HATTIESBURG – Professor and author Dr. Andrew Wiest of Hattiesburg considers it his duty to make the Vietnam war history for today’s and tomorrow’s students.
Wiest, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Southern Mississippi, spoke about the “Legacy of Vietnam” during the Pearl River Community College Veterans Day program on Nov. 8 at the Forrest County Center.
The author of “The Boys of ‘67: Charlie Company’s War in Vietnam,” Wiest studied World War I when he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from USM but that topic wasn’t his first choice.
“When I went to college, people didn’t teach about Vietnam,” he said.
As a student, Wiest traveled to the battlefields of Europe as part of study-abroad programs. He developed a life-long devotion to the memory of veterans when he and his classmates were the only people visiting an American cemetery in France.
“That was a very formative experience in my life,” he said. “It’s pretty emotional for students to stand in those places. It can be overwhelming. I made it my business that day to make sure our veterans are not forgotten.
“If each of us does our part to cherish the memories of our veterans, maybe the next time I go to a cemetery I won’t be the only one there.”
Wiest went on to receive his doctorate from the University of Illinois in 1990 and returned to Hattiesburg. He founded the Center for the Study of War and Society at USM in 1992 and continues to serve as its director as well as leading students and veterans on study-abroad trips to both Europe and Vietnam.
“We take veterans with us, usually two or three,” he said. “Their job is to pick out a place they want to see again and we go with them. It’s usually a battlefield and they usually want to say good-bye to a buddy who didn’t make it home. It’s a very emotional thing.
“Vietnam is not history yet. It’s my job to make it history. Vietnam vets got too bad a wrap about what happened there and after.”
The typical veteran spent a year in Vietnam before being dropped back into a society that was becoming increasingly vocal against the war, he said.
“That was a brutal war,” Wiest said. “That one year of war is critical to their lives. It defines who they are. Veterans rarely talk about themselves. It’s always about the bravery of others.”
Wiest encouraged the audience to talk to family and friends who are veterans and to preserve their stories.
The Forrest County Center’s annual Veterans Day observance was dedicated to Army 1st Lieutenant Donald Glenn O’Quinn, a PRCC graduate who died in a military helicopter crash in 1988 at Fort Hood, Texas.
The program included a devotion written by Dr. Benny Hornsby, PRCC social sciences instructor, who retired from the U.S. Navy as a captain. Much of his 36-year career in the Navy was as a chaplain.
Those attending the program were given the opportunity to speak about the veterans in their lives. Student Courtney McKean of Hattiesburg spoke of the anger felt as a child when her father, John McKean, was away from home in the Army. He will soon be deployed to Afghanistan, she said.
“Anything like this, I always get real emotional,” she said. “I can’t imagine what the families go through who lose a soldier. That’s my biggest fear – that my daddy won’t come back.”
Veterans and family members of veterans are recognized on Thursday, Nov. 8, during the Forrest County Center's Veterans Day program. At right is Donna O'Quinn, PRCC assistant director of financial aid. The Veterans Day program was dedicated to her twin brother, Donald Glenn O'Quinn, a PRCC graduate who died in an Army helicopter crash in 1988.
PRCC Public Relations photo