Brooklyn College Kingsman, Monday, May 12, 2003

Napoli Gives a Voice to Vietnam Veterans


By SAMUEL STEINBERG Staff Writer

The Brooklyn College Oral History program will create an oral history collection of the relationship between the Borough of Brooklyn and the Vietnam War this summer.

Professor Michael* [sic!] Napoli, assistant professor of United States social and public history, will be heading the research for the program. He will be conducting interviews of residents of Brooklyn who lived through the Vietnam era. The project was started with Gay Culverhouse, a friend of his who had given him "amazing" pictures of the Vietnam War Era. The professor put on an exhibition of these pictures at Columbia University. This later grew into a project to start an Oral History of the borough of Brooklyn, which was funded by a fifty thousand dollar donation.

The money will pay for an undergraduate research assistant, a graduate research assistant and enable the professor to buy some gear to record the interviews. The money will also pay for a "credit bearing" internship and will pay the student.

"Oral history is a very cool thing," said Napoli. "It's an effort to relate a personal story to the larger social picture, to connect biography to society. It's a way of giving people voice who might escape the historical record."

Napoli gave an example of how oral history would work. "Let's just imagine... your father was a veteran; he served in the Marine Corps between 1967 and 1968 in Vietnam. In most ordinary history books your father would escape notice completely; because he was just a grunt humping around Vietnam," said Napoli. "Oral history gives us the opportunity to let him take control of the historical record, to make his voice heard permanently."

"So it's a democratic, with a small 'd', form of history; which I think is very powerful, very potent," said Napoli "It has the opportunity, the potential, to reshape the way we think about history. You think history is about dead books sitting on history faculty's shelf. It's actually in the people that surround you, if you would stop and pay attention."

Napoli said that because Brooklyn is such a microcosm of the New York and the world, Brooklyn is traditionally one of the most heavily recruited locations for the US military.

"You've got the entire range of human experience right here in the borough," said Napoli "the whole story of Vietnam can be written from this perspective."

Napoli is not only looking for soldiers who served in the military in Vietnam. He is looking for any body that was affected by the Vietnam experience.

"It's not just about the veterans," Said Napoli "it's also about the brothers and sisters they left behind. If your father left, your mom had to shoulder the burden of his absence for an entire year ... her story is, it seems to me, is just as important as your dads."

Professor Napoli is looking for anti-war protesters, family of the soldiers, and anybody in the borough of Brooklyn who was in any way affected by the war has a part in the story of the Vietnam era.

Napoli said he is also concerned that the oral history of the borough will be lost if it is not saved at this time. Brooklyn College campus has a history to add to the anti­war movements. Many demonstrations took place over here and much of it has not been recorded.

"Because it's gone if you don't get it. If you go down the Brooklyn Public Library and try to collect this stuff its not there," said Napoli "This is the only way we are going to be able to document this history, is by talking to people."

Research will be done through recorded, non-anonymous interviews. The interviews will be transcribed and made publicly available, according to Napoli. Anybody that has family members who wants to be involved in this project can contact Napoli through the history department, or at pnapoli@brooklyn.cuny.edu

 

Photo:

Members of the 199th Infantry Brigade move through a leach infested irrigation canal while participating in Operation Rang Dong near Cat Lai. Hours earlier the unit landed in rice paddies as part of a huge helicopter assault force. Second person in photo is DASPO photographer Dan Bauer.

Negative VAN003857, November 1967, Robert Lafoon Collection, The Vietnam Archive, Texas Tech University

* My first name is Philip.

Back to Napoli Home Page