2020 Winners

“Why was the Vietnam War fought”


Kelsie Shields

Why John Kovach Fought in the Vietnam War

When I first started researching why the United States fought in the Vietnam War I did not expect the variety of answers I received, but in a war as turbulent in public opinion as Vietnam perhaps the variation makes sense. When service members, governmental officials, antiwar protestors all reveal different interpretations of the reasons for the military conflict, what conclusions do you come to, and how do you narrow it down to one straightforward explanation?

In the majority of my research, the “domino theory” kept surfacing. The US feared that Vietnam’s fall to communism would lead to the toppling of other countries’ governments. After WWII experience and brewing Cold War fears, the US felt it needed to get involved in Vietnam to halt the expansion of communism in Asia. I spoke to Vietnam veteran, John Kovach, and he had a similar viewpoint: “We were trying to help the country fight communism. Most of the guys felt that way.”  But John also told me that when he returned home from service he was spat on by an anti-war protester. America was not united, nor was there all-encompassing support for the war that waged in Vietnam.  

John then told me about a man he served under during the war, General Krulak. Krulak gathered first-hand information from US Marines in Vietnam and then reported back to President Johnson that the US needed to get out. Johnson disregarded Krulak’s statement and soon after forced Krulak out of his position. When I asked John why Johnson had ignored Krulak’s recommendations John said he had no idea.

In search of another perspective, I spoke with John’s son Dan who saw combat in Iraq. Dan echoed the overarching complexity of the issue. “You have very patriotic views and then the very negative views.” He pointed to the Cold War and the many proxy wars America and Russia fought to show their fighting capabilities and resolve. He spoke about the military-industrial complex that is theorized to have seeped into political decision-making during the Vietnam conflict.

Dan shrugged his shoulders as he said, “We’re finding more out about the war to this day.” As personal accounts are recorded, books are written, and conversations cultivated the big picture of the Vietnam War is still being completed.

 I cannot fully answer why the Vietnam War was fought. I cannot even tell you why each man and woman served. Each perspective is vastly different. But I can tell you about John Kovach. John had nine uncles and a father that fought in WWII. He felt it was his duty to stand up for his country, and if his country had committed to something he needed to do his part. I cannot ask my uncle, who was drafted, why he went, but if he was still with us, I have a feeling he would have told me it was because he felt it was the right thing to do.

It is hard to articulate exactly why the US became involved in the Vietnam War, we do not have all the answers. The most often recorded reason is that the US entered the war to stop the aggressive encroachment of communism in Vietnam and the surrounding countries, but in a war so muddied by confusion, the personal stories of the men and women who fought there are what remain truly compelling. Krulak was on to something when he searched for first-hand perspectives. John’s story taught me that one person’s account can often give more understanding than a historical analysis, and it will also teach you a great deal about honor and bravery and an individual’s contribution to our country’s history.


Dear Northland Vietnam Veteran Association,

I wanted to thank you for awarding me one of the 2020 Memorial Foundation Scholarships. Once again this scholarship made me rethink my previous assumptions of the Vietnam War; and how history books and personal accounts are needed to create a stronger, clearer image.

Your support will go a long way in helping me complete my Business Administration Degree at Northland College this coming year. I am sad I cannot meet you all again this year because of current circumstances, but I wish you all a healthy and safe year.


Kelsie Shields



Frank Budd Scholarship

What Vietnam Taught us about Medicine

Trinity LaLonde,

        When we think of war, we often think of lost lives, limbs, and futures. The war in Vietnam is no exception. There was no shortage of lives lost. Millions of soldiers died and countless more were injured. But it was not all in vain. Throughout the conflict, we began to learn, to adapt, and to grow. We learned how to treat soldiers more efficiently in the fields, how to get to the wounded faster, and we adapted our equipment so that we could help them better. So, what exactly did the Vietnam war teach us?

        Before the Vietnam War, there was the Korean War. It was in this war that we started using helicopters as a means of medical transportation. It drastically decreased the amount of time before the wounded made it to hospital and increased their survival rates. Though, it put the medevacs directly in harm's way. After the Korean War, helicopters grew in medical use and evolved to be more multi-purpose and adaptable. They proved to be a valuable asset in Vietnam when it came to medical care. Gradually, we learned more and more about what can improve about them and what worked well. The use of helicopters for medical evacs saved many lives and even gave rise to new guidelines for transporting patients.

        Another thing that changed as a result of the Vietnam war was the medical treatments and medication. An example of this is the newfound availability of a topical antimicrobial chemotherapy used for caring for burns and other wounds. However, treatments were not only needed in the hospitals. They were needed on the front lines too. For soldiers in need of blood transfusions, the use of universal blood donors (blood type O) greatly improved the likelihood of the soldiers getting what they need quickly. To help with the availability of the blood, the use of styrofoam boxes helped medical personnel to be able to store the blood closer to the front lines for longer because the styrofoam containers doubled its shelf life. 

        My grandfather was a navy medic in Vietnam for about six years. He was usually stationary but sometimes went on helicopters for evac missions. He described his experience with the other medical personnel as “good for the most part”. He said being in Vietnam was not fun but he did enjoy working with the other medics. 

        War is an ugly thing and unfortunately many lives are lost. But we have learned from our experiences and we now know how to better treat and protect our soldiers. The medical field will continue to grow as we adapt to new challenges and overcome new obstacles. I can only hope that we continue to get better and better so that we can minimize any future injuries and casualties and build a better future.


Trinity LaLonde


Dear NVVA,

Thank you so much for giving me this scholarship! It means a lot to me, and I am grateful for your support. I am looking forward to attending Vermilion Community College this fall and seeing where the future takes me. At this point in time, I would like to become a conservationist so I can preserve our precious wildlife and natural resources. I really appreciate your commitment to this scholarship program! It is a great opportunity for students such as myself, to earn a little extra support for their future. Thanks again for all you do, and most importantly, thank you for your service.


Trinity LaLonde