Viet­nam War doc­u­men­tary stirs painful mem­o­ries

Sherbrooke Record - - EDITORIAL - Peter Black

Cpt. Charles Eu­gene Lavi­o­lette, of St. Omer, is buried in Saint Charles Ceme­tery in Que­bec City. He is the only Cana­dian ser­vice­men to die as a re­sult of the Viet­nam War. He was on a mis­sion un­der the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion for Su­per­vi­sion and Con­trol (ICSC) tasked to en­force the Paris peace agree­ment of Jan­uary, 1973.

The he­li­copter in which he was a pas­sen­ger was shot down by a mis­sile fired by the Vi­et­cong, North Viet­namese guer­ril­las in­fil­trat­ing South Viet­nam, on April 7, 1973, at Lao Bao, near the bor­der with Laos. ICSC sol­diers from Hun­gary and In­done­sia, and Amer­i­can crew­men also died in the in­ci­dent.

The in­ci­dent sparked out­rage in Canada. Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Sec­re­tary Mitchell Sharp said “un­less con­di­tions in Viet­nam ‘im­prove very sub­stan­tially’ the Gov­ern­ment will with­draw from the truce com­mis­sion.” Canada did in­deed pull out four months later.

Cpt. Lavi­o­lette was 42 and serv­ing with the 12th Ar­moured Reg­i­ment out of CFB Val­cartier. He left his wife Edith and nine-year-old daugh­ter San­dra. He was one of 240 Cana­dian Forces per­son­nel Canada contributed to the ICSC mis­sion.

While Cpt. Lavi­o­lette was the only Cana­dian in uni­form to die from hos­tile fire, more than 130 Cana­di­ans lost their lives in Viet­nam serv­ing in the United States mil­i­tary. De­pend­ing on which es­ti­mate you choose, some­where be­tween 20,000 and 40,000 Cana­di­ans crossed the bor­der and en­listed with the Amer­i­can army. Roughly the same es­ti­mated num­ber of Amer­i­cans crossed the bor­der north­ward to avoid be­ing sent to Viet­nam.

One of them, whose story is per­haps fa­mil­iar to peo­ple in Que­bec, was Jack Todd, a vet­eran sports writer for The Gazette. After be­ing drafted he fled to Van­cou­ver in 1970, even­tu­ally set­tling in Mon­treal. A na­tive of Ne­braska whose bad knees cut him from Marine Corps train­ing, he would be called a de­serter or nowa­days a “war re­sister.”

Todd re­cently wrote an ac­count in The Gazette of his ex­pe­ri­ence as one of the many bear­ing wit­ness in what is surely the most thor­ough and am­bi­tious doc­u­men­ta­tion of Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary mis­ad­ven­ture in Southeast Asia - Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Viet­nam War.

We recorded it on PBS and binge­watched all of it - 18 hours over nine episodes - last week. Ra­dio-canada be­gan broad­cast­ing the nine-hour ab­bre­vi­ated French ver­sion two weeks ago. Var­i­ous edi­tions, in­clud­ing one in Viet­namese, are avail­able for sale.

Few con­flicts in re­cent times are as fraught as the Viet­nam War, and few have been so hastily swept into the “dust­bin of his­tory.” Burns and Novick ob­vi­ously knew they were ven­tur­ing into a dan­ger­ous jour­nal­is­tic jun­gle.

Pre­dictably, the se­ries has been at­tacked from the left and right. Cana­dian so­cial­ist scribe Rick Sa­lutin, who had been at anti-war protests de­picted in the doc­u­men­tary, wrote that left­ists “retch over the early-on state­ment that the war ‘was be­gun in good faith, by de­cent peo­ple, out of fate­ful mis­un­der­stand­ings.’ I con­cur, why hang around after that fatu­ous ly­ing piety?” Yet Sa­lutin says he found himself com­pelled to watch ev­ery gru­elling, grue­some minute.

On the other side you hear Col. Oliver North, the man who or­ches­trated Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan’s arms for hostages deal with Iran, and who fought in Viet­nam, de­ride the doc­u­men­tary: “It’s sad, but I’ve come to ac­cept that the real story of the heroic Amer­i­can GIS in Viet­nam may never be told.

“Like too many oth­ers, Ken Burns por­trays the young sol­diers, sailors, air­men and marines of the Viet­nam War as potsmok­ing, drug-ad­dicted, hip­pie ma­raud­ers.” (If I may, I thought this neg­a­tive de­pic­tion of U.S. troops got mi­nor treat­ment.)

Be­yond what­ever crit­i­cism there may be of point of view, there’s no mis­tak­ing the enor­mous ef­fort the film­mak­ers


Wmade to col­lect as many sides of the story as pos­si­ble. Hence, you hear as­ton­ish­ing tes­ti­mony from both North and South Viet­namese about their de­ter­mi­na­tion, heart­break and loss.

Two mil­lion civil­ians, and as many as 1.3 mil­lion sol­diers on both sides died in the fight­ing be­tween 1965, when the U.S. first sent com­bat troops, and 1973 when the treaty was signed al­low­ing the Amer­i­cans to de­clare an end to the war and with­draw.

Cpt. Lavi­o­lette died in a fu­tile ef­fort to en­force that treaty. e are writ­ing to you as two stu­dents reg­is­tered in cour­ses at Bishop’s Univer­sity, Knowl­ton Cam­pus. As has been re­ported in your news­pa­per, Bishop’s Univer­sity an­nounced its in­ten­tion to sus­pend cour­ses in Knowl­ton, start­ing in Jan­uary 2018. We, and our fel­low­class­mates are united in our op­po­si­tion to this de­ci­sion and we call on your read­er­ship to sup­port us in our re­quest that the univer­sity re­con­sider, and find a way to con­tinue of­fer­ing classes in the Knowl­ton area.

The Knowl­ton cam­pus is a small but bright gem in our com­mu­nity. The stu­dent pop­u­la­tion comes from across our re­gion: Knowl­ton, but also as far away as Granby, Water­loo, Aber­corn, Stan­bridge East, Sut­ton and Bromont. Knowl­ton is a cen­tral spot for these stu­dents to unite and study. The cam­pus is mag­i­cal: em­brac­ing stu­dents of all ages, in­come lev­els, walks of life and is a model of fran­co­phone/an­glo­phone mu­tu­al­ity. Daily, it is place where stu­dents mas­ter a lan­guage, im­merse in ideas, cre­ate art, write fic­tion. The de­ci­sion to cre­ate this cam­pus was bril­liant. The de­ci­sion to shut it down is tragic.

For those stu­dents pur­su­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree, the im­mi­nent clo­sure of the cam­pus spells the end of their long held dreams of at­tain­ing a Bach­e­lor’s de­gree. For many (most) the two or three hour com­mute to Len­noxville, is nei­ther prac­ti­cal nor, in win­ter, safe. Those who are tak­ing the cour­ses to pur­sue life-long learn­ing (there are some 250 in­di­vid­ual en­rol­ments an­nu­ally) will find no other op­tion in the re­gion to con­tinue their ed­u­ca­tion.

We are con­fi­dent that a solution ex­ists for peo­ple of good will. Politi­cians have of­fered sup­port, phil­an­thropic or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­u­als ex­ist in our area. Cer­tainly, the Knowl­ton Cam­pus stu­dents will do their ut­most to lend a hand (or write a cheque!) as ne­c­es­sary.


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