The vision for The National Vietnam War Museum is to create an atmosphere of learning that will engage people of all ages, nationalities, and political points of view. Eight broad themes, relating to the era, will be interwoven throughout the museum and its exhibits, to engage and involve the visitor.
The Cold War
The Nation & Culture of Vietnam
Vietnam War Chronology
An Evolution in Ground, Sea & Air Warfare
The Home Front
Technology and the War
War's End & Aftermath
All of these themes, except Fort Wolters, are directly related to the reasons for the war, the conduct of the war, or the end result of the war. Fort Wolters is chosen as a theme because of the museum's location and the fact that virtually all the helicopter pilots who served in Vietnam began their training at this North Texas base.
This theme will explore the reasons for U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War from a global perspective. Following World War II, the U.S. found itself facing off against its former ally, the Soviet Union, in Europe. This provoked an arms and technology race between the two superpowers.
In order to understand the Vietnam Era, it is necessary to understand Vietnam and its people. Early Vietnamese history is lost in folklore and legend, but the region was ruled by a series of local kings until a period of more or less continuous Chinese occupation in the first millennium A.D. This left the Vietnamese with a lasting distaste for foreign occupation.
Beginning with American involvement during World War II, with OSS assistance to the Vietnamese resistance fighters, to the evacuation of Saigon on April 30, 1975, the role of the U.S. in Vietnam will be chronicled throughout the museum.
The introduction of advisers, the first helicopter companies, and the Gulf of Tonkin incident set the stage for the introduction of major ground combat units, both Army and Marines, in Vietnam. The on again, off again, bombing campaigns against the North, the TET Offensive, the Paris peace talks, the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces, and the eventual fall of South Vietnam will be examined in depth.
There is perhaps no more memorable symbol of the Vietnam War than the helicopter, but many other new tactics and weapons systems were also developed.
America in the 1960s and early 1970s was a country in transition. We had gone from the heady exuberance of the post-World War II economic boom, to the daily specter of the Cold War with its constant threat of nuclear annihilation.
While the helicopter was first used at the end of World War II, and saw increased utility for medical evacuation and observation during the Korean Conflict, it was not until the Vietnam War that the helicopter, in many varied configurations, became such an integral part of military tactics and operations.
above: "Flightline: The Army Helicopter Pilots of Vietnam"
- Introduction by Harrison Ford
The legacy of the Vietnam War is multi-faceted. In the current world situation we hear some referring to the war in Iraq as a Vietnam-like quagmire. But is this an accurate comparison?
The loss of over 58,000 Americans and the rejection of those who returned had an effect on our national psyche. Only recently have those returning veterans been accorded a modicum of respect. But the vast majority still went on to lead productive lives and make a contribution to society. Vietnam veterans serve in Congress, head corporations, are doctors, lawyers, and are prominent in the entertainment field.
The Fort Wolters theme will set a somewhat different tone than that of the rest of the museum. It will have its own gallery, rather than being woven through the exhibits.
Fort Wolters is significant for two reasons. First, the military post was located less than a mile from the museum site, and has a fifty year history with the surrounding communities. Second, and most relevant, it was the initial training base for virtually every helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam.