West Virginia University at Parkersburg hosted a screening of the new WV Public Broadcasting (WVPB) documentary “Vietnam: West Virginians Remember” on Thursday, Sept. 21. The film was followed by a panel discussion featuring three Vietnam veterans and a local historian.
More than 120 students and community members filled the college theater to view the documentary and learn more about the Vietnam War. Written and produced by award-winning Executive Producer Suzanne Higgins, the documentary features the experiences of five West Virginia combat servicemen.
The panel discussion featured Vietnam veterans Dr. Fletcher Lamkin (retired Brigadier General, Army), Greg Smith (retired Lieutenant Colonel, Air Force), David Eichhorn (prior Specialist 5, Army), and Dr. Rob Anderson (WVU Parkersburg Associate Professor of History). WVU Parkersburg director of support services Kurt Klettner (prior Staff Sergeant, U.S. Air Force) moderated the discussion. The panelists described in unforgettable detail how their service in the Vietnam War has affected them while noting the importance of remembering this tragic war and lessons learned.
Dr. Fletcher Lamkin currently serves as President for WVU Parkersburg. He served as a career Army officer for 36 years and was promoted to Brigadier General. He is a graduate of the Army’s Airborne School, Ranger School, Aerial Observer School, Field Artillery Advanced Course, and Command and General Staff College. He served 16 years on the faculty of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, culminating that service as West Point’s academic dean. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Naval War College.
“So many classmates and friends perished, and I’m living part of my life for them,” said Lamkin. “One lesson we need to all learn is the need for a shared sacrifice. It’s a great life that we share, and freedom certainly isn’t free.”
The majority of West Virginians who served in Vietnam were enlisted, and some were as young as 17 years old. Per capita, West Virginia also had the highest casualty rate and the most citizens serving than any other state.
“We did not argue when they said go,” said Lamkin. “We had plenty of questions about what was going on while we were there, just like the West Virginians in the film of whom we should be so proud. They did their duty and came back, and that’s what warriors do. They’re not the war. They’re the ones who suffer the most in a war.”
David Eichhorn was drafted and served from 1970-1971 as an Army combat medic. He served in Southern I Corp for the U.S. Army. During the Vietnam War, he operated off LZ Center in Quang TIn Province, Chu Lai, Hawk Hill, Quang Nam, and Da Nang. During the discussion, he described how the course of the war transformed while he served and how the war changed him.
“At first, the focus was on body count, then it became not being the last GI killed,” said Eichhorn. “When I returned home, I’d left Vietnam, but Vietnam didn’t leave me.”
Dr. Robert Anderson is Associate Professor of History for WVU Parkersburg where he has taught history courses since 2005. He earned a doctorate in history from WVU and a master’s degree from Slippery Rock University.
“Initially, there wasn’t a lot of anti-war sentiment because, as the documentary showed, very few people could even find it on the map,” said Anderson. “But by 1968, after three years of fighting a nation that the U.S. should have defeated, we were still at war.”
Greg Smith served more than 22 years in the U.S. Air Force and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. In addition to numerous awards and citations, is the recipient of the highest peacetime medal for heroism. He worked 13 years at Camden Clark Medical Center and has served on numerous boards. He was the past district governor of Rotary, president of the Latrobe Street Homeless and Recovery Center, and commander of Vienna VFW Post 8127.
“As servicemen, our duty was to serve. Regardless of what it was, our duty was to serve. In the Vietnam War three things changed, and that’s the definition of honor, integrity and patriotism,” said Smith.
Much of documentary and panel discussion focused on Americans’ views on the war and the treatment of soldiers upon their return.
“Americans began saying, ‘Why are we there?’ Servicemen were coming home, and the more extreme anti-war people were screaming at them or spitting. At some point as the war was progressing, we lost focus. What started out as anti-communism turned out to be, ‘I don’t want to be the next one to lose a child.’”
Though the panel at WVU Parkersburg was a one-time event, an encore broadcast of the documentary “Vietnam: West Virginians Remember” will air on WVPB on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. Visit wvpublic.org/vietnamwv for more information about the documentary.