You could see the anguish in their faces. A panel of four Vietnam veterans told their war stories, and one brave Laotian woman told hers as a child growing up amidst the Secret War in Laos. It was an emotional afternoon inside the Shasta College theater. A few hundred gathered to hear their experiences. The Shasta College Foundation partnered with KIXE 9 and the McConnell Foundation to bring these perspectives of a war that no one for years liked talking about. Shasta College history professor Chris Rodriguez was the master of ceremonies.
The first to speak was Abu Salahuddin, also known as Leon Green. Abu was originally from Martinez, Calif., and joined the Army in 1964. He went to Vietnam in 1965. At that time President John F. Kennedy was only sending advisers to Vietnam. Abu was told he would be serving as one of those advisers. But as soon as he got there, he went right into combat as the war began to escalate. He was wounded three times, and his unit received the Presidential Award. Abu moved to Redding in 2001 and dedicated himself in service to our community receiving numerous awards.
Mike Stuart spoke next. He grew up in Santa Clara, Calif., and served in Vietnam from August 1967 to March of 1968. He was a paratrooper with the 506th Infantry, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. He was a fire team leader, squad leader, platoon sergeant and a non-commissioned officer (NCO) platoon leader. After Vietnam, Mike went on to graduate from Brigham Young University and CSU, Chico. He was assistant principal at Shasta High for three years, high school principal at Enterprise High for six years, and superintendent of the Shasta Union High School District for 10 years.
The next speaker was Mike Dahl, a Redding native. He joined the United States Marines Corps and served two tours in Vietnam. Following the 1968 Tet Offensive, he was awarded the Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon. After his military service, he graduated from Shasta College and then CSU, Chico. Mike Dahl served two terms on the Redding City Council. He has three sons. His two youngest sons served in the military. Matt was in the Marines, and Nick, who served in the Army, is deceased. Both are decorated combat veterans from the Iraq War. Mike said if it came down to the war again, he wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again.
Greg Caldwell is another Redding native who was part of the panel. He served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam 1969-70. Greg attended Shasta College and transferred to Humboldt State University where he majored in Oceanography. I got a picture of Greg on stage with his grandson. While looking at them both, I thought how his grandson would not be alive if his grandfather had died in Vietnam. It made me think of how many people are alive because of those who survived, and how many others would be alive today if there hadn’t been any war.
To get a different perspective, we last heard from Mey Chao-Lee. She was 4 to 5 years old when the Laotian Civil War broke out. Her father fought against the communist regime during the Vietnam War. Mey and people in her village were attacked by the communists and forced to watch public executions. It was difficult for Mey to recall, as it was for all Veterans telling there stories, but Mey had to publicly watch her grandfather get tortured and killed. Some time later, she and her family were able to cross into Thailand and settle in a refugee camp. Mey was later able to come to the United States in 1982. She became a wife and mother of three boys.
She went on to receive her master’s degree and has been working for Shasta County for more than 20 years. She works as a licensed Clinical Social Worker and Clinical Program Coordinator for Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency, Adult Services/Mental Health.
As the program concluded, it was mentioned that out in the lobby was a large plague with all 46 military members of Shasta County who died in the Vietnam War. And then all members of the panel were presented with a plaque and thanked for sharing their stories. It was not easy sharing, as most people from that time did not talk much about their war experiences. Even to this day, most Veterans who saw combat have not opened up except to someone close to them, and even then, not a whole lot was said. Several people in the audience felt a healing while recalling their own experiences from the Vietnam War. I know I did.