Ripples from the Pacific
Thomas Leroy Narum was a foot soldier who served in Vietnam. Hailing from Amidon, North Dakota, he was only 21 when killed on this date by multiple fragmentation wounds. He is one of the 198 casualties North Dakota suffered in that war. Narum’s story is just one of many ways the Vietnam conflict affected the state.
North Dakota responded to the call to war by young people enlisting, supplies being sent, and prayer. Young men were also drafted, with a monthly quota for each draft board ranging from 100 to 200 men. There was a relatively small number of men who refused the draft compared to the rest of the country. This can partly be attributed to a culture of patriotism and a sense of duty. However, as the conflict dragged on, even this ethic pride could not keep North Dakotans supportive of the war, and this decline was seen in our politics.
Governor William Guy was appointed by Lydon Johnson to serve as an election observer in South Vietnam in 1967. He reported that the U.S presence there was justified and that the Vietnamese wanted a communist-free democracy. But by 1968, Governor Guy and a good majority of North Dakotans supported pulling the troops out.
In 1966 students held a small protest march in Fargo. At an army recruitment center in Grand Forks, UND students and a Catholic priest sat with a sign stating, “A university is not an employment center for the army.” On May 16, 1972, about 3,000 people gathered at UND and marched to an anti-ballistic missile site. On the other hand, some students at UND held a teach-in to show support for the war, but one leader, Jana Bommersbach, eventually joined the ranks of the protesters. While small, the protests were part of the larger movement that let leaders know that much of the American populace opposed the war.
And more recently, the North Dakota Chapter of Vietnam Veterans has been working to increase awareness of Agent Orange, a deadly herbicide used by the U.S. to kill vegetation. Dan Stenvold, the president of the chapter, has toured over 27 counties and put up three billboards to bring attention of the effects that Agent Orange has had on veterans of that era.
Dakota Datebook by Lucid Thomas.