Kansas' Vietnam veterans get memories archived in Library of Congress

LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) -- Humanities Kansas helped share the stories of over 100 Kansas Vietnam veterans and archive them in the Library of Congress.

Twelve communities across the state teamed up with nonprofit organization to find Vietnam veterans and put their memories of the war on record. Those communities were honored at a ceremony at The Dole Institute of Politics on Thursday.

For many of them, like Don Willoughby, it was also the first time they shared their stories. For the Kansas native and KU grad, sharing his Vietnam stories was an idea from his post-traumatic stress disorder counselor.

"I flew reconnaissance and surveillance missions in a single-engine O-1 Bird Dog in Cambodia,” Willoughby said. “Flying up and down the Ho Chi Minh Trail looking for the enemy and calling air strikes or artillery strikes or just reporting the intelligence I saw."

It's has been nearly half a century since Willoughby flew his plane in the war.

For him, sharing his stories also help put it on record.

"I was one of eight pilots flying the mission on the Cambodian border and our records of doing that are gone,” Willoughby said. “History will never know about the army pilots that were flying combat missions in Cambodia looking for the NVA coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail."

He said bringing the stories to light also help younger generations remember the Vietnam War.

"In today’s Millennials, they don’t know the history of the war,” Willoughby said. “They kind of felt like I felt back, probably, in the 70s and the 80s when I talked to a World War II guy.”

"The veterans of my generation stand on the shoulders of giants,” Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Kansas) said. “You. Thank you. Thanks for capturing your story."

After his time in the Vietnam War, Willoughby spent nearly 40 years in public affairs with the Army. He now lives in Sioux City, Iowa.