Former Army 1st Lt. John Malarsie enlisted to become a helicopter pilot after finishing his student teaching at Miller Junior High School. Instead, he found himself one of hundreds of first lieutenants assigned to military intelligence tasked to the CIA for the Phoenix Program, spending his time in a small provincial town in the Mekong Delta. He was one of six Americans working with about 600 members of the Vietnamese Reserve Forces, the equivalent of our National Guard.
“My most specific memory was being, or attempted to be left, in the field by the Vietnamese we were with. When I came back from Vietnam, I had a real bad taste, so to speak, for the people, the Vietnamese people I was with, but I have mellowed. On one of our last operations, my radioman and I were the last two of the team that were there, the rest had gone home to the United States and had not been replaced. It was a matter of corruption of the Army people we were with. To look out and see about 100 or 200 people leaving you in the rice paddy – scary moment, just very scary.”
Malarsie was back in Durango teaching at Miller when Saigon fell.
“I just remember watching that and thinking mostly ... I had two different interpreters, and we had quite a few people close to us in that little bitty village. And my only thought was: They weren’t where they could even hope to get on an airplane, a boat or anything; they were inland. I would suppose, shortly thereafter, they were gone.
The ends of the other wars, what I call the real wars, were joyous occasions. Like the European war, that was almost the fall of the world, and Korea a bit the same. I don’t think anyone was joyous about the actual result (of the Vietnam War), but I believe there were many, many people who were happy it was over. I don’t believe the outcome really sank in for a lot of people, the hundreds of thousands of lives, the loss of life, the money.
Forty years later, I catch myself finally watching TV, with all of the looking back, and I see things a little differently. I had friends who went to Canada, and Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali), with his conscientious objection, I’m seeing that as a lot more honorable than dancing in the streets now.”