|The Whole World Was Watching
an oral history of 1968
Carly Long: Where and when were you born, and where did you grow up?
Theodore Gatchel: Okay, now do you need my name on the tape or is that all, do you need that?
CL: Yeah, the tape will have a label on it.
TG: Okay. I was born in Washington, DC on 14 December 1938. What was the rest, I couldn't?
CL: Where and when, and where did you grow up?
TG: Well, my father was a naval officer so I grew up all over the United States, we moved around every couple years.
CL: Briefly describe your family and your neighborhood, ethnicity, religion, parents' occupations.
TG: Okay. Well, as I say I didn't grow up in any single neighborhood. We moved around every couple years or so. I came from a family that consisted of my mother and my father, I have a younger sister, Mary Jane and until I was about twelve, when she died, I had a grandmother that lived with us. We, we were brought up, or at least I was brought up sort of as a generic Protestant because we went to Navy chapels for the most part so it was not, I'd been baptized as a Methodist, but as we, you know, went to navy churches there was just no real religion, you know somebody is just a Protestant orientation.
CL: If your mother worked outside the home how did your family respond?
TG: During the time when I was growing up my mother did not work outside of the home.
CL: Oh, okay, how were your household chores and duties allocated in your family and how did that change over time?
TG: I'm trying to think. I, I don't have any strong recollection of that, I just, you know the general, sort of general chores like cleaning up your room and helping with yard work or things like that, there was, they just, they just were. I don't remember any particular effort to allocate them or that they, they just changed, I just had certain responsibilities that we just sort of understood more than anything.
CL: What were your parents' political views and affiliations? Where did you and your family get information about politics and other events?
TG: Well my father was, and it's interesting cause I wrote a piece about that recently, my father was pretty much an Independent politically. I think at that time, and this would have been in the Forties and the Fifties, most officers in the military were, were sort of apolitical. I think that he was pretty much generally middle-of-the-road views, although he had been a teacher before he came in the service and so we talked a lot about political issues, but not sort of, not in the sense that we would today, not in a partisan sense, but just sort of on the various political issues and I would say probably by today's standards he would probably be considered a moderate liberal.
CL: What did you think you wanted to do when you grew up and how did that change over time?
TG: Well, as I, as I ended up high school I decided I wanted to be a geological engineer and work in the oil business and so that was what, determined where I wanted to go to school, at that time there were only two schools in the country that taught geological engineering and Oklahoma University and The Colorado School of Mines, but at that time there was also a draft so I wanted to do my term in the Navy, I thought, so I wanted to go to a school that had a Naval ROTC [Reserve Officers Traning Corps], so Oklahoma was the only one that had a naval ROTC so that was where I decided to go to, Oklahoma. I did that, like to, got my engineering degree, but little by little things changed as I got out there I decided to go in the Marine Corps rather than the Navy and then I liked that enough that I just never got out, stayed in the Marine Corps.
CL: Do you regret, that you didn't?
TG: No, not in the slightest, I can't imagine, now looking back on it, I can't imagine having done anything else.
CL: Were you aware of any discrimination against people in your family or neighborhood? How did people around you talk about people in other ethnic groups?
TG: Well, since a lot of the places that I grew up were in the south, I mean it was obvious that there was discrimination, I mean you couldn't avoid that, but it was, it really, it wasn't, it didn't have as much of an impact on your life, I think as we look back on it now, because for example if you went to an all white school or lived in an all white neighborhood or in my case I lived on naval bases for the most part, and almost everyone that I knew was white so there was, you know you just didn't have a feel that it had any impact on your life.
CL: Where did you attend primary school and how did your education shape you as a person?
TG: Well, as I said I went to primary school in Washington DC, I guess since that was during the war; most of my primary school was in Washington. We moved to Hawaii right after the war so my primary school was in Washington, Washington DC and Hawaii and I would say primarily the way that as I, as I look back on it probably I was able to go some very good schools, and I think it gave me a very solid background that helped me as I went on to, some of the schools that I went to later weren't very good, but I think the combination of that and the fact that both of my parents had been teachers sort of overcame any, you know problems I had from later on going to schools that weren't too good.
CL: Where did you go to high school or college and what did you study?
TG: Well, I went, I went to high school in a combination of places. I went to high school in, I guess actually, going back to the first question, I sort of finished up my primary education in Norfolk, Virginia. So I went from there, went to high school in Norfolk, Virginia and San Francisco, Key West, Florida, and in New Orleans. All of those to public schools and then I went to the University of Oklahoma for college.
CL: Was there anything else that you studied, like other than the geo-, geol[ogy]...
TG: No, it was, I got like an engineering degree as I say and there wasn't any time to do anything else. It was strictly an engineering degree.
CL: Describe your extra curricular activities, including membership in a fraternity.
TG: Is this in college or...?
TG: Okay, well in college I was a member of a fraternity Delta Epsilon. I also was in a large number of professional organizations, the Engineers Club and four or five professional engineering fraternities such as Tau Beta Phi, others that are honorary engineering fraternities and I was on a pistol team. And I'd say most of my extracurricular activities involved the engineering world one way or another, but a lot of you know, societies and clubs.
CL: Did you feel there was a generation gap, gap excuse me, between yourself and your elders? If so, why?
TG: Well, I mean I, you know, I guess I would say no, `cause I, just wasn't something I thought about obviously your parents are older than you are, but I just, I never, I don't think I analyzed all these things the way people seem to do today. So, I would say basically, no, I didn't feel any kind of a generation gap.
CL: Okay. Describe your wardrobe. What did clothing styles reveal about people who wore them?
TG: Well, one of the things that you find, it's interesting as, when you grow up moving around, you find that styles vary, you know differently and I can remember things like one, for example, I can remember when we lived in Norfolk, they had what I guess you'd call today, would be a very preppy kind of a school that I went to and black and white saddle shoes were the big thing. So you know everybody, if you didn't wear black and white saddle shoes you, you know, you weren't with, you know, you weren't in. So I had a pair of black and white saddle shoes. Well, we moved to Key West, Florida and down there the in thing everybody wore T-shirts and the army fatigue trousers. And so they looked at anybody, they couldn't believe any, that a boy would wear black and white saddle shoes. So you, you know, those were the kinds of things, I guess looking back on it, what I would get out of it is you can't really tell very much about what people wear because it's just, it's obviously that the people weren't that different, all over the country, but what they wore was very different.
CL: How would you feel about the use of drugs, did you see a lot of drug use? Did anyone you knew do drugs or what were the consequences?
TG: Well, drugs in the sense that we would talk about, didn't even exist. I had never even heard about anybody that used drugs when I was in high school, or even in college. It just simply wasn't, wasn't something that existed, other than alcohol and everybody, I would say, probably most everybody that I knew from about the eleventh grade on drank to one degree or another, and in high school in Louisiana it was pretty open. I mean, even though the drinking age was probably, I think, I'm guessing, probably 21, nobody had any trouble going into a bar or a liquor store and buying beer or anything. So that was pretty common, but other than that, that was the only, if you want to call it a drug, that was the only drug anybody used.
CL: Which were your favorite musical groups, movies and books? Did you watch TV? Was there anything in particular you tried to see every day or week?
TG: Hey, you probably find this hard to relate to, but we didn't have a television. I was trying to remember the other day, we might have had a television my senior year in high school, but I don't believe so. So, I mean television was just something that wasn't in my world. Now, we, when I was younger, used to listen to the radio all the time. And they had daytime serials, like you know, Terry and The Pirates, or Jack Armstrong: All American Boy, all kinds of different serials. Later on some of them, one that in high school I can remember listening to was Gunsmoke,which was the predecessor of the television show, but so I did listen to those, but television simply wasn't a part of my life. Music wasn't particularly either, in the sense that I didn't play a musical instrument or I didn't come from a musical family. In high school, I lived in New Orleans and rock and roll, or what was, they called it then `rhythm and blues', was the big thing and so that was, everybody would listen to that and that was the big thing at dances and all. But I don't have any recollection of any particular groups or, in fact the only one that I can even recall the name of was Bill Haley and The Commons and, but basically in high school, for me sports were a much bigger part of my life than music.
CL: What sports did you play?
TG: I played football and ran track.
CL: What instructor or course from school do you remember most and why do you think that you remember?
TG: Now is this any, I mean, all the way up through college or..?
TG: Well, probably the most impressive individual that I ran into, the course that interested me the most were the Marine courses in Naval ROTC because that interested me enough that it changed my plan to go into the Navy, to go into the Marine Corps. The others, I would say probably a course called Strength and Materials which was sort of the rite of passage of all the engineers at Oklahoma, it was one that I worked very hard at and ended up with a D, but that was alright because that got me past it and I think probably most engineers that went to Oklahoma in those days would tell you that Strength and Materials was probably the course that they dreaded in the most going into it were the happiest the most to finish up with.
CL: Was the curriculum, excuse me, the curriculum relevant to your life or to your political interests?
TG: Well, I didn't really have any political interests at that time. I was, like I say, I was planning on going into the oil business and the course at Oklahoma was totally relevant to that `cause it was a training school to teach you how to be an engineer and had I decided to go into the oil business, as I planned, it would have been the perfect curriculum and it was right down the line, but it just turned out it didn't work out that way.
CL: Do you recall understanding the Cold War? How was it explained to you?
TG: Well, I recall the Cold War because being in the military for thirty years, most of that time being during the Cold War, it was just a, that was a major part of my existence. So, it wasn't really explained to me, as it was just an integral part of my whole world.
CL: Did you think about the threat of nuclear war? Were you affected by the Cuban Missile Crisis?
TG: Well, it was I can't honestly say I really thought very much about the threat of nuclear war, other than it was just sort of a, sort of an academic issue in the military. I mean, we thought about it, planned for it, but it wasn't something; I didn't get up in the morning and worry about whether we were going to get blown up or I didn't, I think if you ask my, my boys, they didn't feel that I was transmitting to them any kind of a big fear about that. What one did the second part of that, it was about...?
CL: The Cuban Missile Crisis.
TG: Oh, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Well, the Cuban Missile Crisis affected me the most because I was on a, an aircraft carrier at San Diego and thought that we were going to get called out to do that, so I in fact, I had flown off the carrier and was back in San Diego at the time when the carrier sailed off to what I thought was going to be, going to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I was very upset because I figured that they had gone off to war and I had been left on the beach and was never going to get back on the ship, but the ship didn't go to war and so I eventually got back on board and it. But that was how it affected me, because I thought I was going to miss the whole thing.
CL: Was 1960 and the election of John F. Kennedy an important turning point for you? How did you respond to his assassination?
TG: Well, we, as far as it being a turning point, it wasn't any kind of a turning point for me. I had, don't recall having any particular feelings one way or another. I can remember as most people can very distinctly, the day he was assassinated because I was a Marine lieutenant at the time and we were involved with counter-insurgency training, which was something that President Kennedy had been very big on and was, sort of a proponent of, having the US military be prepared to fight insurgency, so we were out in the field and we had, had about a day or two before, had had a lecture given to us by what we were told was an officer from a Central American group that had been an insurgent group and he was, gave us this lecture in Spanish and then it was translated for us. And he was talking about Latin-American insurgency techniques. And then after the lecture was over, they told us that in fact that this was a Marine Officer, he was, and they'd, it was all, he wasn't really a Latin-American insurgent, but this was just a clever way to give us this lecture. Well, that was interesting but it made us all kind of skeptical, so two days later, when we were all called back in out of the field and a Marine officer, a colonel, came up and told us the President had been assassinated, we all thought it was just more part of this training exercise. And it was, they had to, it was only about an hour or two later when they were able to get a television set and bring it out and let us really see, that in fact, that the President had been assassinated. We all thought it was a part of a, sort of some kind of a trick. So, I can remember that very clearly, but you know, other than the fact that, I guess it was just sort of unbelief you know, that he'd been assassinated.
CL: Did you think that discrimination against people of color was a problem? Explain. Was discrimination against women a problem?
TG: Well, I think, again, obviously it was a problem, in the case of discrimination against people because of their race, I would, I think most people would have said that that was a problem. However, at that time, the Marine Corps, at least the Officer Corps of the Marine Corps was almost completely white and so in my day-to-day life I just didn't, it wasn't something that I had any, any experience with so it was not, obviously it was a problem, and I would like to have thought to if somebody had said, `Well, do you think it's a problem?', I would have said it was a problem. But as a practical matter, it wasn't something that had any direct impact on my life, at that time, not in the early Sixties. In the case of women, that's a whole different issue because I think almost, once again I didn't see it, my wife didn't work. There were very few women Marines and they were not, I was an infantry man and there are no, and still aren't, any women in the infantry. So, it was just, it was an area that I just had no experience with. And so, it just, it literally just never came up, I'd never even considered it.
CL: Did you follow political and social issues while you were in high school or college: civil rights, anti-war, or women's rights, conservatism. What did you think of these?
TG: Well, when I was in high school and college I did not follow them and part of the reason why was all of those kinds of things that you're talking about now really didn't come along until after I was out of , out of high school and college. I graduated from college in 1961. And until that time, my four and a half years in college getting an engineering degree was rigorous enough that I didn't really have much time, I just, most of my time was devoted to getting my degree and I spent enough time doing that that I didn't really, we didn't deal with politics or any of the other issues. But all of those kinds of things about the civil rights movement and women's liberation, well those were things that didn't really become, get up on the skyline until after I was out of college so my answer is no, I did not, wasn't involved with those.
CL: Well, you did join ROTC, right?
TG: Yes, I went through the ROTC. I was a Naval ROTC and was called the Marine Corps option, which meant my last two years I studied Marine Corps subjects and then when I was commissioned, I was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
CL: Were you involved in any political groups?
CL: Were there any rallies, teach-ins or demonstrations on your campus, or elsewhere, later? Did you participate in any way? If not, what did you think of these people who did? What happened at these events...
sorry. Okay, were you an officer? Did you enlist, or were you drafted? Explain the circumstances. Was there any history of military service in your family? And how long did,
CL: Do you recall how you felt as you left home, your family's reaction? What was your experience at boot camp or an officer training school?
TG: Well, when, you're talking about Vietnam, right? To leave for Vietnam? Well, when Vietnam came along, I'd already been an officer for almost five years so it was, and that was what, that was my job I mean it was just, if anything, I mean again, I was part of a unit that was called up to go to Vietnam as a unit in 1965. The only, my only reaction was that we had about less than a week to get our unit ready to go, go aboard ship and leave and get our families packed up, we were living on the West Coast at the time and so my wife had to get the house packed up and everything, and move, she was going to move back to the East Coast while I was gone. So, but it was, it was mainly just a professional concern, getting everything ready to go, so I'd be ready to go for what I figured would probably be a year and a very short period of time.
CL: What was it like the first time you left?
TG: Well, that was the.
CL: Well the first time, when you left from your parents, not to Vietnam, but the first time you ever left home, to go somewhere?
TG: Well, when I, you mean like, I'm not sure exactly I know what you mean.
CL: To boot camp or-?
TG: Well see, I graduated, I graduated from college and went from there back to the Marine Corps officer training at Quantico. And I mean that was, I mean it wasn't like I was leaving home. I had finished college, I mean I was, that was time for me to go. I mean I was, you know, I was an adult, I was on my own. So I mean it wasn't, I don't really have any, I mean I was just starting out on my career, I don't really regard it as having, you know, left home or anything. It was just like I was starting my career.
CL: Okay. Where did you serve, if you went to Southeast Asia? When did you go? Where were you, and how long did you serve? How did you handle the news about the unpopularity of the war at home?
TG: Well, I served there twice. I went, the first time I went to Vietnam was 1965 and I went there with a US Marine Corps unit. And came back in the summer of 1966 and I went back again in 1969, served another year there with the Vietnamese Marines. So, I was there two separate times and I just really, once again, yeah we heard, we got the newspapers and heard on the radio about the protests that were going on. It just wasn't, you know, it really didn't really have much of an effect on, on what I was doing. I was busy enough, I wasn't concerned about what somebody was doing back at home who didn't like the war. It just didn't have much of an effect on me. Although there were some times that were kind of interesting as, on my first tour there I was a company commander, which meant that I was in command of a rifle company with about two hundred marines. And I had one of my marines bring in a flyer to me, and he was very worried it come from a girl that he knew in high school and she was in college and she had sent him this flyer that said something like, why are you out there fighting peasants who are only trying to protect their homes with pitch forks and knives and what not. And this arrived just about the time that we started encountering North Vietnamese units that were armed with the best, the latest Soviet arms and weapons. In some ways they were better armed than we were. And this, I think this young marine thought he was going, he had some kind of subversive literature or something. He was worried about that. I told him to take it back, go and show it to your, I said well, have you shown it to any of your ship mates. He said yeah. I said what do they think. He said well, they thought it was a joke. I mean that was obviously pretty funny. I said well, go show it to the rest of them. Just show them what people back there, what, you know what they think about the war and what, and how misinformed they are as to, if they think we're out here fighting peasants that are armed with pitchforks and knives. But, you know basically, we had a job to do out there and we weren't really that much concerned about what people at home were thinking.
CL: If you went in country were you adequately prepared and what was the most difficult adjustment you had to make?
TG: Well, as I say, I was in the country twice there. I was completely prepared. And I, you have to, you have to remember now, it might have been different for somebody who was a draftee, a young soldier, someone who had just gotten thrown into it. I was someone who, that was my career, so I was completely prepared for it. I guess the hardest adjustment that we had to make was, at least the first time, was you know being in a totally different country, not being able to speak the language, not having any idea first hand what was going on with the people, and that took a great deal of an adjustment. But, as far as professionally goes, I was, militarily, I was completely prepared. Cause like I say, that's what I had been preparing to do for five years.
CL: What did you understand the purpose of the American military presence in Southeast Asia to be?
TG: Well, my, I guess basically my understanding was it was to prevent the communists from dictating to the South Vietnamese people what they would, how they would operate their country.
CL: Were you engaged in combat and if so, describe that experience.
TG: Well, I was engaged in combat on both the first time I was, as I say, I was the commander of a rifle company and then the second time I was an advisor to Marine, Vietnamese Marine battalions and brigades, so we were you know, engaged in combat on a day-to-day basis. So I, trying to describe what it's like's rather hard, it's, it's like most people have, it's been described before, certainly not original with me, it's, you go through days and days of, of nothing happening where you're just marching through the jungle and living in the swamps and nothing, then all of a sudden everything explodes and you have, you know, a minute, or an hour, or a day or two of just complete chaos and people being killed, and explosions, and everything going on. And then it all is over and you go back to, you know just sort of hours of just sort of largely nothing, but just sort of physically hardship conditions, but nothing, you know, no, no, nothing very exciting.
CL: What particular difficulties were there for women who served in Southeast Asia? And do you feel women have received just due for their service in Vietnam?
TG: Well, I, you know, that's kind of a hard question for me to answer because first of all, I had no, no contact with women in Vietnam at all. The only women that were any where around where I was were perhaps nurses, but so I'm not sure whether they're, I don't know what, why it would have been any more difficult for women and for anybody else living in whatever the circumstances, the, they, most of the people that were sort of in the rear had pretty good lives and I would say that probably the toughest thing, most of the women that I know of, like I say I don't know any of them, but the ones that I know of, and ones that I have met since then were, were nurses, and I would say that that they had, had a very difficult time because what they saw was day in and day, I, the kind of job that I had you might see people dead, and wounded people- occasionally, when you'd been in a fight, but nurses and doctors had to deal with the dead and wounded every day because if my unit wasn't in contact somewhere, somebody else's was, so they got, got the results of combat every day and I'm sure that was, was extremely tough on them. I'm not sure, as far as whether they received the recognition, I expect they, expect they received probably as much recognition as anybody else. I don't know of any, you know, I don't know one way or another why they wouldn't have received any less or more than anybody else.
CL: Describe your relationships with your fellow soldiers.
TG: Well, you know I, again, my first time I was a Company Commander so I, my relationship with the marines in my company was one of a commanding officer. They were all, you know, pretty much a very professional, very dedicated bunch. I got, I grew to love them, but I, you know, again there's a different relationship, it's not like they're your friends, it's a commanding officer relationship. Second time I was back there I was with the, with the Vietnamese marines, and I had gone to language school by that time so I could speak Vietnamese, so I, it was, pretty much became a Vietnamese for a year. And although I wasn't one of their officers, I was, I was treated as such, so it was pretty much the same kind of relationship. I guess, I guess probably more like a father-son kind of relationship than anything else.
CL: Who were your best friends, and why? What kinds of conflicts between people arose in your units?
TG: Well, my best friends were, were other marine officers because you, again, other marine lieutenants, when I was there the first time and then the second time my best friends were other US Marines who were advisors to the Vietnamese. Although, for the most part, you spent lots and lots of time with the, with the Vietnamese without any other Americans around. So it was, you know I got, I became very friendly with one or two of the Vietnamese Marine officers. Conflicts within the units, or people I'd, nothing other than the same kind of things you have when you get people confined for days and days at a time with other people in close circumstances and there's no chance of getting away. So you have people that get irritated with one another, or blow up at one another, or some times people get in a fight, but basically no difference then the same kinds of relationships when you get people put together in close circumstances for long periods of time.
CL: When did you become aware of the protests back home? Did you and your fellow soldiers talk about the war? about home? about your future plans?
TG: Well, we, you know, you became aware of it because obviously you could get the, you know, news broadcasts. They had an armed forces radio station, you could listen to the radio when you had a chance and that was broadcast on the radio news. Your family, friends sent you newspaper clippings, you know, magazines and that sort of thing. So you became aware of it, but that didn't have any first hand news. You know, my you know, again, I'm somewhat in a different position, my, my friends, the people that I would appear with were all professional marines. That was our career so we weren't, you know, we were busy fighting the war. I mean that was our job, that was our day-to-day thing so it was, that was what we talked about; fighting the war, more than, than anything else. I mean it wasn't as if, if we were, you know, we'd expected we'd eventually go back home, but we'd still be in the military, still be, as I ended up doing, training people to go to Vietnam. So...
CL: From here?
TG: Excuse me?
CL: From back home, here or?
TG: Yes. When I, when I came back from Vietnam I first went to school and then I went to Quantico, where I was teaching Marine lieutenants at our basic school.
CL: What was your personal view of the war and how, if so, did that change over time?
TG: Well, my personal view, again what you have to realize, my personal view was that, you know, I was a professional soldier, I was in the military, you know my government had sent me over there to fight a war. So that was what I was doing, I was going over there to fight. I, my views changed quite a bit from my first to my second tour because my first tour, when I was over there I looked at the Vietnamese as probably not really caring very much about their country, not being willing to fight for their country. However, when I went, after I went to language school and could speak Vietnamese and went back there and served with them, that view changed completely and I found that my earlier views were completely wrong, I found the Vietnamese were both willing and capable of fighting for their country. So I, you know, I had no, I think we did a lot of stupid things over there in the war, but I don't think any of them, I don't think we were wrong to have been there, I think we went there with good intentions, I think we, what we were trying to do was the right thing. I think anybody that, that says that we were somehow morally wrong, hasn't read very much about communism, hasn't taken a look very much at what happened to that country after the communists won. So I don't have any problem with it, what we had done having been wrong, I think that we strategically and tactically made a lot of mistakes, which contributed to our defeat, but I, my views on that haven't changed.
CL: Did you lose friends? Were you injured during the war? How'd you cope with the realities of war?
TG: Well, yes I had lots of friends that were killed, or badly wounded in Vietnam. I lost a good portion of my hearing from a rocket explosion. But, you know once again, I had already, by that time, particularly by the second time when I lost my hearing when I went back, I was, you know, a career officer. That was, you know, that was my profession, I knew what the, what the advantages and the disadvantages, and the risks were. I had been as trained as well as anybody could be trained to deal with that so I, that's how I dealt with it. I think, as far as the realities were, I was a, you know somebody was doing what I wanted to do voluntarily, I was a professional at it, well trained to do it. So, that was how I dealt with the reality, which you, I think you're referring to as the realities of...
CL: Okay. Was there racism or conflict about race, was it an issue? Explain your feelings or those of your friends.
TG: Well. The unit that I had, my, when I was there as the first time, as a rifle company commander, I had, had, you know, black marines and Hispanic marines in my rifle company. As far as within the confines of that company and my battalion, I'm not aware of anything that was done on a racist basis. I think that we were all pretty much in the same boat. Everybody had to rely pretty much on one another. Now, was there racism in the United States? `Course there was, but I don't, I don't think there was, none that I'm aware of existed in what we were doing in Vietnam.
CL: How did officers and their men and women get along? Any "fragging"?
TG: Okay. First of all, as I mentioned earlier, I didn't have any women, you know I had no contact with women whatsoever, everybody that I was associated with on both my tours were men. I don't have any first hand knowledge of any "fragging", that was something that, that, I think got worse perhaps as the war went along in some army units later on in the war, but that, that, I don't even think that term, I never even heard that term on my first tour, when I was there with the US Marines. By the time I'd gone back there, I was, the second time, I was with the Vietnamese marines and that was, you know, I never saw or heard of any incidents of that sort on my second tour. So that, that's something that was sort of second hand knowledge, that I've read about, but I can't, can't give you any first hand experience.
CL: Did you receive letters from, or write letters home? Have any of these survived?
TG: I wrote as much as I could, whenever possible I wrote every day to my wife. And she wrote me. And I think somewhere those probably have survived, yeah.
CL: Describe your living conditions in Vietnam.
TG: Well, when we were, my living conditions in both situations consisted of, when we were, when you're on an operation you're living with what you carry on your back and sleep on the ground, or in the case of Vietnamese marines, they usually, we usually slept in hammocks. But you just, you're living out in the jungles and, as I say, with what you carry on your back. When we would go back to good circumstances then we lived in a base camp in a tent.
CL: Did you approve or disapprove of the military tactics that were being used in Vietnam? How did they change over time? Do you feel that the military should have been more or less aggressive? Why?
TG: Well, there have been whole books written about that, on the tactics. And it's, there's no simple answer, some of the tactics that we used were very good and very effective, some of them were very bad and not very effective. And they did change over time, the big problem was, as someone said, that I think captures the point, we didn't have twelve year's experience in Vietnam, we had one year's experience twelve times. And what would happen is, people would come into Vietnam and then they, they have to learn what's going on, try and decide what tactics were being used and by the time, just about the time they'd got, they'd mastered all that and were being effective, their year was up and they went home and they were replaced with a whole new group of people. So I think we didn't do as we had done in World War II where people went for the duration and became adept at what they were doing. I think that was part of the problem. There's a big, there was a huge problem with, with both from within and without of the military on restrictions, like for example, for most of, for all of my first term when I was there, and most of the second tour the North Vietnamese were allowed to use Cambodia and Laos with impunity and they could come over and attack us in South Vietnam, but we weren't allowed to go and attack them in their bases and Cambodia and Laos, which created a huge problem for the American forces and the South Vietnamese. Towards the end of my second tour there, President Nixon did away with that restriction, that was part of it, the attack where we attacked into Cambodia. Which, so I think if we had done things like that earlier in the war, it might have been, turned out very differently.
CL: Describe your homecoming. Were you aware of any hostility towards veterans?
TG: Well, my first, you know I, I can't say too much about my homecoming, my first, first time I came home, my wife had been living on the east coast and she came out and met me at San Diego. I flew in to the Marine Air Base at El Toro, and she came, we met in San Diego and took a vacation going across country to where we were, where I was stationed the next time on the East Coast. The second time I came back, I flew, she again, she was living on the East Coast and I flew back, picked her up, and we drove out to Carmel, California, where I was stationed the second time. So it just, it was mainly just a family reunion, having, with my having been gone from my family for a year. You know, you hear all these stories about people being mistreated and called "baby killers", and I never experienced any, anything one way or another. I mean, no, but again you have to remember, I was a, you know a professional, you know, career officer in the military. I didn't go back into some kind of civilian society, so I just came back to another military job, so I, but no, I didn't experience any mistreatment of any kind.
CL: Are you still in touch with anyone with whom you served, belong to a, or active in a veterans' group?
TG: I'm not active in veterans' groups, but I, you know, I still keep in touch with a lot people who I served with, not because I served with them there, but because they were, you know, people that I kept in contact with throughout my career.
CL: Did you have, or do you still have, any physical or mental problems associated with your service?
TG: Well, the only thing is, I wear two hearing aids because I lost considerable amount of my hearing.
CL: Okay. Looking back, how do you feel about your military service, and how do you think it affected the rest of your life?
TG: Well, as I said, I had already chosen, that was, that was my career so it didn't, how it affected the rest of my life, that was the rest of my life. I mean, I spent thirty years in the service so it was, my two tours in Vietnam were just, were part of that service, an overall pattern. So, I mean it certainly affected my, the rest of my life in the sense that it, that a lot of what I did since then was based on what I learned in Vietnam and certainly in the Marine Corps. Well, it just wasn't possible to have been an officer in the Marine Corps at that time and not have served in Vietnam. I mean, something like not more than ninety-nine percent of all Marine Officers who were in during the time went to Vietnam. So it just was, it was just a fact, it wasn't anything particularly special one way or another.
CL: Do you write about your experience?
CL: Okay. Describe your work experience after high school, college, and military.
TG: Well, I went in the military as, right after graduation from college. So, for the next thirty years, from 1961 until 1991 I, I was a career Marine. After that, when I retired in 1991, since then I've been a writer and so I, and a lot of what I, most of what I write is based on the military. So I, I've drawn a lot on my experience in the military to do that writing and a great deal of it on my experience in combat.
CL: Have you published anything?
TG: I published a book a year and a half ago, and I've written, over the years dozens of articles in various magazines and journals, and I write a monthly column on military affairs for The Providence Journal.
CL: How would you describe relationships between men and women? Was women's discontent becoming an issue in your family or your relationship?
TG: I'm not, that's an awfully broad question, me, well in my family, I have, I have, if anybody would tell you who knows right, I have a wife who's a very strong personality and I guess I would say we regard what we do as a partnership. And so that, and that's, she's always been a very independent kind of a person and it's certainly never been a problem in our marriage. I mean, that's why I married her, so I would say in that respect, you know, we have a total partnership.
CL: Was music an important part of your life, later? If so, what did you do, what did you listen to, or what concerts did you attend?
TG: Okay, music has not been a big part of my life, although I like, I've got very eclectic taste and I like everything from country and western to classical music, it just depends what I'm, what mood I'm in or you know, what I'd like to do. So I, but it's not a major part of my life.
CL: Where did you get most of your information about the outside world? What did you think of the TV news? Did you have a sense of "the war in Vietnam" as well as "the war at home"?
TG: Well, I get most of news still today through reading primarily through reading newspapers, but I sample all the different sources from, you know listen to the radio and watch television, get news off the internet. So I use a wide variety of sources, but still I rely most heavily on newspapers. When I was back here in the States during the war, during, would be between my tour and after my second tour, I got a lot of the news, like everyone else, from the television news. In Vietnam I got it, I got my news first hand so to speak. But my, my views on the television news are that it's one of those things that can be very spectacular, but it's not very deep because they don't take, or feel like they don't have the time to do, deal with anything really in depth and so they, they tend to take out, what you tend to see is the more sensational aspects of whatever they're covering for a very short period of time and that very definitely, sort of distorts what you're seeing.
CL: It's one sided?
TG: Well it's, it's not necessarily one sided, that depends on, on how the person wants to do it, but what you don't see, like for example, if you watch the television news you would feel like, like people were being shot at every minute of every day throughout their year in Vietnam. Which wasn't the case even for the people who were in the most, you know, active units. You'd go out in the field and you might be out in the field for, you know, two weeks, and out of that two weeks maybe you were being shot at a total amount of time could be measured in hours. And so if you, if you had a television tape that ran twenty-four hours a day people would go to sleep. I mean, so what they would do is they would just simply show you the most violent two minutes of the two weeks. And in a lot of cases the part that they would focus on what they wanted to, if they had somebody that wanted to show you how bad the war was, then they'd focus on all the wounded, or. So, it could be one sided, but in any case, whether it's, even if they try to be objective, they're still giving, you're not getting a real picture of what's happening because you're getting a very condensed picture of a very, you know, just the more spectacular parts of what's happening.
CL: Did you participate in any political, community, or religious groups?
TG: Now what is this, now, or? What time frame are you talking about?
CL: Well, I mean, after the war.
TG: Well, the only, I would say, I don't belong to any political groups I, I participate and I belong to Trinity Church and I've been on the Vestry at the church. So, I don't know if that's what you mean, but, I participate in that sense.
CL: Did, did the war make you more religious?
TG: I don't think it made me any more religious, but I, I think there's something to that saying `there are no atheists in foxholes'. I mean, it makes you realize that you're a, a tenuous... well, when you see people killed around you, you realize that, that it might have been you. It does make you think about what's important and what's not.
CL: Did you ever join a commune or live in a group situation?
TG: I've never joined a commune, but you can't be in the military very long without living in a group situation, that's what it, that's basically what it's all about, whether it's serving on an aircraft carrier where I have, or, or being in an infantry battalion. Whatever it is, it's in that sense I guess it would probably qualify as a commune, but it's very definitely a group kind of a situation.
CL: Recall your responses to any of the following: desegregation from the public schools, Martin Luther King's leadership, freedom rides, sit-ins, voter registration in Mississippi and other southern states, Malcolm X, black power and the Black Panthers.
TG: Well, again, all of those things, I had no direct involvement with any of those things. During the time when all of, when most of those things were going on I had, I would say, like I say my, my hands were full dealing with either fighting in Vietnam or training people to fight in Vietnam and other things were, were in my personal life. So I, you know my reactions were based on just watching, you know watching the television, watching what was going on. I would say my reaction to, to things like segregated schools and racial injustice was one that, that was something that obviously needed to be corrected and I thought the military, I think particularly in that time, but even today probably has done as good a job on dealing with racial issues as any part of our society. And so I think that personally, probably what I saw as an adult was not as bad as it was in other aspects of our society. So I don't, it just really didn't have any, any real impact. I, as far as the Black Panthers go, I, my view towards them was not a favorable one. I would basically call them in the order of a terrorist group or something. I don't have any particularly sympathy for, for what I understood what their agenda was, but the other ones, I would say certainly wanted sympathy, but also one that, where I felt like, from where I stood that the Marine Corps was doing a pretty good job of ensuring racial equality within the service.
CL: When did you first become aware of the war in Vietnam? Did you approve or disapprove of US involvement in the Vietnam conflict?
TG: Well, I became aware of it because I was, you know, like I say in the military and we were, we were preparing, we'd been preparing to fight that kind of a war for several years by the time I went over there. It really, well I didn't really even think so much in terms of whether I approved or disapproved of the war. It wasn't even a matter, at that time, it was just a matter of that was what my job was. I mean, the government was a matter, it's kind of interesting now because you have, you have people who say well, how could you have approved of that. At the same time those people, they, they, when you question them, they don't really like the idea that you think you really want them, the military, to decide which wars it wants to fight, I mean it, our whole country is based on the premise of civilian control of the military. And I think you get on very dangerous grounds, if you want to take the military and say well, which wars do you want to fight, which ones do you not want to fight, which ones do you approve of, which ones do you not approve of. I think that's, I think in a democracy you're on a much safer ground when you say that, that that's a job for the civilian leadership and the Congress and the executive branch, then the service will execute their lead of orders. And I, I just didn't really didn't think too much of it in terms of approving or disapproving. You know the government had decided it was in our national interest to go there and that was what my job was.
CL: Did you fear being drafted or having someone you knew be drafted? Did you think avoiding the draft was morally correct? Why, why or why not? Did you know someone whose life was interrupted by the draft or who left the country to avoid being drafted?
TG: I didn't fear the draft, I, as I say every man at that time, women, women, were not subject to the draft, but every man of draft age had to accommodate it some way or another. I mean, you were either, if you were physically fit, you were gonna either get drafted or deferred, or somewhere. My concern was I didn't want to be drafted while I was in college, I wanted to get my college education out of the way and so that was why I chose to join the ROTC. So that I could, that allowed me a deferment so that I could get through college without being drafted and the agreement was that then I'd serve two years in the military. And at that time my intention was to do just that, I'd planned to serve two years in the Navy, and then get out and then become an engineer. So, it wasn't that I feared, it was just that, that was how you, how you had to deal with it. I don't know, I mean I don't know anybody personally who ran away to Canada or dodged the draft, or did it, most people that I know of either took their chances with the draft, or drafted and served, or came in and became officers. There were, there were people, I know of a few of them, but, but mostly just, I mean, I think it's entirely honorable if you were a conscientious objector, to declare that and then, then take your chances with what the system allows you there, or I would even find it honorable if somebody morally believed that they could not go to Vietnam, then fine, just say that, refuse to be drafted and go to court and possibly go to jail. I don't have any problem with somebody doing that. Somebody who avoids the draft through taking some kind of illegal measure, running off to Canada or whatever, I, I basically have nothing but contempt for them. I don't, I think, I, that doesn't mean I don't understand, I mean they may not have liked it and they didn't like the choices they were given, but that's what life's all about.
CL: Did you know anyone who was killed in the war, or was a POW? How did that affect you and your family?
TG: Well, I know people who were killed in the war and I know people who were POW's. And it was, you know once again that's one of the risks of being a professional in the military. You understand that. You know that you might get killed or you might become a POW. And it, you know, I'd already thought through those issues before I, you know ever went to Vietnam. My wife knew that too. She knew what the risks were. I was already in the Marine Corps when she married me, so she knew, she knew what she was getting into. So it really, that didn't have any affect, at all. I mean, that's something that I accepted as a risk of my profession.
CL: Did your opinion of the war change as time went on? If so, how?
TG: Well, my opinion of the war changed in the sense that having gone to language school, learned Vietnamese and lived with the South Vietnamese for a year where there were almost no other Americans, I became much more aware of how the South Vietnamese felt. I became much more sympathetic towards their views. And I felt, I felt much more that we should have pursued the war more aggressively in the sense of not being, not allowing the communists to take the initiative that the way they had on several different ways. One, like I had mentioned, allowing them the freedom to use Laos and Cambodia while restricting our own ability to do that.
CL: Did you attend any demonstrations, counter-demonstrations, conventions, or rallies?
CL: Did greater access to birth control, for instance the "pill", lead to more sexual freedom? Was this a good or a bad thing? Were women still largely, largely responsible for using birth control?
TG: Well, I think, you know unquestionably the availability of more reliable and easier to get birth control contributed to this sexual kind of a freedom. I think, I don't think that ended up being particularly good for our society because I think it disconnected, I think it just made sex something casual rather than something part of some kind of a committed relationship. And I think we're paying for that now in all kinds of ways. So, I don't, I don't think, I think the two were definitely connected, but I don't think it's something that's turned out to be very good for our society.
CL: Which foreign policy issues other than Vietnam concerned you; for instance, the Arab-Israeli conflict or events in Cuba, Guatemala, Europe or Eastern Europe?
TG: Well, I would say all of them concerned me. They all concerned me to one degree or another because before I retired they were ones that I was involved with, for example I served for, for four years on the NATO military staff at Chape in Belgium so we, all those European kinds of things were something I was directly involved with planning American military responses to. So, before 1991 all those issues were of interest to me because I was in one way or another involved with, with possibly having to deal with them. And since I've retired, as I say, I've been writing and I think probably at one time or another I've written something on all of those various issues.
CL: Did you support the limiting of nuclear testing or think it was an important issue? Should the US have used nuclear bombing or more serious weaponry in Vietnam?
TG: Technically I'm not sure, but I think as far as limiting, limiting nuclear testing, I don't think there's anything wrong with limiting nuclear testing. I have some reservations about completely eliminating it because when you completely eliminating it, eliminate it, what you're saying is, as our stock pile of nuclear weapons get older, you're saying that you trust that, that you're just gonna assume that they're gonna work. I mean, it's like having anything else whether it's a, you know, a computer or a, you know a toaster oven, or anything else and you just set it on a shelf for, you know for years and years and years and never try it out you're making a guess that when you need to use it, it's going to work, only if you ever need to use those, the potential risk that you're taking if it doesn't is a lot greater than if your, you know your light bulb doesn't come on or something. So I think there's, I think there definitely is, there's a potential risk that you're taking by saying that you're going to completely eliminate any testing of nuclear weapons. So, no I don't think that nuclear weapons should have been used in Vietnam. I think that there wasn't any need for it, that the kinds of war that we used over there would not have been, the issue would not have been resolved by nuclear weapons.
CL: Americans were said to have committed atrocities in Vietnam, some of which have been documented in photographs. Were you aware of these and what did you think of them? Were they unavoidable?
TG: Okay, number one, I was not aware of them personally. I, in my two years in Vietnam combat, I never saw anyone commit an atrocity. Clearly, Americans did commit atrocities, as I say, we already, we know, they're documented. The most spectacular one being the incident at My Lai. Atrocities like that, inevitable is too hard of a word because that means that there's no chance that they're not gonna be. So, atrocities aren't inevitable, but when you fight it, the kind of war that we were fighting in Vietnam, where a lot of civilians are involved or a lot of people are involved who are not wearing uniforms, where, you know, some small kid may come out and put a hand grenade in the gas tank of your jeep, or all kinds of things like that, the frustration level gets so high that it's very likely that occasionally somebody is gonna crack and that, that you are gonna commit, people are gonna commit atrocities. I think it's not inevitable, but it's highly possible and so what, the way you deal with that is by training, and the better trained a unit is, the better, the less chance you have you're gonna have something committed like something that happened at Ju Lai where, at My Lai which was created by a, one of the poorer units in the army in Vietnam. So, you know there's a good chance that you're gonna have some atrocities, but you can certainly, the way to deal with that is to, is by good training.
CL: When you saw Vietnam vets in wheel chairs and on crutches, and in body bags coming home from Vietnam, what was your response?
TG: Well my response is, as I indicated here before, that that's part of the cost of fighting a war and you, the you know, I'm fortunate, the units that I was with, for example, my rifle company in Vietnam, the Marine Corps took a small number of draftees in those days, but in my company of about somewhat less than two hundred men I had one draftee, so I, basically I was dealing with people who were volunteers, people who had chosen to come into the Marine Corps. And it's hard for me to imagine that anybody would come in the Marine Corps and certainly not get through their initial training without knowing that there was a chance that they're going to get wounded or killed. So it's not, it's something you understand, that's part of the cost of fighting a war. What I just hope is, hoped then and hope now, that the people who were, the civilians who were charged with making the decision whether we're going to fight a war understand that and don't go into it lightly.
CL: Did you feel veterans were treated with respect and courtesy? Were people generally appreciative of what they had sacrificed?
TG: Now you're talking about Vietnam?
TG: Basically, no, as I say I had no, never had any personal experience, none of this people were spitting on you, or I was afraid to wear a uniform. But again I was a professional who lived in military communities, I had no first hand experience of any of that. But on the other hand I didn't have any first hand experience of something like occurred after World War II, or after Desert Storm where people had big parades and treated everybody, everyone like they were heroes. So, it was just, you know, I came back, just picked back up my life as it was, so I didn't, mine was sort of a neutral experience. I didn't have, nobody had any reaction one way or another, good or bad that I had gone to Vietnam and come back. It just simply, didn't exist. It just...
CL: Did you have any expectations?
TG: Expectations of what?
CL: Of like a homecoming, a welcome home, or...?
TG: No, because I, you know once again I didn't, I just. This I'm sure is maybe hard for you or others to understand, but that was, you know, that was a career that I had chosen. That was my profession. I didn't expect anybody to think that was anything, I mean all the people who I were over there with were all professionals. That was all part of their job. Virtually everybody I served with from 1965 on, all of them had been to Vietnam. It wasn't anything special. It was just, that was just part of what we were doing.
CL: Okay. Escalation of the Vietnam War conflict, the US bombing of North Vietnam, troop buildup, and the Vietcong Tet offensive, can you describe your response and feelings to this?
TG: Well, again, my response to all of those various things were that I think we had allowed the enemy to have the initiative and instead of having some kind of a coherent strategy that we were following, we were just, found ourselves constantly reacting to what the enemy was doing. One of the things, I happened to be back here 1968, when the Tet Offensive went on was when I was in between my two tours. But I was training young marines at our basic school at Quantico and so we, you know we always asked these marines when they got over there to write us back, tell us what was going on so that we would know that what we were teaching them was still current and what, we want to make sure we were giving the Lieutenants that we were training the benefit of the latest situation, what was going on. So we'd get a lot of letters from marines who were in Vietnam fighting. And the most, my biggest reaction, I guess, to the Tet Offensive, was when you talk to people in Vietnam who were writing you and since then that talked about it, was that with the exception of the initial surprise, when we, when the South Vietnamese and Americans were caught by surprise by the Tet Offensive, but with the exception of that, it was just a devastating defeat for the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, completely eliminated, just for all practical purposes ended any kind of an autonomous South Vietnamese Vietcong, that was the end of it. And it was a devastating defeat for the North Vietnamese and they, you can go back and read what the North Vietnamese say about it now after the war has long been over. They admit that there was a horrible defeat and yet to be back in the United States and watch what was going on, somehow or other that was all turned into a giant victory for our enemies. Which is and that's got to be astounding when you see, when you get first hand listening to people in Vietnam and knowing what was going on first hand from them and then watching American television, it was like there were two completely different wars that were being fought and reported on. That, I guess, that would be what my reaction was to that. And still is.
CL: Okay. What was your response to Lyndon Johnson's announcement on TV that he would not run for the presidency a second time?
TG: You know, once again it was, you know, I don't recall any particular reaction one way or another at the time. I, when I look, you know, looking back on it today I'd say that was a good thing because I think, I don't think he and the people who worked for him fought the war very well. But at the time I don't recall having any particular feeling one way or another.
CL: Okay, what about the assassination of Martin Luther King?
TG: Again, I just sort of, I guess sort of a shock, it was sort of a disbelief that someone that important, you know, someone with that stature would be shot. I guess mainly surprise more than anything else and also a certain amount of fear as to what that was going to cause; what would happen in the wake of that.
CL: What about bombings staged by "weathermen"?
TG: Once again, I mean they really didn't have that much of an impact. They weren't, they never achieved, as far as I can tell, they never really achieved anything. It was just sort of like, sort of, I recalled it sort of bush league terrorism, but I don't again, at the time I don't recall having any particular reaction one way or another. It certainly had no impact on, near as I can tell, on anything that we were doing, or that I was doing.
CL: The Democratic Convention in Chicago?
TG: Well, I remember watching that. And, I found that sort of, sort of interesting that it sort of fell under the heading of sort of 'No good deed goes unpunished' where you, where the, all the protesters were protesting and rioting against the people who you would have thought would have been more, more sympathetic to their cause. In other words, the Democrats had seemed to, sort of a strange kind of irony there, but you know again, just sort of, I was a spectator. That wasn't something that was, that particularly, you know, again at that time in 1968 I was, we were teaching lieutenants to go to war and we were working six days a week sometimes, you know, all day and all night, and it was just that took up so much of my time that a lot of these other things were just sort of incidental. And also in the middle of that I had my, my first child, my wife had her first boy and so that, whatever extra time I had it wasn't focused on my job, that was the big thing in our life at that time.
CL: The election of Richard Nixon?
TG: You know, once again I sort of, I guess I would say probably more curiosity as to what he, what he was gonna do. As I recall he came in with the idea that he had some plan for ending the war and I think most of us were, you know, curious as to what that was gonna be, but that's, be about my only reaction.
CL: What about the space program and the circling of the moon by US astronauts?
TG: Well, I can remember interestingly enough, I can remember the time when, exactly when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon because I was, was the second tour when I was with the Vietnamese and we were in a, some, what's called triple canopy jungle. I mean it's really heavy jungle where you couldn't even see the moon, for example, was at night and the Vietnamese marines a lot of them carry these little sort of transistor radios and we were, a lot of them were coming up to me and I, my Vietnamese was pretty good. And they were telling me that there was an American on the moon, and I couldn't believe, my first reaction was I wasn't hearing what they were saying right. And it, because, then I realized what they were saying and what was going on. And it was sort of the contrast between, you know, being in a jungle in Vietnam and not even been able to see, it was so over grown you couldn't even see the moon, and thinking that there was a, somebody up there walking on it was really startling.
CL: Overall, how would you say the Sixties affected you and the United States in general?
TG: Well, as far as affecting the United States, I think the impact of the Vietnamese War was that it split up the country and it gave us sort of a, an inferiority complex or some, there was a great sort of self flagellation and we had all, went through "Aw, we can't do anything right." That took a long time, particularly within the military before we were able to overcome that. For me personally, the 1960s were, you know that was sort of like the heart of my professional development. I was a, you know, a junior officer where you're getting your career started, getting your foundation. I'd gone to the war twice, at least '69, you know '70, but I'd been in Vietnam twice during that period which certainly was the foundation of my career and gave me both the grounding in combat and also in just sort of, forged what my thinking would be for the rest of my career.
CL: What were the most important changes of the 1960s? Which did you think were the most positive and which the most negative?
TG: Boy, that's a tough one. Well, I think like a lot of things historically, the same things are both, they have both a good point and a bad part. I think probably that it sort of focused the thinking of the United States on the whole role of authority, I mean it would be, you had, you had these people who came along, whether they were the hippies or the anti-war protesters, or whatever that said you know, "defy authority, question authority, nobody can tell us what to do", you know, "if it feels good, do it", you know, "there's no role, nobody should be able to tell you anything", and in one sense that was good in the sense that I think our whole country is, our country was founded sort of on a, a distrust of governmental authority. So I think it sort of refocused on those kinds of issues and I think, I think some of that is good, I think the healthy sort of skepticism about government is a very good thing. On the other hand, it sort of, it seems to me the start of this view that as an, that American individuals have all kinds of right but no responsibilities whatsoever, and then they can pretty much do what they please and the results and the consequences of their actions aren't their fault, or they shouldn't be blamed or held responsible for them, and it's some how whether society and the government is responsible for everything, all the consequences of what their individual rights and freedoms are. And I, so I think that was the bad, but there, they're different sides of the same coin so you, you know it's hard to say these changes were, I mean this whole sort of attitude of Americans and their view of the government and authority, I think was, the Sixties focused their view on that. We're still sort of sorting that out now.
CL: Some people feel that drug use and the "counter culture" was the most important aspect of the 60s, some feel that aspect was overplayed in the media. What do you think?
TG: You know, I don't know to what degree it was overplayed. It certainly was a major part of it. It certainly came into the military. Where I saw it in the military was in that period you, I think it was a little bit later, so more than the Sixties, as I recall it probably would've been the early 70s, but it certainly created a huge problem for the military. And you can argue whether or not it ought to be allowed in civilian society, I think people make cases for it both ways, but I tell you, there's absolutely no place for it whatsoever in an organization like the military where anybody who's impaired threatens everybody else. And so, we've dealt with it in the military by just saying that there's, there is this completely zero tolerance for the thing. Whether it's an overplayed or not, I don't know, it certainly was a huge problem for the military.
CL: How would you compare the presidencies of Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon?
TG: Well Nixon's, Kennedy's presidency for what I could see was cut short by his assassination, it's really hard to, to really say much about it at all. I mean it, he had such a short presidency that, I mean his supporters say, well that, I mean, this was almost like the second coming and this was going to be the most wonderful time in American history, but you, two of the things in, sort of in my thing, we ended up with the, with the whole Cuban mess, where we ended up coming out of the Missile Crisis alright, although some evidence is now, that we went, came very close to a nuclear war to do that; we had the Bay of Pigs debacle which still, we're still seeing the repercussions of it in our dealings with Cuba. And Kennedy got us started down the road of getting into Vietnam. What he did, it's, I'm trying to think, I don't know off-hand any really concrete things that you can say "this was the wonderful results of his presidency". I think it was more sort of a, the symbolism and the, sort of the spirit of what, what people think he intended to do. Things like maybe, the Peace Corps and those kinds of things, but you know, hard to say. Johnson came in and my view of the Johnson presidency was he was a guy that was sort of handed this war and he wasn't about, he didn't want to be the one to go down in history as the one who lost this war, but he wasn't willing to take the steps needed to prosecute it successfully. And he was more concerned about all of his domestic agenda. And so rather than, than say, "Well I'm going to have to put the domestic agenda aside and get this war fought" or say "Well, get us out of this war so I can deal with the domestic agenda," he tried to do both of them and it doesn't look to me like he did either one of them very well, certainly not the war.
And Nixon came in with supposedly a plan to end the war, I don't know whether he had one or not, but he did two things that I think were long overdue. One of them, he let us go into Cambodia, which, which the anti-war movement and leftists general just went ballistic over. I mean that was what, we ended up with the Kent State I mean just, just, like I say just absolutely went wild over that, and yet it least it sent the message to the North Vietnamese that they couldn't use those so-called neutral countries with impunity. The other thing we did was went up and mined the harbor at Hi Fong. And that was the best way possible to keep both our Cold War enemies like the Russians and our supposed friends like the Europeans from re-supplying our enemies and yet it didn't actually, it put the onus on them, if we had bombed their ships that would have been one thing, but when you mine a harbor and say "Well hey, the harbor's mined, you know, if you come in, we're telling you so that you can make your choice; if you come in and your ships sink don't come whining at us because we've told, we warned you that it's." And he took that step and that was a major step in denying them some of the support that they needed. So he took, I think most of the people that I know were very supportive of him because at least, we thought, if we were over there fighting a war, we'd like to see a president that was supporting us rather than you know waffling on it. So, I guess that would be my view of his, I think it's unfortunate the way he had ended up his presidency. That was deserved, I mean I don't think you could justify what he did, but I think, I, with that exception I had a very good feeling about the way he took over the situation from Johnson, at least with respect to the Vietnam War.
CL: Has the change in women's rights and position in society been a positive or a negative thing? Did things go too far or not far enough?
TG: Well, I think by and large, overall I think it's been a very positive thing because I think you've got, you're now making better use of, you know, basically fifty percent of the American population. But I think, as in all of theses kinds of movements, some people you can push them to illogical extremes and cause problems. I think right now we've got it pretty well right. And that is that I think pretty well, most women can do pretty much what they're, what they're capable of doing. There are not too many restrictions that I am aware of that, on women today. So I would say we've got it, you know pretty much right. There are probably some areas that you can go farther in, probably some areas that we've gone too far in, but I think it's basically pretty mo... got it right, and I think it's a positive thing.
CL: Have African-Americans accomplished the goals of the civil rights movement? Is racism still a problem in American society?
TG: Well, I think racism certainly can be a problem, but a lot of it depends on how you want to fight it. I think our laws now clearly are such that what I would call true racial discrimination is such that can be addressed legally. Now, there are issues where you start getting in terms of things like affirmative action that are gonna be very contentious and some people will say that that's racism, I don't personally think it is. If you if, for example you are of a mind, say for example if you say "Well, African-Americans compose, I don't, what, say fifteen percent of the American population therefore if fifteen percent of the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies aren't African-Americans therefore that is prima facie evidence that there is racism" and then the people make that case. I don't agree with that. That's not to say that black Americans haven't faced tremendous problems and still have some, but I think basically that the legal steps have been taken to end official racism. Now certainly you're never going to create a situation where people, some people don't harbor racist views and I think that's true of all races too. And so, in that sense, certainly it exists and it, certainly we see the inequities that is caused by years of lack of opportunity. But I think, I think we're doing a pretty good job of taking care of that too.
CL: Do you attribute any correct [current] political problems or strengths in the United States to decisions that were made in the 1960s? For example the deficit, poverty, conflict with the Soviet Union and China, civil rights legislation?
TG: Well, you know any kind of a problem, no matter what the problem is you go back, you can trace it back basically however far you want. So there's certainly, as I say, to me, the big, a lot of the problems that we have today we start out with this, with this situation. I think Vietnam made a lot of Americans skeptical about the role of government. And it, it seems to me like it sort of polarized Americans into two camps, then it was whether we should be in Vietnam or whether we shouldn't be in Vietnam, or not. But, this role of skepticism about, about whether the government was good, or bad, or evil, or not has led, you know we're still seeing the results of that today. And there, and you get a lot of a, sort of interesting situations where a lot of the people, for example, thought that the government was authoritarian and shouldn't have been doing the things we did in Vietnam, was sort of an evil government, at the same time they, a lot of these were the same people who turned around and wanted the government to deal with all the social problems. So it's sort of strange, it seems to me like they want to have it both ways that they would say that they didn't want an authoritarian government, but when they have a social problem that they wanted cured they've, they basically wanted an authoritarian sort of government response to step in and cure it. So I think we're still wrestling with those kinds of issues today.
CL: When the war finally ended, what were your feelings? Looking back at the Vietnam conflict from the perspective of the 1990s, has your opinion of the war changed? If so, how?
TG: Well, my reactions were a lot of, ranged for a lot of things. One would, it meant that I would might have to go back for a third time in Vietnam. Which was, that was fine, I mean I, but I was also very disappointed. I mean I, you know I saw a lot of friends of mine killed and wounded and yet in spite of that, in the past American sacrifices like that we'd always ended up pretty much achieving what we had attempted to achieve. And this was the first, this was the first war we've ever really clearly lost. So I would, you know, that's not a very good feeling to be, have played a part in, you know, losing your country's first war, so I wasn't very happy about that. But I haven't seen anything that, the more I read about the war and particularly the more that the communists in Vietnam explain their views, tell about what their side of the war, that's just reinforced the views that I had during the war rather than changed them.
CL: Have you visited the Vietnam War Memorial or seen a replica of it? What was your response?
TG: Yes. I have been to the memorial in Washington. I've seen it and it's a very moving kind of thing. You can't, it's hard not to look a list of you know 58,000 names and not feel strongly about the sacrifice that they made, particularly if you know a lot of the names on the wall.
CL: Are you still concerned about the POW issue?
TG: Well, I'm not sure what you mean by concerned. I don't believe that there are any living Americans being held in captivity in Vietnam. I just don't think there are. I've thought about that issue a lot. I've talked to people and so I really believe that's sort of a non-issue. Now, the problem is it would be nice to have an accounting of all of the, whatever about a thousand or so people that are still unaccounted for, but I don't think that's realistic. There's never been a war in history where you've been able to account for everybody. There's just, can't done, there's a lot more people unaccounted for in World War I, World War II, Korea than Vietnam. Viet, if anything Vietnam is remarkable for the number, for the small number of people who haven't been accounted for. And what you have to understand is most of those names that aren't accounted for now, are aviators and Vietnam is not a very big country compared with the United States, but a huge part of the area is just, is just jungles, mountainous jungles with no, and Cambodia and Laos where the others went down, are mountainous jungles with no roads, nobody lives there. And an airplane that got shot down or whatever happened to it and just crashed out in the jungle, the chances are you're never gonna find it. We still, even today we still find airplanes that crashed in the United States during World War II on training flights. We're still finding them occasionally and that's, you know, fifty years later. So, the idea that there are, that there are people who are missing in action or unaccounted for from the Vietnam War isn't surprising at all when you think about it. And it's, as I say, remarkable how many we have been able to account for. And I think it's fine to continue all the efforts, all the practical efforts we can through records that the North Vietnamese, evidence, and there's no question too that there were people that they captured that they either killed in captivity or died in captivity, and they lied about it and haven't been honest with us and they haven't accounted for them, I mean people we have photographs of them being captured and they say they don't know anything about it. So I mean there still, there still needs to be work done to continue to try and find out what we can about those people, but I don't think there are any, any living POWs.
CL: How do you feel about young people like us still striving to answer questions about American involvement in the Vietnam War and the whole decade of the Sixties?
TG: Well I think that's great. I mean I think one of the advantages of our, you know free government is that by people questioning things and studying them, I think that that's to the better. I mean it helps you to avoid the mistakes of the past so I think that's great. I take part periodically in seminars up at Brown University with the students up there and I don't have any problem with people questioning, you know what we did then. I didn't have any problem with people questioning what we did during the war, when the war was going on. But, I think, I think where I would draw the line, as I say, I think it's one thing to somebody legitimate questioning of what the government is doing, even when you're in a war as opposed to say someone who goes, during, while we're fighting a war, goes to the enemy capital and makes propaganda broadcasts for the enemy. I don't think that's legitimate protesting. I think that's something of a very different stripe. But as far as today in particular, I think that's fine. I don't, I think it's to everybody's benefit to you know, to study, and question what the role was.
CL: What advice would you give to people like myself?
TG: You mean about the war, about studying about the war? Well, I think the biggest single problem with studying the Vietnam War, and it still exists, is that in any type of history when you're dealing with a war, there gonna be two sides in the war. There gonna be, there's gonna be an American side and a, primarily in this case American, South Vietnamese side and a North Vietnamese side. Well, most of the records, if not all of the records from the American side have been released, there are probably some that, I mean I'm sure there's some that are still classified, but basically there's enough material out there that anybody that wants to understand the American point of view of the war can do it very easily. The problem is that there are very few, even scholars, even people who consider themselves scholars of Vietnam, very, very few of them speak and read Vietnamese. So, they have never really, they have to rely on what some translator has said what the Vietnamese said about something and to get their side of the view. And basically, the Vietnamese have not, the North Vietnamese who of course won the thing, haven't released their official documents. And so it's hard, it's hard to come up with an objective, honest view from the North Vietnamese side, what their intentions were, what their plans were, what their strategies were, what they were really up to during the war. And until they are willing to release all that information, and until there are enough western scholars that can read Vietnamese and go over there and look at the documents, you're going to continue to get, you're not going to get an accurate opinion of the war. It just, it's a very similar kind of a thing as to what's happened with the Cold War, is that a lot of experts spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the Soviets were up to, what they meant, what they were doing when they said something, what they were doing. It was only after the Cold War ended, the Soviet Union collapsed and they began to open up the Soviet Union's archives. And the secret files that the communists have had for years, and scholars from the west could go back there who could read Russian and take a look at these things, then you begin to find some very interesting, new ideas on what the Russians were up to. They didn't always correspond to what the Russians said. And I think the same thing is going to be true in Vietnam, but it's going, as I say, going to take a while, require that the North Vietnamese open their archives and the western scholars, enough of them be able to read Vietnamese and go there that they can make sense of it before we're going to really get a really historically accurate view of the war. So learn to read Vietnamese and pressure the North Vietnamese to let you see their documents.
CL: [giggle] Okay. Thank you very much for this....
TG: That's it?