Understanding the Vietnam War

Today I finished watching The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The documentary that aired on PBS was a comprehensive look at the war that changed the U.S. while impacting the Asian Continent for decades.

Old prints from Larry Larson's tour of duty in Vietnam.

Old prints from Larry Larson's tour of duty in Vietnam.

I grew up during the time many Vietnam veterans were adjusting to life back in the states. I Remember listening to stories of family friends that completed a tour of duty in Vietnam, and I often asked my dad about his experiences during that time.

Like many adult males during the late 60’s and early 70’s my dad had a choice to make. He decided to volunteer for the National Guard in the hopes he wouldn’t have to serve overseas. The gamble paid off as he served active duty in Iowa for six years from 1965 to 1971 during a turbulent time. I have to admit that I was embarrassed to tell people that he didn’t serve in Vietnam. Until I watched the documentary.

My father holding my sister at our home in Forest City in 1970.

My father holding my sister at our home in Forest City in 1970.

That is when I realized how polarized the climate was in the U.S. and how insane the prosecution of the war had become for the generals and political figures leading it. Hearing the experiences of Hal Kushner, John Musgrave, Matt Harrison, Tom Vallely, Sam Wilson and others made me realize that the fog of war that consumed our troops fighting an unseen enemy in dense jungles was only matched by the fog of culture clashes that tore at the seems of this great country.

Since that time I have also realized how important the National Guard is. Especially after understanding the role they had in Afganistan and Iraq.

Traveling to Vietnam in 2013 has also had a lasting impact on me. I stood on the heliport of the presidential palace where the last Americans were evacuated from the country. I also stayed in the Hotel Majestic, in Ho Chi Minh City, where John F. Kennedy had dinner as a U.S. Senator in the 50s. I even took a boat trip down the Saigon River seeing miles of dense jungle line the river bank. The entire time I was in Vietnam I tried to imagine what it was like during the war. I also grappled with the fact that Vietnam is now a prospering country with an economy that offers luxury commercial brands like Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Mercedes-Benz. It is a far cry from my earlier notions of a drab depressed communist country.

Now as the veterans of Vietnam become grandparents and move towards retirement they have finally been afforded the respect they deserve from serving in a brutal war. A war that brought turmoil to both countries and left many lives shattered. I only wish that my father, David Murphy, was alive (he died in a tragic motorcycle accident) to ask him more questions about his experiences during that time. I also wish that Larry Larson, my father-in-law, was alive so I could ask him about his experiences of serving in Vietnam. Both were threads of the fabric that made the Vietnam era.

Meaning can be found by listening to the stories of the people who lived through it. That is why I will always take time to listen to the people that lived during that era. 

Source: https://www.jmurphpix.com/

Caring half a world away

By Joseph L. Murphy

It started with 16 farmers and soybean association staff members traveling to Asia on an annual trade mission to thank industry partners for their continued patronage of U.S. soybeans. But, for the participants of the trip, I believe it turned out to be much more.

The American group, representing farmers who grow soybeans in Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and North Dakota, not only showed their appreciation for the business, they built friendships and a deeper understanding of their customers’ needs.



That was the business side of the trip. But I think the trip also etched cultures, traditions and personalities into the minds of the participants; creating memories and relationships that won’t soon be forgotten. I know I gained a deeper appreciation for the U.S. and Filipino servicemen who fought, island by island, to liberate the Philippines during World War II. That bond now, 68 years old, is still held in high regard when talking to the people of the Philippines.


I also gained an appreciation for the help that we can offer. High-quality soybeans grown in the Midwest are providing protein to a growing world and, last week, farmers also provided relief to victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

Was it worth 10 days away from family, businesses and farming operations? In a time of high-tech gadgets that can bring people half way around the world into the palm of your hand the question could be asked why wouldn’t you just conduct the trade mission via Skype, Facetime or another service?


For me, it boiled down to the opportunity of learning that, although oceans separate us, we all have similar goals. Whether it was the countless commuters invading the streets in Manila every day or the throngs of people riding their scooters in Vietnam, we all have goals to provide for our loved ones and care for those less fortunate.

I know I will always get teary eyed when I think of the little girl, about the age of my daughter, that I passed one night sleeping in a doorway in Ho Chi Minh City. But I also know that it will serve as a reminder that there are people out there in need and that I should continue to do everything that I can to help.


It also helps me to know that this trip (and my job for that matter) started with the power of a single piece of grain grown in the Midwest by caring people. Soybeans and other commodities continue to unite people across the globe in a positive way and this trade mission was proof positive of that on many levels.

But, I must admit that while having face-to-face meetings is vital for our trade partners in places such as the Philippines and Vietnam, technology still has its place! As I was a world away, meeting these wonderful people, I was still able to keep in touch with the ones I love in Iowa.

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news