West Chester will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. The event will have veteran speakers highlighting their memories and experiences during the war, along with alumni students who attended WCU at the time. The event will happen from 2–5 p.m. on Mar. 29 in the University’s Philips Autograph Library in Philips Memorial Hall (second floor), 700 South High St., West Chester. The event is free and open to the community.
On display will be the website created for the event, West Chester University Vietnam War Digital History Oral History, which came together out of the combined effort of history professors Robert Kodosky, Janneken Smucker and Charles Hardy. The professors held a two-semester-long workshop class in which students got hands-on experience in “doing history.” Students conducted interviews with the veterans, alumni and Vietnamese participants. They organized varying projects such as lesson plans for educators, websites, podcasts and historical analyses using the interviews as the primary source and inspirational ground. In addition, students organized the interviews into an oral history archival program to form the West Chester University Vietnam War Digital History Oral History website. The website showcases students’ work, but above all, it demonstrates the immense amount of perspectives and experiences lived by Chester County locals during the Vietnam War. Professor Janneken Smucker mentioned that they interviewed varying perspectives to provide “a greater context to the Vietnam War and fuller perspective on the past.” The approach demonstrates the West Chester history department’s commitment to analyzing and showcasing history through the many perspectives that create a narrative.
How did the project become real?
Professor Robert Kodosky has had a long career working closely with Vietnam veterans. According to Kodosky, some of Kodosky and the WCU history department’s projects are “the largest town hall in the country on Agent Orange, partnered with VVA 436, ten years ago, then another event focused on helicopters in the war, with the American Helicopter Museum.” Robert Kodosky’s enthusiasm for working with veterans, a call to document veterans’ histories from Rep. Houlahan’s office in the summer of 2021, and the combined effort between Professors Kodosky, Smucker and Hardy led to the idea of creating the dynamic and impressive class that commemorates the 50th anniversary of America’s withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973. According to Professor Smucker, “None of us could have executed this project alone. Historians have traditionally worked in isolation in the archives and writing books, but collaboration is much more rewarding! I am not an expert on the Vietnam War, but I was able to learn so much by participating in the course and sharing my knowledge about public and digital history while also providing the perspective of a cultural historian.” The project shows the power of collaboration in the historical field. Through working together, the professors created a project that shows an immense commitment to delivering a fuller narrative of history. In addition, the professors taught students valuable professional skills that students can apply to many different job market arenas.
The History Department welcomes students and staff to attend and hear the perspectives in person and commemorate the important 50-year mark of the United States’ withdrawal from Vietnam in the history of the United States.
Isabela Carvalho is a fourth-year history major. IC975759@wcupa.edu.