Buies Creek, N.C.-In his short memoir titled "Chapter One," Phillip Melvin, adjunct professor and former dean of Student Life at Campbell University, has collected stories and provided insights into one of the century's most controversial wars, Vietnam. Melvin spoke to Campbell students at a Luncheon Learn on Wednesday, Feb. 18, sponsored by the university's department of Government, History and Justice.
"In addition to telling a few tall tales, my purpose for writing this mini-memoir is to address the astonishing ease and naivetÃ© with which the United States entered the Vietnam conflict." Melvin began. "There were no great debates in Congress or in the news media. There were no bands playing as the troops marched off to war, just a CBS television exposÃ© on what a wonderful time a handful of American troops was having in the bars and dance halls of Saigon."
But by the 1960s U.S. involvement in the war had escalated and combat units were deployed to fight an insurgency adept at a new kind of combat, guerilla warfare. The height of the conflict occurred in 1968 with the Tet Offensive, a huge military campaign conducted by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese army against South Vietnam, the U.S. and its allies. Although the Tet Offensive was a disaster for Vietcong forces, it had a profound effect on the American public which had been led to believe that the Communists forces were incapable of launching such a massive strike. A peace treaty was signed by all parties in 1973, but the fighting continued until 1975 when the North Vietnamese captured Saigon and North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year. Over 58,000 U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians were killed in the conflict.
"Our actions were an honest effort to stop Communism from sweeping through Southeast Asia and beyond," Melvin said. "By preventing the collapse of a friendly government, we sought to stem the tide of Communism worldwide. How strange that it should have ended the way it did."
Phillip Melvin retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel and holds a master's degree in Asian Studies. He was a detachment commander in Japan, and served as Dean of Student Life at Campbell University from 1987- 2000. Melvin is currently an adjunct professor of history at Campbell.