Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — SP4 Robert Thomas Callan

Image source: The Wall of Faces, “Rob in Vietnam,” photographer unknown.

Memorial Day is America’s day to remember those who died in service to their country. Last year, I began what I hope will become a tradition, of remembering one of the many who paid “the last full measure” from the Mahoning Valley. In my post from last year, one of the comments remembered Robert Thomas Callan. I thought I would see what I could find and tell a bit of his story.

Robert was born on February 12, 1950, the son of Thomas and Anne Christoff Callan. He and his family were members of St. Dominic’s Church. His sister Nancy described him as “a quality person, so kind and generous and courteous and polite.” Elsewhere, his three sisters wrote: “In life, Bobby taught us to laugh, to ride a bike, to play football and how to open Christmas gifts before Christmas without anyone knowing we already saw our gifts.”  He was a Cardinal Mooney graduate. After high school he worked at the Republic Rubber Division of Aeroquip for a year before he was drafted by the Selective Service.

He began his tour of duty in Vietnam on April 14, 1970.  He held the rank of Specialist Four and was an Aircraft Maintenance Crewman attached to the 101st Airborne Division, 101st Aviation Battalion, C Company. He hoped to begin a carpentry apprenticeship after completing his tour of duty.

After returning from a leave to Hawaii on December 10, his helicopter crew was on a mission on December 16, 1970 when it came under hostile fire in Thua Thien Province in what was then South Vietnam. He was posted as a door gunner at the time, a vulnerable position. He died of wounds in the subsequent crash of the helicopter, his body being recovered and returned to Youngstown for burial. He lies at rest in Calvary Cemetery.

He was honored in death, being awarded the Purple Heart, Air Medal, National Defense, Vietnam Service, and Vietnam Campaign Medals. His name appears on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Panel W6, Line 124. Robert Thomas Callan served with honor and died in that service. He is one of many from the Mahoning Valley who has done so. He, and they are worth honor this Memorial Day.

Who do you remember for their faithful service to country this Memorial Day?

We remember.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Review: Nothing Is Impossible

Nothing is Impossible: America’s Reconciliation with Vietnam, Ted Osius, Foreword John Kerry. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2021.

Summary: A memoir by former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, describing how a former enemy became one of America’s strongest international partners, and the important role diplomacy played to bring that about.

The story begins with a conversation between two Vietnam veterans on a flight to Kuwait. John McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam for six years was sitting with John Kerry, a swift boat captain, highly decorated for his actions in an ambush and later reviled for his testimony questioning America’s war aims. Senators from two different parties began talking about getting accounting of POW/MIA servicemen and the restoration of relations with Vietnam that would facilitate that accounting. Their collaboration led to the passage of a measure re-establishing formal relations during the Clinton administration.

That was just the beginning of rebuilding the trust between these two countries shattered by war. This memoir by former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, gives an account of the diplomatic work that has led to Vietnam now being a strong international partner of the United States, resulting in the recovery of remains of many of those missing in action, cleanup of dioxin sites, honoring of the dead who fought with the U.S. as well as establishing vital trade, defense, and environmental collaboration..

Ted Osius was working in the State Department when the mission was established in Vietnam that preceded full diplomatic relations, working with charge’ d’affaires Desaix Anderson as a junior political officer. His work involved establishing everything from military exchanges to assisting Americans in Vietnam when they needed help. He learned the language of Vietnam, and as a cycling enthusiast, toured the country on bicycle, a practice he continued as ambassador, for the access it gave him to ordinary people. His friendship with John Kerry began when they toured part of the country on bikes. When Pete Peterson, a former POW, became ambassador, he told the team: “You’ll get it right 98 percent of the time. As for the other 2 percent, I’ll eat it!” He urged them to take risks and build a new relationship with Vietnam.

A big part of his work, and a theme running through his efforts, was working with the Vietnamese to establish U.S. and global trade relationships. This involved delicate and ongoing negotiations about labor conditions (a major breakthrough came with reforms at a Nike factory) and human rights. They also began the effort to addressing POW/MIA accounting, and for the Vietnamese, the cleanup of dioxin sites, dioxin a chemical used to clear brush that caused numerous birth defects and other health problems. Another theme was developing a collaboration to counter China’s growing regional influence.

Later, in the Bush administration, he served as a science officer, helping with environmental issues on the Mekong River, with disease prevention (including SARS, which led to Vietnam’s strong public health response to COVID-19). His return to the U.S. brought him in contact with other U.S diplomats who were gay including his husband Clayton Bond. When the ambassador role to Vietnam came open in 2012, around the time of the Obama administration’s shift on marriage equality, it became a serious option to pursue the appointment to Vietnam, the country he had come to love. It took until 2014 but he was appointed.

The latter part of the book describes his bicycle diplomacy and the trust that was built through respecting Vietnamese cultural traditions including releasing carp on the Day of the Kitchen Gods. He worked with the country and U.S. experts in clearing unexploded ordinance from the war and on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One of the major efforts was to negotiate with Vietnam’s leadership for TPP membership, which would open up the country to global trade. He helped arrange a visit of the party secretary to Washington, and an eventual visit of President Obama to Vietnam, as well as a visit of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He participated in the establishment of a Fulbright University in Vietnam. And he was able to find a way to renovate the Bien Hoa Cemetery, where many South Vietnamese soldiers were bury in a neglected burial ground, an important desire of Vietnamese-American ex-pats, but politically sensitive.

He stayed into the early Trump administration, when his advice differed from administration priorities, resulting in a sudden replacement. Shortly afterwards, Osius retired from the State Department.

The memoir is an education in the work of an effective ambassador, both representing American policy with due diligence, supporting American business interests and caring for American citizens in country while building respect and trust in the host country. Osius’s willingness to learn the language, cycle the country, honor cultural practices and places, and listen carefully to high officials led to working on military, economic, environmental, and human rights issues. Vietnam became an important partner as both the U.S. and Vietnam faced a growing Chinese presence in the South China Sea. Osius learned and respected the David and Goliath history of Vietnam, that included its defeat of the U.S. in conflict. He learned that we get farther honoring David than reprising Goliath.

Vietnam still honors human rights in the breach but Osius could point to progress. The government is Communist, a single party dominating the government. But during the twenty-year period the book covers, one sees how two former adversaries could develop amicable relations while remaining different. They could work on common interests and try to persuade the other where they differ, while benefiting the people of both countries. That is diplomatic work at its best. Would that it were so everywhere!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book via Edelweiss from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Spec. 4 Patrick Michael Hagerty

Life magazine, on June 27, 1969, ran a feature story titled  “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week’s Toll.” The article ran ten pages and simply featured face after face, 242 in all, of Americans who died “in connection with the conflict in Vietnam” in one week. One of those faces was listed as “Patrick M. Hagerty, 19, Army, SP4, Youngstown, Ohio.” He was a field wireman and the picture in Life shows him on a pole, with safety belt and protective gloves, doing his work.

I came across the Life article searching for a story of one of those from Youngstown who died in Vietnam to remember on Memorial Day, the day this country sets aside to remember those who died in uniform in service to our country. According to the Virtual Wall, he is one of sixty-four from Youngstown who died in Vietnam.

Patrick Michael Hagerty was born on July 27, 1949 to Mr. and Mrs. Harold Hagerty who lived on N. Garland Avenue. He was a member of Immaculate Conception Church and attended East High School. He enlisted in the Army in September of 1966. He began his tour of duty in Vietnam on August 11, 1968 as a field wireman. He was attached to the 4th Infantry Division, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry, B Company.

On May 31, 1969 his unit was about 10 kilometers south of Kontum City, located in the central highlands of what was then South Vietnam, not too far from the borders of Laos and Cambodia. During a hostile action, he suffered multiple fragmentation wounds (wounds resulting from the fragments of an explosive device) which he did not survive.

He was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously. The Purple Heart is awarded for “Being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces” Sadly, Spec. 4 Patrick Michael Hagerty, qualified. His name is engraved on the Vietnam War Memorial Panel W23 Line 27. At the Virtual Wall entry for PVT Patrick Michael Hagerty, you can see a virtual rubbing of his name on the memorial.

[After posting this article Patrick’s nephew pointed me to this comment about Patrick which may be found at The Wall of Faces under his name, possibly written by his Platoon Sergeant]:

I’ve tried to track down all of our Platoon, Patrick, and to post some small note of Remembrance…

You’re one of the last for me, although I visited you once again down in DC last month, for Veterans Day. I remember that you were assigned to my Platoon from another outfit, and that you were VERY ‘short’, possibly within two weeks of going back to The World. I recall that I asked if you wanted to become an RTO for awhile, and perhaps ‘coast’ a little, until we could get you sent back to the Rear…

You wanted no part of that, Patrick, and you took your assignment as part of Bravo’s flank security during our movement… When the contact ensued, you were in the middle of it all…

Everyone who reads this should know what a brave young man you were, Patrick, and a damned fine soldier as well.

See you soon,
Murph

He was 19 when he died. He enlisted and so chose to answer his country’s call. He represents both what is noble and tragic in war. His is only one of sixty-four Youngstown stories of those who died in Vietnam, and one of many more from Youngstown who died in America’s wars. Each one is worth remembering. I chose this Memorial Day weekend to remember Spec. 4 Patrick Michael Hagerty. Who do you remember?

We remember.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Review: Finding the Dragon Lady

Finding the Dragon Lady, Monique Brinson Demery. New York: Public Affair, 2013.

Summary: A biography of Madame Nhu, part of the ruling family in Vietnam (1954-1963) based on the author’s personal interactions with Madame Nhu before her death, allowing her to obtain memoirs and a diary of her life.

She grew up in a distinguished Vietnamese family in Hanoi under the French, receiving the typical French education, with the expectation of being married off into another distinguished family. At nineteen Tran Le Xuan married Ngo Dinh Nhu, in the middle of World War 2 as the Vichy French enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the Japanese. At the end of the war, the French assumption that they could resume control of the colony was upset by nationalist forces under Ho Chi Min and the Viet Minh. Madame Nhu engages in a harrowing flight with her children, only reunited with her husband later. They take refuge in the mountain retreat of Dalat while war goes on between France and the Viet Minh. The French lose a decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu, resulting in a division of the country into north and south with Madame Nhu’s brother-in-law Ngo Dinh Diem heading the government with her husband as his right hand man.

At first it seems the model family, buttressed by Diem’s austere integrity. Madame Nhu raises children and leads efforts to help women while the men run the country. Increasingly as dissatisfaction arises and Communist insurgency by the Viet Cong grows, Madame Nhu asserts herself increasingly at points where the two men waver, sometimes courageously against opposition. She becomes known as the Dragon Lady, not to be crossed. When Buddhists use self-immolation to protest government restrictions on their religious freedom, she tells those threatening to go ahead and she would bring the matches. Her efforts to strengthen the government lead to the disaffection of the people, and confounds the US Kennedy administration, now committed to the success of the Republic of South Vietnam. Increasingly the conviction is that the Diem government must go, and the Kennedys and ambassador Lodge conspire for a coup to bring down the government, succeeding at the end of October 1963 when Nhu and Diem both are killed. Madame Nhu, touring the US to drum up support for the government escapes death to live in exile for the rest of her life.

One may find much of this in any history. The unusual element of this book is Monique Brinson Demery’s narrative of her attempts, beginning in 2005, to connect with Madame Nhu to hear her side of the story. After numerous efforts received no response, she got a call one day laying down strict conditions. Then more calls in which Madame Nhu tested her to see if she could be trusted. There were invitations to meet. Madame Nhu never showed up. Meanwhile the author obtained a diary in Madame Nhu’s hand from a serviceman, filling in more of her personal narrative and leading to more questions. Madame Nhu dangled a manuscript of a memoir in front of her in exchange for more favors and more strict conditions. Finally she obtains it, a manuscript in very unfinished form that she must publish as is.

In 2011 Madame Nhu died. The author didn’t publish the manuscript but instead this book of her search for and interactions with Madame Nhu, interleaved with a biography of her life, informed by research and the new materials in Madame Nhu’s hand she received. What emerges is a portrait of a woman in an unhappy marriage longing for so much more who eventually finds it in the cause of the Diem government. We see a mother who loves her children, who acts with courage, but also with ruthlessness, and who pushes the boundaries of what women could do in her society. One also has the sense of a family increasingly isolated from the aspirations of the people, confounding American support, and yet also the first step into the developing American tragedy that was Vietnam. Like Iraq, they were eliminated with no replacement in sight, resulting in a series of weak governments, a growing American involvement propping up that government and the fall of the south to the Communists in 1975.

Demery offers a concise retelling of this tragic history through Madame Nhu’s eyes while remaining objective and able to see her faults, faults that contributed to her family’s downfall and the unraveling of the country. Even in her old age, in her interactions with Demery, we see a woman who uses manipulation to try to tell her story her way, against the grain of reality. She tells the story of a woman alone, fighting to the end to validate her life as meaningful.

Review: The Quiet American

the quiet american

The Quiet AmericanGraham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (originally published in 1955).

Summary: A novel set in French-occupied Vietnam paralleling the entangled lives of a British journalist and American agent with the entanglement of war in Vietnam.

Thomas Fowler, a British correspondent in French occupied Vietnam in the early 1950’s, arrives at home one night to find Phuong waiting outside. She reports that American  Alden Pyle has not returned home. She has been living with Pyle, supposedly with an American Economic Mission. Before living with Pyle, she had lived with Fowler. She stays the night, and they learn the next morning that Pyle is dead when they are summoned for questioning by the French Sureté.

Graham Greene then narrates the strange conflicted relationship of these two men who love one woman, and the equally entangled and conflicted relationships of all those who get involved in Vietnam. Fowler wants to believe that he is the uninvolved British journalist, whose country is not a party to the conflict. He has a wife at home from whom he is separated but who will not divorce him. Phuong meets his needs and prepares his opium pipes and she benefits materially from his attention but he can offer nothing more, although holding out the hope of a divorce. Pyle, who loves her at first sight, is unattached and due to come into money becomes a rival, candidly telling Fowler his intentions, and yet strangely taking to Fowler as his best friend, He saves Fowler’s life at one point when they are stranded in enemy territory, and steals Phuong.

Fowler gradually learns that Pyle isn’t all that he seems. He discovers that Pyle is doing something with plastics, that turn out to be plastic explosives, being used to undermine the regime in Saigon. He is actually a CIA agent. Fowler is curious, but remains detached until a bombing of a square intended to break up a parade that is cancelled kills and maims scores of innocents, an act with the fingerprints of Pyle all over it. He faces hard choices of what to do with his knowledge of this “quiet American,” his rival in love, yet one in some ways to whom he is beholden.

Fowler has tried to avoid entangling involvements. A conversation with a French pilot who napalmed villages describes the folly of such an attempt, in both love, and in the Vietnam conflict. When Fowler protests, “That’s why I won’t be involved.” the French pilot replies:

” ‘It’s not a matter of reason or justice. We all get involved in a moment of emotion and then we cannot get out. War and Love–they have always been compared.’ He looked sadly across the dormitory to where the métisse sprawled in her great temporary peace. He said, ‘I would not have it otherwise. There is a girl who was involved by her parents–what is her future when this port falls. France is only half her home…’ “

Greene’s tale was prescient, published in 1955, of the troubling future that would face, first the French, and then the Americans, already present, in Vietnam. Fowler discovered that he, too, was involved with Phuong, with Pyle, and that Vietnam was a far more complicated mistress than any understood. He evades his editors requests to return to London. Love and War has claimed him, as it would many others.

Sadly, this was an instance of prophecy ignored, and it could be argued that there have been others since. We are still in Iraq, and Afghanistan, unable to extricate ourselves from commitments made in “moments of emotion.”  The Quiet American is a cautionary tale as relevant in our times as it was in the mid-1950’s. Hopefully, we will not proceed as heedlessly now as we did then.

Review: Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Lyndon Johnson and the American DreamDoris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published in 1976).

Summary: A biography of the 36th president exploring his ambitions, political skills, and vision, shaped by his family and upbringing, and marred by Vietnam, written from the unique perspective of a White House Fellowship and post-presidential interviews.

This month, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest book, Leadership in Turbulent Timeswill hit the bookstores. The book explores lessons learned from her biographies of four presidents, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. The book that began her study of presidential leadership was her biography of Lyndon Johnson, first published in 1976. In a Goodreads interview about her new book, she describes how her personal encounter with Lyndon Johnson led to her career as a writer and historian:

“I became a historian first, and then a writer. In graduate school, I was working on my thesis on Supreme Court history when I was selected to join the White House Fellows, one of America’s most prestigious programs for leadership and public service. At the White House celebration of the newly chosen Fellows, President Johnson asked me to dance—not that peculiar, as there were only a few women in the program. He told me he wanted me to be assigned directly to him, but it was not to be that simple. 

For like many young people, I had been active in the anti-Vietnam War movement and had co-authored an article that called for the removal of LBJ, published in the New Republic several days after the White House dance. Despite this, LBJ said: “Bring her down here for a year, and if I can’t win her over, no one can.” I worked with LBJ in the White House and later assisted him in the writing of his memoirs. I will forever be grateful to him because there’s no question that my experience working for him shaped my desire to become a presidential historian.”

That experience of working personally for and with Johnson, both in the White House, and later, on his ranch, gave her unique access into Johnson’s self-conception of his life, his House and Senate experience, and his exercise of presidential leadership. Goodwin renders a story of a young man torn between the high hopes and expectations of his mother, and the much easier and more personable style of his father. He hated formal speaking but was the consummate student of people who knew how to make deals and get things done. From his cultivation of a relationship with a university president, a congressional aide who rapidly makes others beholden followers, several terms in the House, a failed, and then successful Senate bid and his rapid rise to Senate Majority Leader, we see someone who studied those around him, learned how to accrue power to himself by bestowing benefits to his followers, receiving their support, if not love, in return.

Presidential ambitions required a different set of skills that Kennedy had and Johnson lacked. Failing his bid in 1960 for the presidency, he accepts the role of Vice President, thinking he could use the methods that worked so well throughout his life, only to find, as have so many, that the office of Vice President has great status, and no power, or potential for such, unless the President dies. Thrust into the presidency by Kennedy’s death, he uses his Senate leader skills to continue and realize Kennedy’s vision, articulated by Johnson as the Great Society. In his first year, and the year after his landslide election, he enacts landmark Civil Rights legislation (as a President from the South) and social legislation including Medicare. Foreign affairs, never a strong suit, struck in the form of Vietnam, a war he could neither win nor walk away from. Goodwin explores why and describes his efforts to sustain his social programs while escalating the war, and the disastrous consequences to his social agenda, and to the economy until the epiphany of the Tet offensive and the McCarthy and Kennedy candidacies made it plain that he could not win in 1968.

Goodwin spent extensive time with Johnson in his last years, and narrates his inability to write his memoirs, his conversations about his presidency, and Vietnam, and his deep frustration from trying to bestow so much of benefit on the country, only to be reviled by the demonstrators and so many others (Goodwin among them). A combination of meticulous research and up close and personal contact helps us understand the tremendous force of personality that made Johnson great, and the flaws that cast a shadow on what, otherwise, might have been a great presidency. I tend to approach psychological portraits with some skepticism, but her accounts of Johnson in his own words, his actions and her rendering of his character has an internal consistency that offers deep insight into a man for whom I had little respect growing up. Now I find myself longing for the political mastery and vision he exhibited at his best leading the enactment of the Civil Rights legislation which was perhaps his proudest legacy.

Doris Kearns Goodwin has gone on to give us memorable portraits of Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and even the Brooklyn Dodgers of her youth. This was her debut effort and reveals the promise of all that would come from her pen over the last forty years. Perhaps the publication of Leadership in Turbulent Times might encourage some to go back and read the work that led to her distinguished career as a presidential scholar.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Vietnam

3rd_Marines_patrolling_near_Quang_Tri_River_in_Vietnam_1967

3rd Marines patrolling near Quang Tri River, Russell Jewett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There was a cloud that hung over many of our lives growing up in the Youngstown of the 1960’s and 1970’s. No, it is not the clouds from the mills. It was the ongoing war in Vietnam (which was actually good for industry). Many of our young men would go there, some would die, and others would return, some wounded, and some bearing mental wounds they carry to this day.

While our involvement began in the Eisenhower era, and John Kennedy sent a growing number of “advisors,” it was during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson that I became aware of the war. I was in about fifth grade when I first started reading daily news stories in The Vindicator of “body counts” and plans to send more troops there. We were told with more troops and bombing, we were winning the war. We would see nightly news coverage of embedded journalists and footage of battle action in our living rooms.

For many, the turning point seemed to be the Tet offensive of 1968, a major reversal despite a half million troops and extensive bombing. We began to wonder if this was a different kind of war and if we were being told the truth. It helped bring Richard Nixon to office in 1968, on promises to get us out of the war with our dignity intact. Around this time, I was a paper boy. One of my customers was a returning veteran. He offered to tell me the real story of the war. I regret I never took him up on it.

In 1970, I was a high school sophomore at Chaney. Richard Nixon decided to extend bombing campaigns into Cambodia where enemy troops took refuge. To many college students facing the draft, this was a betrayal of the promise to end the war and demonstrations and riots broke out on many campuses. At nearby Kent State, May 4 was the terrible day when four students died and thirteen others were wounded by the Ohio National Guard troops. All of us at school the next day walked around stunned. Stunned shifted to scared when we heard some adults say, “they should have killed more.”

It made me wonder how they looked at me, with my longish hair. It told me how deeply we were divided, and I think this gave everyone pause as campuses suspended classes early. Somehow, we walked back from the abyss as a nation. In 1972, I registered for the draft, hoping I wouldn’t be called and that I would get a high lottery number. Mine was 12, but I dodged a bullet in more ways than one. Nixon was winding the war down and bringing troops home. The last men drafted were those a year older than I was.

The most difficult thing perhaps was that we lumped our soldiers in with our politicians who lied to us about the war, not explaining the kind of conflict we were in honestly. I know there are lots of arguments about whether we could have achieved victory in Vietnam. I don’t want to re-fight that war. Rather, I want to acknowledge that the men and women who served deserve all the honor as heroes they have only belatedly received. Many were just like me–hoping it wouldn’t come down to them–but doing what their country asked of them as their fathers did in World War II.

Vietnam was a lesson for us as a nation of how important it was that our leaders tell us the truth, particularly when making the case for sending our young men and women into harm’s way. While deceiving the nation cost Lyndon Johnson another presidential term, it cost thousands of young men their lives. It has marked our life as a nation ever since. It is always the case that when our leaders lie, it will be our people, and especially our working classes that will bear the brunt. To paraphrase an old protest song, “when will we ever learn?”