Oral History of Frank Leonard
Once the French were defeated in Vietnam by the communist general Vo Nguyen Giap by May of 1954, trouble began. The French soon removed their troops from Vietnam, which caused a buffer zone separating the North and the South. The communist leaders set up in North Vietnam while the South was controlled by Ngo Dinh Diem. Eventually in 1955 and to 1960, the North Vietnamese tried to take over the South with the help of Southern Vietcong. In 1963, the self-proclaimed president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, was overthrown and executed with the help of the United States. Soon after, the North looked to conquer the whole country, this caused the United States to become worried about Ho chi Minh and the Vietcong. By 1960, the United States was sending in advisors which led to sending in troops to fight. The United States then became actively involved in the war and the fighting. In the end, the United States left Vietnam in April of 1975 and the war was over.
My Uncle Frank was born in Lynchburg, VA. He completed most schooling; however, dropped out of high school his junior year. His family consisted of him, his mom, two brothers, and three sisters. His parents divorced when he was younger and his mother remarried two more times. He had a bad relationship with his father which led him to become more independent. At 18, he was drafted into the Vietnam War as a Marine. However, he had just gotten married to his wife Louise so he was not happy about being sent.
After being drafted in 1968, he was sent to Saigon, Vietnam. He worked his way up from a private to a sergeant. He was in combat and went on a couple of missions throughout his stay, which mostly took place in tunnels. Two of the times he went on raids he was shot. Because of this, he received two purple hearts. According to him, the weather was miserable in Vietnam. It was very hot and rainy, which was not the best fighting weather.
The Vietnam War was a difficult war and when my uncle first came home, he wouldn’t talk about it. It took him fifteen years to open up about the war to my dad. There was so much death around him and he knew he had killed some men, which left him feeling angry. However, he knew he could not let his emotions get the best of him since he was in the middle of a war. Something else that harmed him emotionally was seeing his friends die, which he remembers most. The first two friends he made in Vietnam were killed a couple of days later. As a result, he made very few friends after that. My uncle saw the war as a job he needed to get done so he did the best he could. My uncle had a difficult relationship with his father; therefore, he became independent. Being independent helped him fight the war because he knew he had to take care of himself. Once he was home, he did not let the war get in his way. The war was a struggle for him, but he does not dwell on the past and what he saw in Vietnam. He moved on with his life, even though the war caused much pain.
My uncle saw the war as a job and he knew if he didn't kill, he would be killed. It was hard for him to understand this even after training. It was a choice he had to make and even though it was hard for him to see death everyday, he knew it was part of fighting the war. He didn’t block it out; it was just something he lived with. He was a strong man since it did not affect him too much in the long run. Many soldiers that fought in the Vietnam War had breakdowns, but my uncle didn’t. The war made him stronger and I do believe the war helped him fight the cancer that he went through.
In 1970, when my uncle returned home for war, he had another child with his wife, making that his third son. He went back to work at Burley’s market and eventually took in my dad to raise him. During that time, they became closer than they had in years. His father died sometime after he returned from Vietnam and he went to the funeral with my dad. He now has three grown sons and three grandchildren. He is still close to my dad and they try to talk as much as possible. Louise and he are also still married. He works for the American Legion now and travels for it occasionally. He had prostate cancer, but he has survived it and is doing okay. After the facing the Vietnam War, I know he can accomplish anything.
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School
Leonard, Frank. Telephone interview. 03 Apr 2008.
“Vietnam War.” The History Place. 1999. 9 May 2008.
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