Vietnam War documentary stirs painful memories
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.
CHRISTINE STONEHEWER, KNOWLTON PAMELA DILLON, STANBRIDGE EAST