It has been a busy winter and spring teaching here at UC Riverside, but last Wednesday I had the new experience of speaking to Flight 30 of The Daedalians, an association of retired U.S. military flyers formed at the end of World War 1. I was not really sure what to expect, but I was very pleasantly surprised to meet a group of some fifty veteran flyers ranging from World War II aces to helicopter and fixed wing pilots from Vietnam and more recent conflicts.
I have been visiting military bases and former military sites for research for several years, but this was my first trip to March Air Reserve Base near Riverside’s campus. The building behind me is one of the oldest on the base, built when it was a World War I airfield in the desert in the Spanish Revival style common to early Riverside!
Inside, I peaked into the Officer’s Club and found what looked like a movie set! I imagined scenes from that 1986 classic film, “Top Gun“.
After a classic-American catered lunch, I gave my talk about the book, walking through Central Vietnam’s millennia-long history as a combat zone and the layers of modern military occupation in the 20th century. I didn’t really have any expectations from the audience, but I was happily surprised that they were very engaged, a group of mostly men who saw combat–some in Vietnam–and me, an area studies historian who spent some of my youth working in Vietnamese schools and trekking out on motorbike into the bush. They were not only engaged but they asked good questions! One man identified himself as a former pilot of the Operation Ranch Hand spray planes that dropped the herbicide Agent Orange, and he had many questions about current science on dioxin and especially on the places I described in the talk.
I think the Daedalians might have enjoyed a non-military, non-war story speaker for a change–and I was happy to take Footprints of War out on the road to a new audience!