American in Vietnam

What an amazing class! Anyone I’ve talked to this term could tell you how highly I recommend the term-long elective—I just won’t shut up about it. I had Ms. Wallace in Third Form and loved her, so that was really why I took it rather than a particular interest in the subject, but it’s proved to be the most interesting course I’ve taken at this school.

The in-depth look we get from so many firsthand perspectives, paired with Ms. Wallace’s careful selection of LOTS of reading and other media (one night we watched the movie The Trial of the Chicago 7 for homework—I definitely recommend it), as well as her EXTENSIVE knowledge and beautiful organization makes the class top-tier. We have two actual veterans of the war who sit in on almost every class: Mr. Jim Lockney, who retired three years ago from the Groton Athletic Department and has taught the class with Ms. Wallace for twenty years and every year is able to share more and more about his experience, and Rudy Kallock, who used to work in the school store.

A few weeks ago, when Jim was able to be here in person rather than on Zoom, we had a sort of show-and-tell when he brought in some of his souvenirs from the war, including gear, propaganda, a compass, and a lighter (pictured). We also got to listen to a tape recording he sent home to his wife in 1969 (I think). I’ve quoted Jim and Rudy’s hindsight of the war in two essays I’ve written for the class so far, one about how misinformed the U.S. was going in, and one about what it takes to tell a “true war story,” as beyond hearing our resident veterans’ insights on our readings during each class, we also read and listened to a lot of firsthand accounts. 

Last night, Ms. Wallace was on duty in my dorm (she brought us brownies) and when I came downstairs to refill my water bottle, I had just done the reading for today’s class about America’s (largely failed) evacuation after their defeat. I was almost speechless after the reading. “What a mess,” I said. She laughed hollowly and said if there’s one thing she wants her students to get from her classes, it’s that wars are much easier to start than they are to end. She also teaches a class on America in the Philippines in the fall, and one on America in Iraq in the spring, which I hope to take next year.

We got to talking about what’s happening in Ukraine right now. She also said that in these last two weeks of the term we’re going to have another member of the Groton faculty talk about her family fleeing Vietnam after the Americans pulled out. Then we’ll have Dr. Margaret Funnell (a Dartmouth professor and Mr. Funnell’s wife) come talk about the psychological science behind PTSD. “It’s state-of-the-art stuff,” Ms. Wallace said.

The class is incredible because of how ingrained it is in the school, and how it has informed me about the world.