Aired: May 24, 2014

Messages From a Forgotten Troopship

Troops in their bunks on the General Nelson M. Walker
Troops in their bunks on the General Nelson M. Walker

In the 1960s, it took almost three weeks to cross the sea from America to Vietnam. Three weeks for young men in crowded cabins with salt water showers and absolutely nothing to do but think about home, the war, and what might be next. In this Memorial Day special episode we focus on a single troopship, the General Nelson M. Walker, and a few of the soldiers who traveled on it.

There’s the man who wrote home about the voyage to Vietnam—about tanning oil, hillbilly radio, and a run-in with a typhoon. Another who survived the jungles of Vietnam, only to return home and feel as though democracy had passed him by. And then there’s the fiancée who snuck on board to say one last goodbye to her lover before he was killed in action.

Through found tape and contemporary interviews, we recreate the troopship experience and capture the moments outside of combat—three weeks there, and, for the lucky ones—three weeks back.

These stories were produced in partnership with The Vietnam Graffiti Project.

Army Specialist 4th Class Jim Hardy, aboard the Walker
Army Specialist 4th Class Jim Hardy, aboard the Walker

 

Army Private First Class August Battaglia, Vietnam-era fiancée of Arlen Say’lu
Army Private First Class August Battaglia, Vietnam-era fiancée of Arlen Selu

 

Arlen Say’lu
Arlen Selu

 

Marine Private Harmon Adams, Jr., who was interviewed for this show just months before he died
Marine Private Harmon Adams, Jr., who was interviewed for this show just months before he died

 

Troops aboard the Walker
Troops aboard the Walker

 

troopship
The General Nelson M. Walker in her final days

Later in the show: Women journalists who covered the Vietnam War are often not given their proper due when the history of the conflict is told. Joyce Hoffman (Old Dominion University) is the author of On Their Own: Women Journalists in Vietnam. She shares stories of women who won esteemed prizes for their reporting and several who broke new ground covering the war. Plus: In recent years, more and more military mothers have been deployed throughout the world. Mona Ternus says there’s a connection between the length of time military mothers are deployed and an increase in drug use, attempted suicide, and other risk factors for their children.

  • Washington Post

    Read the story behind our audio documentary Messages From a Forgotten Troopship in The Washington Post.

  • vietnam graffiti feature

    During the 1960s, thousands of soldiers traveled to and from Vietnam on massive troopships. During those voyages, the soldiers left behind canvas bunkbeds scrawled with graffiti. Allison Quantz reports on one Virginia man who is preserving the Vietnam graffiti and the stories that go along with it.

Discussion

11 Comments on “Messages From a Forgotten Troopship”

  1. Jim Hardy

    TheTroops Playing cards are From The 528th Petro support co. I am the one on the right looking at camera

  2. em8x

    Dear Jim,

    Great to hear from you. Hope you enjoy our show on the General Nelson M. Walker. Also hope you won the hand that day.
    And from all of us at With Good Reason, thank you for your service.

    Elliot Majerczyk

  3. Joshua Levin

    Augie Battaglia was my camp counselor at Camp Martin Johnson, in Irons, Michigan, in 1966. I have shown his name to friends many times, on my visits to the Vietnam Memorial. Somewhere, I have a photo of my camp mates, and Augie, as we posed together during that wonderful summer – my first summer from home. I have thought of Augie so many times — he was INDEED short, I remember that well! It is sheer coincidence that I saw the article in today’s Washington Post, and the chance to hear his songs (and the wonderful recollections of his fiancee) touches me so deeply. Augie touched me life, too, and now he has touched it again. Josh Levin, Washington, DC

  4. sarah

    I’d love a copy of that photo Joshua! Do you think you could post it here? If not, would you be able to email a copy to me at [email protected]?
    Thank you for sharing your memories of Augie!
    Sarah

  5. Joshua Levin

    thanks for your response to my post. I suspect that the photo is in storage somewhere and not easily retrievable, but I will certainly look for it among my belongings. It may be in boxes in my parents’ home, as well …. so, not an easy locate. However, I will certainly look. Thanks again. Josh Levin

  6. Patricia Leibik

    I always remembered sugie when our kids attended Camp Martin John son in the 60s and how sad we were to learn of his death. Our kids loved him.
    Patsy and Lee Leibik

  7. Bette Boyers

    Proud of my cousin Jim Hardy and all the other men and women who fought and continue to fight for our freedoms.
    I enjoyed listening to all of the stories, and memories of the Nelson M. Walker.
    My other cousin Steve Wassnich gave the final sacrifice to this war and his country. R.I.P. Steve.
    May we never forget.
    Bette J. Boyers

  8. Dawn

    Arlen Selu was my landlady, what an amazing, exceptionally unique soul. She recently passed away; afterwards I found this recording of her. She never mentioned this remarkable story to me, but hearing it told in her voice really brings to life the heartache and reality of it all – I can’t even imagine. She was a woman full of love and joy, and knowing more of her history with Augie opens up a side to her that makes me treasure the time I had with her even more. It’s good to hear her voice and laughter, the way she can tell a story. I know she and Augie are both dearly missed. What an incredible and poignant narrative. Thanks for sharing this so I can share in their history.

    1. allisonquantz

      Hi Dawn,

      Arlen truly was an exceptional person. And what a storyteller! We’re so lucky that she took the time to share her story with us and I’m very glad that you were able to hear it. We hope this piece continues to bring her warm and wise personality to both loved ones and strangers for years to come. And thank you for sharing your own memories of her!

      – Allison

  9. John Storrison

    I was with Augie in the service B Troop 1st Armored Cavalry,he was a great guy ,ton of friends and very popular with guys.We sang many songs with him,and i remember him and his guitar very well. There was eight of us in our room at Fort Hood, Texas four of the guys were K.I.A. including Augie.I wish I had seen this sooner as I have a nice photo of myself and Augie, I would have loved to share it with Arlen.Great to hear his voice again, I always remember the good times.

    1. John Storrison

      Pertaining to the comment above,the three other soldiers who were in our room and were K.I.A,were Bob Nitz from Michigan and two New Jersey boys Mike Pavlocak and Freddie Schmalz,may they all restwell.

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