History lands at Parker
If you go
What: "Miss Saigon," the school edition of the 1990s Broadway musical about a love affair between a Marine and a young Vietnamese woman in the days before the U.S. withdrawal from the country in 1975.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tonight's performance is sold out.
Where: Parker High School auditorium, 3125 Mineral Point Ave., Janesville.
Tickets: $10 for students and seniors; $15. Call 608-743-5591 for more information.
JANESVILLE Today's high school students were born decades after the Vietnam War ended, but some at Parker High School got a chance to reach back through all those years Thursday.
History—in the form of a Vietnam-era helicopter and two Vietnam veterans—landed on the school's football field as students watched.
The pilot and passenger got out and started talking.
Peter Bales of Janesville was the pilot of the OH-6 Cayuse scout helicopter. He flew the same model in Vietnam in the early 1970s, as well as the larger UH-1 Iroquois "Huey" helicopter.
A social studies class and the cast of Parker's production of "Miss Saigon" were the audience. They applauded several times during the visit.
Bales flew in with Jarrett Goodman of Milton, who spent weeks at a time fighting in the jungles with the 101st Airborne Division, losing a leg in the process.
Goodman said pilots like Bales dropped him into the jungle and came to pick him up.
Bales noted the protests in the 1960s and '70s by Americans who opposed the war.
"The public blamed the soldiers coming back. It was not like the soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, where the people are actually glad to see them," Bales said.
"It was pretty crappy to be a soldier," he added.
Bales and Goodman seemed at peace with the misery and death they witnessed. Bales has visited Vietnam with his wife and friends, and he flies aid missions for missionaries in Southeast Asian countries.
Student actors asked about the Viet Cong, whom some of them portray on stage. The V.C., as they were known to soldiers, were an irregular militia who fought on the side of North Vietnam.
"The V.C. were just village people by day and militia soldiers by night, not too well trained, and often fell into our booby traps," Bales said.
Bales said his peacetime visit included a stop at a Viet Cong tunnel complex that has become a museum. It was underneath an American air base.
They had always wondered how the V.C. were able to sabotage aircraft, Bales said. No one suspected they were coming up from under the base.
Students wanted to know about Vietnamese women, who feature prominently in the musical. The veterans
didn't know a lot.
"There was a contingent that followed the troops, and you can imagine what that was all about, but I didn't have much contact with them," Bales said.
Students wanted to know about the Bui Doi, the children of U.S. servicemen and Vietnamese women.
"They were treated pretty poorly," Goodman said.
"By their own people," Bales added, saying they often lived on the streets, unwanted.
Bales knew a soldier who fell in love with a local girl and wanted to take her home as his bride.
Military authorities did everything they could to discourage that, often transferring the men elsewhere. But quite a number of them succeeded in bringing home Vietnamese brides, Bales said.
Asked about his attitude toward his former enemies, Goodman said he sees Vietnamese people every year. They are fellow deer hunters in the north woods.
"I have no problem with the Vietnamese people at all," Goodman said. "They were thrown into it just like we were."
Most Vietnam vets don't hang onto their animosity for their former enemies, Bales said.
"It's nice to see the perspective from the other side, because a lot of this musical is from the point of view of the Vietnamese," said student actor Alison Wagener. "I already knew it was tragic, for both sides."
A student asked about the men's' motivation during the war. Their answer was similar to many who fought the wars of the 21st century
"Each other," Goodman said. "We were fighting for each other, just making sure we all stayed alive."
A girl asked the men one message they would like conveyed about the war.
Goodman said he doesn't want the men who died to be forgotten. He said his own unit lost 152 people.
Goodman visits Veterans Administration hospitals and sees veterans who are beaten down, mentally and physically.
"That's what I think about," he said.