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.
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.