We're going to tell you a little known story about a South Dakota native who challenged a president to end a war.
You may think this is a story about George McGovern and Vietnam.
We are talking about Vietnam, but the man we're talking about is someone else.
Someone who tried to take a stand...someone who with unnerving accuracy...predicted Vietnam would become a quagmire for the United States.
Vietnam wasn't a typical war.
There was no battlefield. The fighting happened in jungles and marshes; dark places where enemies could hide.
"I really went over with the idea..with some patriotic zeal...that I was going to make a difference in our military war effort." Sioux Falls native Brian Wallin was a combat medic in Vietnam.
He says it was the kind of place where you made your buddies promise you they would kill you if you were wounded in battle. "We made suicide pacts with each other...because unless you were a high ranking officer or pilot..you had some political clout...or influence..as a combat soldier we knew we were going to be tortured and killed."
Wallin is proud of his service despite the emotional toll it continues to take today.
If things had gone differently, Wallin and more than 2.5 million other Americans wouldn't have gone to war.
This is a story about how a South Dakota native stood up to one of the most powerful presidents in history and told him he was making a mistake.
"For the White House and the president, they kind of looked around and may well have been thinking who is this guy?" Larry Jacobs is a political historian at the University of Minnesota. "This was not a guy who kinda came at Viet nam from a perspective of pacificism by any means. He had a well earned distrust of the Soviet Union."
In February of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson received a confidential memo, outlining in great detail why Johnson should not escalate the war in Vietnam....urging him to find some type of diplomatic solution.
That memo was written for Johnson's eyes only...by his vice-president....Wallace, South Dakota native...Hubert Humphrey. "For Hubert Humphrey to send a letter to the president of the United States challenging one of the central planks of his foreign policy which is expanding troops in Vietnam was an extraordinary step."
The memo was blunt and made 11 points. Among them: the American people wouldn't tolerate a long term war against a nation that was not waging war against the U-S.
As a result, the American people would lose confidence in it's government.
With that, the American people would lose confidence in President Johnson.
This memo came at a time when johnson was making the decision: should he sent more troops to Vietnam....or find a way out? "1965 was the pivot point where we now know from confidential documents that Johnson was moving America from the more defensive posture and more limited posture that John Kennedy put us in with only 10,000 troops to a trajectory that would lead to over half-a-million troops."
Johnson ignored Humphrey's warning and in April of 1965 issued executive order 11216, which designated Vietnam as an official combat zone for U-S armed forces.
"Once he put his foot down on Humphrey's throat he kept it there." That executive order sent Sioux Falls native Bob Litz...and hundreds of thousands of others...to Vietnam. "When I was 15 or 16...I'm up from the old north end...I recall four of my very good friends having older brothers that died in that war. That was my first impression of that war."
And the impressions of the war were being made on the entire nation.
Every night on TV, Americans saw images of U-S troops suffering and dying in Vietnam.
"Once you spill a U-S soldiers blood, then you have a vested interested." Brian Wallin is proud of his combat experience.
An experience he still lives with today: Wallin deals with post traumatic stress disorder....horrifying dreams still plague him 40 years later. "Most times, however, it's not about the war. it's some violent oriented dream. either I am committing an act of violence or someone is committing the act of violence against me. And you can't resolve the issue."
Humphrey held his tongue in public and was ignored in private at the White House . He watched his premonitions came true:
America became increasingly frustrated by the war.
Americans lost confidence in their government...and a little more than three years after Humphrey wrote his memo to Lyndon Johnson...in March of 1968...Johnson threw in the towel. "I shall not seek....and I will not accept...the nomination of my party for another term as your president."
"Humphrey was an extraordinary person and politician. He was extraordinarily smart. In the case of Vietnam he saw before many the difficulties and disasters that would befall America."
Following Johnson's announcement, much of the nation rallied behind Democrat Robert Kennedy, who promised to end Vietnam.
Those dreams ended in June. "Senator Robert Francis Kennedy died at 1:44 AM today...June 6th, 1968."
Leaving Democrats to rally behind Hubert Humphrey; despite his opposition to Vietnam he didn't campaign heavily on it because of his role in the Johnson administration. Though he did hint at a change when he accepted his party's presidential nomination in August of '68. "There is always the temptation...always the temptation...to leave the scene of battle in anger and despair...but those who know the true meaning of democracy...accept the decision of today but never relinquish their right to change it tomorrow."
In the fall, America opted for Republican Richard Nixon. He said he would end Vietnam. It continued for another 7 years, until 1975, when Saigon fell. When Brian Wallin saw the video of American helicopters leaving Saigon...he cried. "That was kind of the final signal that we had lost."
And this memo, from South Dakota native Hubert Humphrey...10 years before the fall of Saigon...pleading with Lyndon Johnson to end Vietnam...became a tragic footnote to the history of this war.
After being defeated for president in 1968, Humphrey served the state of Minnesota as a United States Senator. In that role, he pressed the Nixon administration to change its Vietnam policies. That pressure helped lead to the U-S eventually removing combat forces from the country.
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