The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

March/April 2004
ARTS OF WAR
   
 

You Have a Friend at the Archives:
Nam Vet Shaun Shaughnessy

BY MARC LEEPSON

Trying to find information at the National Archivesofficially known as the National Archives and Records Administrationcan be intimidating. Aside from being the home of some of the nation's most priceless documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, the Archives houses all of the federal government records. That includes a massive mountain of material of Vietnam War records, known officially as Record Group 472, The Records of the United States Forces in Southeast Asia, 1950-1975.

There is good news, though, for Vietnam veterans and others who wish to delve into those records. First, they are freely accessible to the public. Second, the man in charge of them, Charles "Shaun'' Shaughnessy, is a Vietnam veteran who is devoted to helping fellow veterans, historians, Vietnamese expatriates, and others sort through and find after-action reports, command histories, daily journals, reports, publications, and other Vietnam War military records.

Shaughnessy began working at the Archives in 1971. A native of Portsmouth, Virginia, he went to the University of Richmond, where he signed up for Army ROTC. "I was either going to make a career out of the Army or I was going to teach,'' Shaughnessy told us in a recent interview from his office at the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland. "I was bound and determined to do ROTC. That's the reason I picked Richmond.''

Shaughnessy was commissioned as a second lieutenant the day he graduated from college with a degree in history and political science in 1967. He went on active duty in October, starting with armored officers' basic school at Fort Knox. After being sent to Fort Lewis, Shaughnessy volunteered to go to Vietnam. Not surprisingly, that request was soon granted, and he arrived in country on September 14, 1968. Shaughnessy became an infantry platoon leader with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, which operated near Saigon, then was transferred to a MACV Advisory Team in the CORDS program in Gia Dinh Province.

"For a little while I worked with the ARVN Airborne Division,'' he said. "Then in late March of '69, a small mobile advisory team in Binh Long Province up near the Cambodian border got wiped out. They needed a replacement team, and they just grabbed mine and sent me up there. I spent the rest of my time in Binh Long Province.'' The area, he said, "was like the foothills of Virginia with its rich, red-clay soil. And there were a lot of rubber trees and rubber plantations. That's where I saw most of my action.''

Shaughnessy's only battle wound does not appear on any Purple Heart citation. "It wasn't a bullet wound,'' he said. "An RPG round slammed into a tree I was standing beside. I got a lot of splintersnot shrapnel, just splinters. My medic pulled the splinters out of my face and there was no problem.''

Shaughnessy faced some readjustment problems after coming home from Vietnam and getting out of the Army in August of 1968. He tried graduate school at his alma mater, at George Washington University, and at the University of Maryland. "I never got my master's degree,'' he said. "I would get almost there, and I would have a fight with a teacherthe usual PTSD crap. I would just blow up. I'd stop going to class, just walk away from it.''

The former Army lieutenant took a job as a National Park Service park ranger in Washington and in Fredericksburg, Virginia, at the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville Civil War battlefields. "That was one of my favorite jobs,'' he said. "I got to dress up every day in a Civil War costume.'' The job ended in 1971 when the Park Service laid off a group of workers, "mostly Vietnam veterans,'' Shaughnessy noted.

His next job was at the Archives in downtown Washington, where he began working in military records in 1971 and was promoted to an archivist's position in 1976. In 1987, Shaughnessy transferred to the Modern Military Field Branch, where he began working on the Vietnam Records Project. A year later, Shaughnessy became the project's lead archivist. He directed the mammoth job of locating and cataloging hundreds of different record groups and was instrumental in creating and filing Records Group 472, the Vietnam War collection.

Doing that job was a "massive and complex undertaking that involved working closely and productively with Department of Defense agencies and NARA units,'' said Archivist of the United States John Carlin in October when he presented Shaughnessy with an award for his outstanding contribution to the Archives. "It was also carried out in a harsh physical environment that required Shaun to pull shelved records from the platform of unstable 13-foot ladders while coping with the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.''

The Vietnam War records, Shaughnessy's supervisor Henry Mayer said, "are ready for future generations'' in "large part because of his strong professional and personal commitment to the records themselves. Shaun also brought dignity, grace, and good humor to his work on the Vietnam Records Project. He could not have done a better job.''

Shaughnessy says he wants to continue doing that job. He plans on working at the National Archives, he told us, "until I die. I'm doing what I want to do here.''

Note: The Vietnam War records at the National Archives contain material relating to the U.S. Army. To contact an Archives Vietnam War archivist, call 301-837-3510, e-mail inquire@nara.gov or fax 301-837-1752. Vietnam War records for the Air Force are at the Air Force Historical Research Center at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama; phone 334-953-2395. Marine Corps Vietnam War records are held at the Marine Corps Historical Center in the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.; phone 202-433-3439. The Navy Historical Center in Washington contains the Navy's Vietnam War records; phone 202-433-3224.

SON IN ARTISTIC TOUCH

Tom Kindt Hubbard of Columbia City, Indiana, was two years old when his father, U.S. Marine Sgt. Thomas Patrick Kindt, was killed in action in Vietnam on September 21, 1966, in a firefight near Kim Lien, a small coastal village north of Danang. Hubbard, a graphic artist, took a strong interest in the details of his father's Vietnam War experiences several years ago. That led to a trip to The Wall in Washington where he met Ed Henry, a VVA member who for several years has led tours for veterans, family members, and others of American War sites in Vietnam.

Henry helped Hubbard reconstruct his father's tour of duty. Hubbard spent five weeks in Vietnam traveling with his mother and his wife, visiting sites where his father served, taking photographs, and keeping a journal. That resulted in an exhibit, Semper Fidelis: How I Met My Father, which was described in the March/April 2003 issue of The VVA Veteran. The exhibit ran at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art for two months beginning in early December 2003.

Central to Hubbard's exhibit are 21 ceramic vessels that he based loosely on military bunkers and artillery shells. Hubbard grafted words from his father's letters onto the vessels, along with his own journal entries and photographs of Vietnam. Hubbard's photographs, arranged in diptychs, and a family altar to his father also were part of the exhibit.

``My hope is that by sharing my story I can help others who have suffered a similar loss and provide support to the veterans who served in Vietnam,'' Hubbard said.

ROUND EYE BALLAD

Stacey Engels' new play, The Ballad of Round Eyes, had its debut at the Duncan Smith Theatre in Holmdel, N.J., early in February before moving to the American Theatre of Actors' Sergeant Theatre in New York City for ten performances. The play, which is set in Vietnam in December 1967-January 1968, focuses on several American women who served in the war as nurses, journalists, and Red Cross volunteers.

Engels consulted both female and male Vietnam veterans while she was writing the play, which was directed by Krista Smith, an actress and director who founded New York's Visible Theatre. "I consider [the play] a meditation on war, not just the Vietnam War, but the war inside of us,'' Smith said. Future performances of the play are planned at outreach venues for veterans, nurses, and women's organizations. For info, call 212-615-6989, or e-mail Visibletheatre@aol.com

ARTS IN BRIEF

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History announced in January that it will open a $19 million permanent exhibition on American military history. The 18,200-square-foot exhibit, called "The Price of Freedom,'' is scheduled to open on Veterans Day. A Huey helicopter that flew in Vietnam in 1966-67 with the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company will be part of the exhibit. That helicopter, which had been in the Texas Air Command Museum in Fort Worth, lifted off on February 10 and made more than twenty stops before arriving at the museum for a March 19 ceremony.

Acclaimed stage, film, and TV actor Stephen Lang will perform Beyond Glory for the first time in a series of performances at the Women In Military Service Theater in Arlington, Virginia, beginning April 2. Lang adapted his work for the stage from Larry Smith's book of the same title. In his performance, Lang plays seven American soldiers and sailors who were awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Lang is best known for his two acclaimed Broadway performances in which he played Vietnam veterans: as Col. Jessep in Aaron Sorkin's 1989 drama, A Few Good Men, and as a homeless Vietnam veteran in Steve Tesich's Speed of Darkness in 1990. Lang was nominated for a Tony for the latter performance. For info about his WIMSA shows, which run through May 2, call 202-772-1165, or go to www.tributeproductions.org

 

   

Visit The VVA Veteran archives
to locate back issues.

E-mail us at TheVeteran"vva.org


     Home | Membership | Publications | Events | Government Relations | Contact Us
Press Releases | Benefits | Meetings & Special Events | Collectibles | Contributions and Sponsorships | Site Index

Vietnam Veterans of America  
8605 Cameron Street, Suite 400
Silver Spring, Maryland  20910-3710
301-585-4000, Fax 301-585-0519, 1-800-VVA-1316  

Copyright 2005 by the Vietnam Veterans of America. All rights reserved.