By Mike Gabriele
Maryland Public Television (MPT) is broadcasting a three-hour documentary Maryland Vietnam War Stories over three successive evenings, May 24, 25 and 26. The series traces the war through the personal stories of Vietnam veterans. The stories recount their struggles, fears, emotions, and sometimes humorous experiences during their deployment in Vietnam and some poignant thoughts nearly 50 years after the conflict.
Many of these too-often forgotten war heroes featured in the 3-part series are Jesuit school graduates, young men who had their lives and plans interrupted after graduation by a controversial war – a war that would change their lives and perspectives forever. From Navy aviators and radio engineers, to Army officers and prisoners of war, these Jesuit grads recount their stories and the events that stick most in their minds. The documentary actually opens up with Tim Martin, a graduate of both Loyola High School and Loyola College in Maryland (now Loyola University Maryland), who quickly found himself as an Army combat engineer in Vietnam. Today he is a Circuit Court Judge in Baltimore County.
“I went to Immaculate Conception grade school,” opens Martin. “Then, Loyola High School, '59 to '63. Then, Loyola College, 1963 to '67. So, I had Catholic nuns, Jesuit priests, and scholastics for a long time.” He continues, “I arrived in Vietnam in September of 1968, an upper middle class kid who never knew any deprivation or discomfort at all … to be picked up out of the United States, and dropped into the Central Highlands in Vietnam. It's a third world country. It's dirty. It's very hot. The culture is totally different. People are trying to kill you. It's raining. I got there in the rainy season, which is unbelievable to begin with, and I was quite surprised at how different it was from what I expected.”
Another vet, Mike Cronin, went to the Naval Academy and later received his law degree from Georgetown University. A U.S. Navy Aviator, he became a prisoner of war at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” for six years. “I didn’t encounter another American until almost a month after I arrived (in prison camp),” says Cronin, “but all that time was interrogation and torture. Of course, I stuck with name, rank and serial number; and when the torture began, it was brutal and extremely painful. I stuck with that as long as I could.”
J. Michael Lawler, another graduate of Loyola College in Maryland, was a U.S. Army Signal Corps Officer. “There's a number of specialties within the Signal Corps,” he explains. “I wound up being in the maintenance section where we would take care of and repair radios, in different grades of complexity ... There was quite a lot of other equipment, including starlight scopes (for night vision), so we were all terrified because they told us it cost like 3 million dollars, and you are carrying them around like a new born child. You're terrified you'd drop one.”
Bob McDonough, who recently passed away after taping his interview for the program, graduated as well from both Loyola High School and Loyola College in Maryland. He spoke on the effects Vietnam had on men who were so young. “We all saw some awful things, buddies hurt or killed, and destruction in a third world country that was just in shambles … A lot of these guys were young; they were 19 years old. I mean they were just kids. If you go some place and ask all the 19 year-old kids to stand up; look at them. That's who we were.”
Here are some of the Jesuit educated vets featured in the series:
As many know, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ, passed away several weeks ago, a Jesuit dedicated to promoting peace, not war. While many believed that Vietnam was a conflict America should not have been in, we can all agree that the men featured in this documentary, and all those who engaged in battle for our flag, are remembered with honor and dignity for their courageous efforts.