Located on the Texas Tech campus in the Special Collections Library, the Vietnam Center and Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive contains and preserves original records and documents from the war which transpired during the mid-20th century.
The archive was founded by Jim Reckner, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War and former professor of history at Tech who passed away on Nov. 16, 2018.
Amy Mondt, associate director of the Vietnam Archive Center, said Reckner’s reasoning for creating the center was that he realized not a lot of students knew much about the war. She said this was mostly because many citizens after the war pretended like it did not happen.
“They wanted to move forward,” Mondt said.
Stephen Maxner, director of the Vietnam Center, said Reckner wanted to teach at Tech about the war but did not have the resources to do it. So, Reckner got together with local veterans and asked them if they might have materials they would like to donate.
Books and other materials were accepted as a contribution to the start of the Vietnam Center, Maxner said. The Vietnam Center, which has continued to grow since its founding, has become the largest archive of the Vietnam War outside the U.S. National Archives.
Kelly Crager, associate archivist at the Vietnam Center, said the center accepts artifact donations from veterans, families of veterans and students whose family members took part in the Vietnam War. The center’s staff strives to preserve any items and documents given to them for as long as possible.
“The archive center is incredibly beneficial to the history, not just of the war, but of the warriors themselves and families as well,” Crager said.
The center is a place of healing for some families, Mondt said. She told a story about a student whose father was a Vietnam veteran but would never share any details about the war.
“When the student’s father had passed away, they had never heard any stories of the war from him,” Mondt said. “That is, until the Archive Center was able to provide the family with a CD, a recording of the father’s voice, talking about events in the war.”
Although the center is given Vietnam War artifacts and preserves them, the associates who work for the center want nothing more than to give back to the campus community, Maxner said. The center provides mostly history majors with material that can be used toward their education.
“The center holds 25 million pages worth of historical materials,” Maxner said. “This prevents students from having to go to extreme lengths to collect necessary information.”
Every other summer, the center takes students on a study abroad trip to Southeast Asia, where they are granted access to the battle grounds that soldiers fought on during the war, Maxner said. The next trip to Southeast Asia, which is open to all students, will be in the summer of 2020.
Applications for the trip will be available soon, for any students who may be interested, Maxner said.
This study abroad opportunity is a chance to take a life-changing trip to learn about how life is different from the U.S. in a communist-ruled country, Maxner said.
The Vietnam Center also holds a celebration of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, every spring, which takes place at the same time as the Chinese Lunar New Year, Maxner said. This celebration allows students the opportunity to learn a little bit more about Vietnamese culture and have free food.
The center holds a weekend-long conference every year, which is a series of academic and historical presentations that teach students more about what the Vietnam War was, Maxner said. Graduate students usually give the presentations, but wartime veterans also participate by providing their perspectives of the war.
International presenters, including those who fought against the U.S. forces, also share their perspectives, Maxner said.
“If you don’t hear both sides of the story, you don’t get the full understanding of what the war was,” Mondt said.
All students on campus are welcome to visit the Vietnam Center and use its resources, Maxner said.
“It is not limited strictly to history students,” Maxner said. “We are here to help them.”
The center’s materials are not solely restricted to just Vietnam research, Mondt said.
The center can help those in media and communications fields, Maxner said, considering the center has audio and video resources from the time period.
Spreading the word can help with the center’s goals, Maxner said.
“Knowing about our project and sharing that information with their friends and family can be very beneficial,” Maxner said.
Not only does the center hold physical archives on campus, it also holds the biggest collection of virtual archives, which are available at the Vietnam Center and Archive website, Maxner said. The center’s main focus is to maintain the project’s legacy, teach more students about the war and how it impacted the nation during such a controversial time.
“We want to be considered a place where families can feel comfortable, knowing that they can donate a collection of materials from someone in their family who served, but have since died,” he said.