XENIA — “If you’ve ever been around active combat, you don’t want to go (there again),” according to long-time Xenia resident Eric Winston.
But he did go back to where he saw active combat. Last summer, fifty years after he came home from Viet Nam, he and an Army friend, Sanky Fields, from North Carolina, returned to a united, modern Vietnam.
Between those years, Winston earned his PhD. in Education, and was at Wilberforce University for 25 years, several as a Vice President. He consulted at Central State University, and among other activities, served as a member of Xenia City Council for 14 years, twice as president of Council, and was president of the Xenia Rotary club.
Dr. Winston, a native of Savannah, Georgia, graduated from Morehouse College, was working at the Brooklyn Public Library when his letter came from the President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, sending him the famous “greetings.”
After his basic training, he went to advanced training in the 221st Signal Company, a self-contained pictorial unit that documented in the war in Vietnam.
When his ship landed in Quan (Yhon) (Uhon), he received his welcome to Vietnam.
“There were dead bodies floating near the ship. The US Coast Guard had dropped depth charges (because Viet Cong were) under water trying to place bombs on our ship. I remember saying to myself, ‘I’m in a war zone.”
His group set up shop and edited raw film. But Winston was reminded often that this wasn’t Hollywood.
Vivid still after 50 years was the February 1968 TET Offensive.
“I remember waking up to Air raid sirens, and the sky was blood red from the helicopter gunships firing tracers…it was a scary, scary moment, I thought I might have to engage in combat.”
Winston returned just after Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 6, 1968. The violence on the home front saddened him, too. But he returned to civilian life, where he became active in his community, serving on Xenia City Council, as a Vice President of Wilberforce University, and many volunteer groups. He was president of the Xenia Rotary Club, Chairman of the Xenia Area Chamber of Commerce.
Winston and a buddy, Sanky Fields, a Lumbee Indian from North Carolina, decided at an Army reunion they wanted to go back and this was the year.
“I wanted to see how the people had changed,” Winston said, since many worked for the US during the day and the Viet Cong at night. He wanted to see what that change was.
The first difference was his plane landing in a modern metropolis. The former Saigon was now Ho Chi Min City. He kept looking for signs of the war. He looked for signs of his former post in Long Binh, and found none.
“It was kind of eerie. But I found the people to be very genuine. One of the things we talked about in the coffee shop was how they seemed like ordinary people. We saw those same kinds of people in my travels all over the world.”
What they did see was the Viet Nam war memorial—all about the war of the aggression.
“That was the only sign of politics I saw.”
They had all kinds of articles from all over the world over demonstrating support for the North Vietnamese. They had American planes, helicopters, bombs, and articles about how these were used against the people.
While they made a special effort to find out where they had served, where there were once 60,000 GIs, there was now a huge research park.
There were no references to American soldiers ever having been on that site.
The visit, he said, “put closure,” on a part of his early life and proved what he had long believed.
“People don’t want war. They don’t want conflict.”