Vietnam, back home in Mankato

Tonight’s episode, yet to air, will carry the story of Vietnam up to 1969.

Last night got us to President Elect Richard Nixon. As the PBS series makes clear Nixon told a few people privately that there was no quick exit from Vietnam despite his campaign assurances that he was going to get that done and with honor and get it done quickly.

I was in my High School junior year during his second campaign for President. I’d been in fifth grade when he ran for President in 1964. I had energetic debates with my neighbor Becky Penney about who would win that election. Becky and her family were for JFK. My family was for Nixon. As a fifth grader it was all about family loyalty with me even though I had begged my Grandfather to go to Washington 1961 to shake hands with JFK who had sent him an invite to the Rose Garden.

My Grandfather offered me only one compliment of sorts. That was when he learned I was going to become part of our high School Debate team. Having debated himself he said it was an excellent activity for me to pursue. Ironically, my research in Debate led me to learn about Nixon’s Checker’s Speech and questions about his harassment of suspected communists. I didn’t trust him. When my high school speech teacher assigned his students to give a speech in another class I chose a History class and gave a hearty endorsement for Hubert Humphrey.

Nonetheless, I entered College as an independent. A few year’s later it was liberal self-righteousness that drove me to the Republican Party even as I opposed the Nixon Administration’s war policies. (I gladly voted for George McGovern) I’ve always believed in putting my feet in other people’s shoes. Sometimes that has meant wearing a tennis shoe and a wingtip simultaneously.

My first college protest blocking Mankato’s Main Street and Front Street and seeing how angry it made people who weren’t callow college students I concluded that inconveniencing people was not the way to win them over.

So, in 1972 when hundreds of college students from MSU and some local thrill seekers decided to block Highway 169 I had no intention of joining them. (This was where the reporter mentioned in the Tecla Karpen post filmed all the beer bottles and debris that the protesters left behind.) What I didn’t know was that my Dad, who had railed at LBJ years earlier when he was sending more troops to Vietnam, thought I would be on the highway at the protest.

A few years ago I was sent a portion of MSU President James Nickerson’s memoir about the war years at Mankato State. I regret to admit that I can’t find it at the moment but he mentioned my Dad, Daniel Welty, who was then the President of the Faculty Union.

He related meeting with Governor Wendell Anderson’s top assistant, the controversial Thomas Kelm, with my Father and other faculty present. Nickerson wrote that the hard charging Kelm said he was going to call out the national guard and force the students off the highway. At this Nickerson explained that Dan Welty strongly objected saying something like, You can’t do that. My son is on that bridge.

I don’t blame my Dad. He had been worried since I’d been in junior high that I might end up in Vietnam, a war he thought was damned foolishness. And at this moment six year’s later, he had to worry that I might get the Kent State treatment. That’s where four protesting Kent State students were shot to death by young national guard troops in Kent, Ohio.

The troops were never sent to Mankato.

About the author