Life Lessons and Insights from Two Who Lived Through the Vietnam War

Amanda Bennett


Stereotypes are dangerously narrow ideas of people based on a lack of sufficient information.
Luckily, the students in Advanced Placement language classes were able to abolish several stereotypes after listening to several in-class lectures from Chamblee’s JROTC teacher, Chuck Sitero, and one of Chamblee’s custodians, Mr. Fey
My fellow AP Language students and I are currently reading a book, Flawed Giant by Robert Dallek, which is a biography of President Lyndon B. Johnson. The book describes his professional and private life from 1961-1973, and the challenges he faced when he tried, unsuccessfully, to balance his Great Society social reforms and the Vietnam War.
In order to allow the students to gain a better and more personal understanding of the effect of the Vietnam War, our teacher invited Sitero – a West Point graduate – and Fey – a soldier in the South Vietnamese army and prisoner of war – to come and speak.
In short, Sitero and Fey’s lectures changed the way students viewed not only Flawed Giant but also how they viewed American and Vietnamese life during the 1960s and 1970s because they were able to hear about life from a perspective that is generally not presented (or not presented well) in the American media.
Sitero’s biography and educational record are impressive. After graduating from West Point in 1968, Sitero went on to get his master’s degree from Columbia University and ended up teaching several classes at West Point.
Sitero regaled the students with stories of the strangeness and difficulties of being in the military while living in a decidedly anti-war, anti-military America (while at Columbia University, Sitero, who was living on a military base at the time, took great pains to hide his military background by never speaking of his time at West Point and even dressing like his hippie colleagues). He also told of the disrespectful and downright cruel treatment of Vietnam veterans upon their return to the United States (they were often jeered at in the airport and sometimes even had food and other items thrown at them).
He brought in data about the number of people killed or MIA in the Vietnam War (58,216), as well as the brutal and gruesome tactics both the American and North Vietnamese forces used against each other in combat.
Sitero, a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction (he has read Flawed Giant as well), deftly performed the Band of Brothers speech (also known as the St. Crispin’s Day Speech) from Shakespeare’s Henry V. Sitero’s complete understanding of the baffling bond between “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” gave the speech relevance and increased its impact tenfold.
At the end of his lecture, Sitero made an eerie and accurate parallel between the Vietnamese and the Afghans regarding the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan.
He pointed out the extremely stubborn nature of both cultures and the futility of attempting to set up a western democracy because they simply did not want it.
The second speaker, Mr. Fey, had a resume that was just as impressive as Sitero’s. Fey was a soldier in the South Vietnamese army, which formed a resistance against North Vietnam’s Viet Cong and was allied with the United States. After the war, Fey was kept as a POW (prisoner of war) for several years until he and his family were able to immigrate to the United States. Fey has raised four children, two of whom became doctors.
Fey, with the help of English teacher Leisa Scoggins, prepared a carefully planned presentation that included a map of Vietnam with important markings like the 17th Parallel and distributed handouts about the Vietnam War that he wrote himself.
Fey explained to the AP Language students the history of Vietnam from its colonization by the French in 1885 until its liberation from France in 1954 after the First Indochina War. He also explained that after 1954, Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam along the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (also known as the 17th Parallel). Ho Chi Minh preceded to lead Communist North Vietnam, and Ngo Dinh Diem led capitalist South Vietnam.
Fey’s explanation of why the United States was forced to enter the Vietnam War (the US’s policy of containment would not allow Communist North Vietnam to take over South Vietnam and spread Communism to the rest of Southeast Asia) gave another perspective that was refreshingly different from the constantly conflicted thoughts of President Lyndon B. Johnson in Flawed Giant.
The Vietnam War, as Fey explained to the students, was the longest war in American history (it lasted 1950-1975). That was mainly because of the guerilla style of fighting that the North Vietnamese favored and that American forces could not combat effectively. The war ended with the 1973 Paris Peace Accords. However, North Vietnamese troops violated the accords in 1975 and invaded the South, capturing Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).
Fey’s concluding emphasis on education was possibly the most poignant and impactful part of his lecture and was just as memorable as Sitero’s eloquent Band of Brothers performance. As a man who has served his country both during and after the war and has raised four children, Mr. Fey had more than enough ethos to describe the benefits of receiving higher education.
Sitero and Fey- as well as their fascinating lectures- are truly two sides of the same coin. Though separated by an ocean, their experiences during and after the Vietnam War accurately and uniquely chronicle both American and Vietnamese life from a perspective that is not often heard.