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Veterans bring the Vietnam War to life for CCCC history class

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Click to enlarge,  Vietnam veterans Jim Owle and Bill Colebrook speak to students in Instructor Bianka Stumpf's American history classes at Central Carolina Community College. Pictured, from left: students Aaron Allen and Geena Bryant, Bill Colebrook, student Katherine Bogan, and Jim Owle.

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Vietnam veterans Jim Owle and Bill Colebrook speak to students in Instructor Bianka Stumpf's American ... (more)

05.13.2015Admin, Faculty & StaffCollege & CommunityCollege GeneralCurriculum Programs

By Susan Welch, CCCC Correspondent

SANFORD -- "No, no, we won't go" was the phrase chanted by thousands of Vietnam War protestors during the 1960s. They believed the U.S. should not be involved in a war they thought we could not win. Over 58,000 American soldiers lost their lives. Two who survived, Jim Owle and Bill Colebrook, recently spoke to an American history class at Central Carolina Community College and explained what it was like to be there.

Sanford resident Bill Colebrook got his draft notice and went to basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas, where he was trained to be a grenade launcher in the infantry.

"I never thought about joining the military," said Colebrook, who had taken a course in accounting at Sanford Business College. "But I knew from day one after I was drafted that we were going to Vietnam."

At first, Colebrook was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division, but was eventually sent to an aviation unit where he became a gunner on a Huey helicopter. "Helicopters were trophies for the enemy," he said. "But we supported the troops on the ground."

Colebrook worked the area east of Bien Hoa and Saigon and in the Delta where his unit aided the famous "River Rats," the naval brigade that patrolled the inland waterways of Vietnam. Colebrook came home from the war in 1968 after two years of service and enrolled at Sandhills Community College then attended East Carolina University on the G.I. Bill. He taught in the Lee County School System for 24 years.

"I never suffered any retribution from the protest movement, just got pats on the back," he said. "I don't think we lost that war, but we just weren't allowed to win it."

Jim Owle, of Sanford, was a language specialist in Vietnam. Assigned to the 101st Airborne Division "Screaming Eagles" paratroopers on his first tour, Owle later flew psychological operations missions on his second tour, dropping leaflets that encouraged the Vietnamese people to support the American troops.

Owle received his second assignment to Vietnam in 1968 after completing training in the Vietnamese language. "Just in time for the Tet Offensive," he said.

"I saw rockets exploding down the runway at Bien Hoa Air Base almost as soon as we touched down. But as a language specialist and administrative officer, our job was to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people through propaganda. We would go into villages with medics and treat the wounds of the injured, many of whom fought with the Viet Cong at night," he said. "We traveled in Hueys with loud speakers proclaiming, 'Don't die needlessly,' to the Vietnamese people."

Owle said his first tour as a paratrooper was definitely more dangerous than his second, but both jobs were important. "Vietnam was a war we had to fight, but it doesn't seem like the politicians would let us win and that is what were up against. We had to do the best we could under those conditions, but we never knew who the enemy really was."

Owle became a career military man, serving 30 years in the U.S. Army. "I was a survivor," he said. "I didn't get a scratch, but I did come awfully close one time when a rocket exploded in our camp. I was proud to serve, and I would do it again if I had to."

CCCC American History Instructor Bianka Stumpf said the week of the veterans' visit to her classes was especially significant because it marked the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the war's end in 1975.

"As with any past era, when it is frequently portrayed in popular culture, the lines of fact and fiction and evidence and entertainment are blurred for students," Stumpf said. "Allowing my students an opportunity to integrate what we examined in class with what veterans of the conflict shared meant we built a more factual and fuller understanding of the history. For decades, Mr. Colebrook and Mr. Owle have been gracious to speak to student groups, and just as we owe them for their service more than forty years ago, we are indebted to them for their willingness to open their memories and hearts for our benefit."

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