote that the Smithsonian or the Museum of American History is immortalizing. That and whoever wrote it. I mean I don't even think I need a tombstone, but saying that is a breakthrough. Letters from California, from Minnesota, from Florida, saying you guys in Rhode Island have such guts to come up with that expression for a Vietnam monument. We wanted to do it, but we didn't have the courage to do it.
It's not about courage, it's the way you were shaped, it's the way you think. Rhode Island can do that to you, a Rhode Islander. And now I sort of understand why you kind of not get to have some of the good people of the Sixties that weren't in Rhode Island in the Sixties for this project, because I would make a pitch for a few people to come here for you to be interviewing them. But it is, part of that is Rhode Island, part of it was what was going on in our national stream of consciousness in the Sixties, all impacting on me. You know, an all-American kid, and I just did what I thought was right. I went to Vietnam, I fought, I was trying to end the war there, too. You could end it by going to Canada, if you made enough of a protest, but I thought I was trying to end the war there, too.
And I came home to a country that didn't care about me at all. Can you image if I can home and you guys were around to interview me like this? I would probably be a lot better off. I mean, all we needed was a chance for somebody to listen to us back then, that is how the people were decompressed from post-traumatic stress. And I do that, we get 100% recovery when we get close to the onset of the trauma.
And yet, when I went to college, and I graduated with so many degrees, with so many high honors, and they would tell you how to fill out your resumé, and there is a portion where they say you are supposed to put your military background in there, there would be somebody who looked at mine, there was another gentleman with me, who said "Come here, I want you to remove anything that has any reference to Vietnam because you won't get a job". And one of the things that I brought to you is that if you understand the Sixties and the Seventies, is to see the kind of images there were of Vietnam veterans on television, such as popular police dramas like Streets of San Francisco, Hawaii 5-0, The Mod Squad. I mean this stuff was just tough on us. And I remembered being interviewed in 1981 by, it was a front page story of The Providence Sunday Journal, and the interview was subsequently read by Senator Chaffee of the United States Senate, and I said something to the effect it's like there was a candid picture taken of us back then, and somehow nobody really wanted to put that in the family album, but it was really America, and you guys are doing it. You're finally taking this picture and you're putting it into this family album, the way it should be.
It didn't come out right, it wasn't focused right, and yet you have to, and I applaud what you are doing, and the approach to it, and I applaud now that it is a Rhode Island thing as well. So, you know, the Sixties did have an impact on me.
But I am very concerned about the impact it is having on you. I am listening to the music, I'm looking at this style. Forget the Seventies, the Seventies were just, although a lot of young people are wearing Seventies type clothes. I don't think any of us that were in the Sixties, and had the Seventies and are around today, have one decent picture of ourself in the Seventies. We were really goofy, and I might have a couple just to prove it, but I listen to the radio and the music and so on, and I was with an author and he said "Well what do you call yourselves, what is a name for your generation. We're the baby boomers, and all the other stuff, but what do you guys call yourselves?" And we say, "Well, generation X" or whatever.
Whatever it is, celebrate it, and I have, I would tell you that if I had a reunion with the vast majority of people of the Sixties, you know, of my high school class, I find it kind of boring. I went to one class reunion, and I said "Gee, they're all revolutionary like me". I said "I can't wait to go, we'll all be sharing stories and stuff," and I went, and it was my high school reunion, and it was terrible. Everybody was trying to sell me insurance policies. Sorry if anybody is in the insurance business here, but it was really sad, you know, and I told you earlier, that these liberties for woman, it was mostly women that I went to another meeting with, and 50 of them, I mean 30 of them, and most of the women are teachers teaching. At the URI, it was like teaching, home economics, or whatever, and now it has changed so much. So many things have changed and so it's a greater time to have lived.
But as far as some of the cultural icons or things like that, enjoy it, enjoy taking the best, take the best of not only the Sixties, but the Fifties and the Forties, and, you know, I have a nephew that is not too much older than you, and he loves Frank Sinatra. Enjoy it, enjoy it. Don't let the media push you around. As a matter of fact, detach yourself from the media as much as possible, because it is going to be following us, and you don't want to watch all those dentures, Depends commercials, you know, I mean, it really is, let this be a warning. You don't believe it? It is, they are going to sell us everything. That is an old people commercial. Can you imagine? I mean I don't have a problem, I have got a whole media identifying with me until I go to my grave, because Rolling Stone Magazine about a decade or two ago looked at this baby boomer generation of the Sixties and talking about it and said it is like a goat going down a boa constrictor's body, you know, this is the population. It would look along, traverse this whole line, and maybe you're part of that, its like I mean as you go through the ages, so all the media, all the marketing will be focusing on us. So, we look at those commercials for denture wearers, and hemorrhoid suffers, and then the incontinence problems and stuff, and they says "Oh, you think you saw enough of those, wait, wait, wait until we get older, and we're going to see a whole bunch of them". And they'll come up with all kinds of things to take care of us in our old age, unless you guys get so tired of us and you get into that Soilent Green stuff and make cookies out of us. That is another movie.
So, no really, I'm glad you take a fascination with this part of American history, and to interview your parents and grandparents, and to know that history, because what you have done here today as days go on is going to be more and more valuable. You take any kind of a snapshot like this, just as the time passes by, it is going to be worth a lot, lot more. And that includes things you may take for granted, including your own life and stuff like that.
I wish I had caught you when you were 12 or younger, because you may have not celebrated those years as much as you could have. Maybe too much at 9 years old waiting to get to 10, and 10 to become 13, and 13 to become 16, and then 18, and then 21, or old enough to do this and that, and I'll leave you with one thought, Vietnam is what we had instead of heathy childhoods. And Erik Ericson said, "The longer children can remain children, the stronger a nation we'll be". It has nothing to do with military power, as long as children can remain children, the stronger a nation can be.