In March, KUED aired the first episode of Utah Vietnam War Stories, a powerful documentary tribute to the men and women of Utah who served during the Vietnam conflict. The second gripping segment, built upon dozens of interviews with soldiers, sailors, airmen and medical personnel, Turning Point is a compelling oral history of the pivotal months in Vietnam during and immediately after the Tet Offensive of 1968. Turning Point will debut September 10th at 7:00pm, featuring an interview with West Jordan’s own Stu Shipley.
As a young boy, Shipley had always looked up to a particular uncle, a marine, who acted as a mentor. “He walked into a room and it was like he demanded respect. And I thought, ‘Someday I want to be like that.’” He dropped out of high school and had his mother sign him up for the Marines, knowing full-well that he was headed for Vietnam. “And I was actually excited. I was a baby, you know, 17 – you don't know a whole lot at 17,” Shipley says. But boot camp, “hit hard in me and it suited me well.” He feels that boot camp straightened him out and put him on the right path, even if it did lead straight through the Vietnam Conflict.
Shipley believes that his unit – 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division – was among the first combat battalions to land in Vietnam, in 1965, and he feels honored to have been among the first. “The problem I learned quick-- we all did--that this was not your typical war like you see in the documentaries,” recalls Shipley. “Once you took that ground, you stay there for a while and patrol that area; once you leave, they take it back up again…very depressing.” Nonetheless, the patrols continued. When Shipley’s unit swept poor rural villages, he was shocked at the conditions he saw there. Poverty and poor sanitation were not all the people endured: he recounts an incident in which South Vietnamese interrogators beat and killed two North Vietnamese men who had surrendered, “and there's four or five little kids standing over there, their mother, just standing there watching.” It was a lot of baggage to carry back.
Back at home, Shipley tried to put his traumatizing experiences behind him, but it still wore on him. “To look down the scope of a rifle and take a man's life, to point that gun in that direction, to pull that trigger on someone you don't know,” he explains. “Try living with that.” While he doubts that the guilt will ever go away, Shipley believes one can learn to live with it. “Be it right or wrong, you have to find this peace. And the only way to find it is to look for it and don't give up. It's there.”
The second episode of a projected three-part documentary series, Utah Vietnam War Stories: Turning Point provides a sense of the wide scope of human experience that took place during the Vietnam War. Additional episodes of Utah Vietnam War Stories will debut in early 2013.
Utah Vietnam War Stories is made possible by The Katherine W. Dumke and Ezekiel R. Dumke, Jr. Foundation, The George S. and Delores Doré Eccles Foundation and the contributing members of KUED.
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