Patriotism & Politics

Dr. Basehart in uniform.jpg

Image of Harry Basehart during his service in Vietnam (1970)

Nam Files Episode 2

Episode detailing the influences of education, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), and family legacy on the service of professor Harry Basehart.


Rihana Stevenson [00:00:00] Welcome back to another episode of the Nam Files! Today, I'll be sharing with you all another oral history from the Nabb Research Center. This one is by Harry Basehart, who was a political science professor here at SU from 1971 to 2008. In this episode, Basehart's interview will demonstrate the dynamics of the service, how his background influenced his duty to serve, as well as how his education has shaped his experience. Similar to Donald Whaley, Basehart completed college before his draft and started grad school before his service. However, based on the ROTC, Reserve Officer Training Corps, program while at Kent State. He talks about that experience:

Harry Basehart [00:00:38] As many young men at that time I was in ROTC. So I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1964 in the U.S. Army.

Rihana Stevenson [00:00:51] Curiously enough, Basehart continued to defer his placement into active duty. Basehart was very dedicated to finishing his education before finally joining the Army, having deferred entry for active duty to complete both his master's and start his Ph.D.. According to a 1984 article of the New York Times, the percentage of men attending college increased dramatically between 1966 and 1972, a direct cause of draft exemption for men in college and the GI Bill, allowing debt free attendance. Due to his deferment to complete his graduate and doctoral studies, Basehart entered active duty at 27 years old, an age that was outside the general average. As mentioned in [the] previous episode, the average age was 22, which set Basehart as one of the outliers in the average draft and enlistment age. Regarding education, there is a common belief that the war was mostly fought by a majority of uneducated individuals. However, that was not necessarily the case. Despite the draft forcing a diverse number of men to the military, it is found that nearly 79 percent of soldiers had a high school education or higher. Only 26 percent had college degrees. As a part of the Army Reserves, he was only designated to have a two year commitment. He describes what that was like.

Harry Basehart [00:01:58] I was - I wasn't a regular army, I was reserves. And when I came back from Vietnam in November of 1970, I had like three months or less than three months active duty. So they were just letting us out at that time. I didn't have to go to another base and serve until February of 19...what would it be...February of 71, I came back in November of 1970.

Rihana Stevenson [00:02:31] Basehart also mentions here how he was allowed graduate school deferment and earned two postgraduate degrees during this time...

Harry Basehart [00:02:37] I decided I like studying politics, I think I'll apply to graduate school. And so I accepted Ohio State University and the Army deferred me for graduate study and I thought I'd get a master's degree and then go on active duty. But I decided to start working on a Ph.D. and the Army continued to give me a year by year deferment. And make a long story short, I guess my life was I was a student, undergraduate student and then a graduate student. And when I passed my general exams in 1968 - Fall of 68, I decided I might as well go on active duty.

Rihana Stevenson [00:03:25] As someone who was actively in the ROTC program, he was willing to serve in the military. Here he tells about his family's legacy of service and why he felt compelled to serve in Vietnam.

Harry Basehart [00:03:36] My dad was in World War Two. My oldest brother was in in the Army as a career officer. My other brother was in the Reserves, but eventually ended up with pretty much military CIA type, not CIA but that intelligence type.

Rihana Stevenson [00:03:59] Basehart was greatly influenced by his family tradition of serving in the military. However, he also explains that like many of his generation, he felt a sense of obligation to serve

Harry Basehart [00:04:10] I'm a little bit older than that... I'm not a baby boomer. I'm older than Baby Boomers. I'm not a baby boomer. So I think there was a little generational difference. And, you know, my generation, is if you look at some of the studies, we're sort of known as the people who sort of felt obligation rather heavy and duty rather heavy.

Rihana Stevenson [00:04:31] His sense of duty and why he felt that he had to become a part of the military was similar to Whaley in the context of not wanting to desert the nation. But he also has other profound points.

Harry Basehart [00:04:42] Um, but I was - I was not a... I thought the war was a mistake. I didn't really protest the war and I never thought of going to Canada or anything like that. Yeah, it was just a mistake, wrong time, wrong place, wasn't really sure what we were going to gain from it. On the other hand, I was a commissioned officer and I decided, "OK, I'm going to go on active duty and I may go to Vietnam", but I never gave any thought of doing anything drastic because, I mean, I would have been… I would have been… after thirty, you know, within 30 days you're AWOL. After that, you're a deserter. And I wasn't going to be a deserter. And - and I still you know, I wanted to be an American.

Rihana Stevenson [00:05:43] Basehart’s experience offers insight to the difference between those who were drafted and those who were willingly a part of the military. Despite having negative opinions on the war, and still wanting to serve the country, Basehart acknowledges how his experiences influenced him. After getting married in January of 1969 and entering active duty for the Army Reserves in February of 1969, he began occupational training. Here's how he felt about artillery training and that part of the military.

Harry Basehart [00:06:12] Artillery training is very specialized and it's rather math oriented, which is not one of my strong points. But the Army does - they get you through it because you're firing artillery. Usually your guns are surveyed in. And so you know the exact location of - survey location of your guns. And when you fire there's usually a forward observer who's maybe 10 miles away, maybe 50 miles away, who's calling in artillery. So the forward observer will call in their map coordinates. And you got to - you have to plot them and you have to set the direction of your guns and the elevation of your guns. So you want to come pretty close on that first round so the forward observer can adjust them in the old add 100 drop 5 - 0, that type, that type of thing. So I think the the artillery training was probably good. The preparation for Vietnam, I'm not so sure it was, it was like a one day, you know, Vietnam thing

Rihana Stevenson [00:07:32] Basehart was later asked about his duties as an Artillery Officer, as well as the actions he had to perform. He spoke with a lot of context about his training, mentioning how the people of his specialization didn't even go to Vietnam, but were stationed in Germany instead. This was kind of similar to what Whaley recounted in his interview, with his expectations of becoming an intelligence analyst and expecting to go to Texas but was then stationed in Vietnam.

Harry Basehart [00:07:57] It also may be that after I finish Officer Basic [training], I took a short leave to go back and see my wife in Columbus, and when I came back, all these guys I've been with had orders from Germany. So may had been that I wasn't there that time. I'm not really sure. But I also thought it was interesting that, you know, maybe they needed little higher ranking people to go because at that time it was a year from First Lieutenant to Captain.

Rihana Stevenson [00:08:28] Basehart explains his work with the ARVN, Army of the Republic of Vietnam, and South Vietnamese soldiers. He also details the different positions within his work with artillery. Here he describes some of that work,

Harry Basehart [00:08:41] 6th Battalion, 33rd Artillery. Headquarters was a Dong Ha combat base, which is where I was. So I remember going in and them saying, "OK, we're going to send you forward observer. So you get that experience", which I expected. And they said, "we'll send you out with an ARVN unit, army of the Republic unit, and I said "oh, great, this is great". Not with Americans, with the ARVN. And then all of a sudden a captain left a position was transferred to another unit. And I was the First Lieutenant. I was moved into his position.

Rihana Stevenson [00:09:19] He also brings attention to his interactions, stating how his occupation as an artillery officer allowed for collaboration with the ARVN units, while not necessarily giving him a chance to work with all of the local army. During this time, he was temporarily promoted.

Harry Basehart [00:09:34] And the position was battalion motor officer and what it was: you're you're responsible for maintenance of everything in the battalion. So Captain slop, and I was in there three months, then 6th Battalion, 33rd Artillery, everything was turned over to the ARVN. So that, you know, was all the all the equipment was turned over to the army. And so, of course, the rumors that we all were going to go home, but that wasn't what happened, especially you only had three months in. So I was sent up to the 108th artillery headquarters.

Rihana Stevenson [00:10:16] Following this, he says the artillery support did not give him the opportunity to interact with South Vietnamese soldiers the way other positions did.

Harry Basehart [00:10:22] I remember going into the village, Dong Ha, a couple of times. I didn't have much interaction. And the women from the village, you know, for the officers made their bunks, cleaned in the little room we had and stuff like that. And I very seldom talked to an ARVN soldier, had I been out in the field as a observer, I would have been different and oh, yes, so very little interaction with the Vietnamese or with the ARVN, sorta depends on what kind of job you had.

Rihana Stevenson [00:11:03] Despite not having much to say about these interactions with local Vietnamese communities, Basehart does remark on the friendships he made while overseas.

Harry Basehart [00:11:11] Well, met a lot of friends met a lot of good, good men. I only really stay in close touch with one of them. But that's just the way things go over the years.

Rihana Stevenson [00:11:24] With his promotion to Battalion Motor Officer Basehart was able to be more in charge of those in the artillery unit. This position allowed for him to have interactions with people as a disciplinarian. He began administrative work and was dictating where artillery support would be sent.

Harry Basehart [00:11:40] And that's when I had this official title of Counterbattery intelligence officers of Counterbattery is: You locate your enemies artillery and fire on your enemies artillery. So, it really was responsibility over this fire direction center. If an infantry unit ran into some action, they radioed us for artillery support. We plotted it on a huge wall map and then decided what artillery unit would give them fire support. So I had some overall responsibility, anything went wrong, I was responsible.

Rihana Stevenson [00:12:22] He counts some of the time he spent as a Battery Commander as a high point of his service, detailing more of how he disciplined men in other battalions.

Harry Basehart [00:12:33] As the battery command. I was S1 and battery commander for the headquarters battery - and headquarters battery. Yes, well, you're not out of the firebase. You're at a combat base and tend to have discipline problems. And I think I straightened some of that out and I did it by...almost any interaction I had some sort of punishment for... A battery commander, I've forgotten what...there's something in the Uniform Code of Military Dresses where I can confine men to quarters. I can do this. I can do that. And I did this. And I think I did straighten out some of some of the discipline problems we had during that 30 days.

Rihana Stevenson [00:13:24] He does mention low points during his time in Vietnam, noting a few devastating deaths of people he was close to. As he described these moments, he segues into how returning from the war was for him.

Harry Basehart [00:13:35] I don't have any of the stories of, you know, people coming up and spitting in your face and things like that. And I know some people claim that things are exaggerated. I don't think they are exaggerated at all. I think it may be... One of my friends said a long time, Jimmy, "anything you say about the Vietnam War was true at one time", so I didn't feel any animosity. Again I'm sure that many people did. I came back to Fort Lewis, Washington, where everybody came back, I think in the Army. You were there a couple of days, processed out, wore my uniform. I got on the planes in uniform. I flew to Detroit in my uniform. Went down to Columbus, got off, walked through the airport. Nobody said anything, I mean, there was no "thank you for your service", which incidentally, you don't say to a Vietnam - you probably know this - you don't say Vietnam War vet "thank you for your service", you say "welcome home". And nobody would say welcome home or nothing like that. But yeah, pretty much ignored.

Rihana Stevenson [00:14:48] Despite being stationed in Vietnam, Basehart didn't seem to have any particular outward opposition to the war or his involvement in it. However, Basehart also makes a point to mention Nixon and his presidential promises to explain his role as a reservist in the early 1970s, which were the last few years of the war,

Harry Basehart [00:15:05] Although Nixon didn't have a secret plan to end the war. Nevertheless, in June of 69, May, June in 69, he did announce a plan to start a gradual withdrawal. And I remember the guys at Fort Sill were kidding me. I had my orders and they said, "you're going to be the only one left when you get over there. Nixon's withdrawing troops!"

Rihana Stevenson [00:15:27] He also mentions how he did not demonstrate against the war during his college years or after coming home, yet he was aware and supportive of some people's opposition towards it.

Harry Basehart [00:15:36] No one talked about Vietnam, the Cuban missile crisis was a big deal, Tonkin Gulf incident was in, I believe, August of '64. So, you know that I don't remember talking with students much about it. It was really a back burner issue that I didn't really have an opinion on, on Vietnam. I don't recall that I ever demonstrated against the war, I think I maybe wore a couple of pins and even -and then when I got out, it was, and I went back to Ohio State in 1970. Yeah, stuff had gone pretty radical, you know, pretty radical and...It was - it was even different than and sort of early part of the opposition. Yeah.

Rihana Stevenson [00:16:40] A lot of this perspective came from his educational background for part of the interview, he mentions and details the origin of the war, giving some interesting context and insights.

Harry Basehart [00:16:50] If you view it as sort of the end of colonialism, you know, we - we got started by helping the French, as you know, and in Vietnam and...Then it grew from that, and I think there is something about, you know, no one wants to be the first president to lose a war.

Rihana Stevenson [00:17:23] Basehart became a political science professor at Salisbury State College following his service, a decision largely determined by his experience in the military. His interview mentions how his experience shaped his approach to lectures as well as discussions about the war.

Harry Basehart [00:17:37] Well, had I not served, I'm sure I would never have taught anything about the Vietnam War, which I did rather frequently, and still occasionally give a lecture on the Vietnam War. I still think a lot about it. There are some people who argue that we actually did keep the rest of Southeast Asia from going to communism. I don't really buy that...

Rihana Stevenson [00:18:06] Basehart uses his experiences, later on, to teach at Salisbury and give a direct approach to understanding the nuances of international relations in American politics. From his interview, it's obvious to see his interest in the development of the Vietnam War, despite having experienced things firsthand. It's common to believe that Vietnam veterans would want to distance themselves from the war after getting out. Yet it seems like Basehart was influenced by his service to further educate on its history and impact in American society as a whole. Because of this, he developed the PACE, Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, program here at Salisbury, which has been enriching and introducing students to local government and nonprofit engagements since 1999. Thanks for listening to the second episode of the Nam Files like the last one, you can access the full version of Harry Basehart's interview via the Nabb Research Center's Internet Archive link I'll include down below. My next and final episode will follow the story of Newell Quinton and his experiences as an African-American veteran who also joined the war via ROTC.


Original Oral History

Nam Files Ep 2