In his father’s boots: Alum gathers American, Vietnamese vet stories


Richard Shoup, David Shoup’s father, was a team leader in Phantom Force, a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol that fought during the Vietnam War.

Emily Carmichael, Print News Editor

Class of 2013 Tulane graduate David Shoup never understood why his father, Richard, seemed distant at times, nor why he seemed to struggle with depression and anxiety. Then, in 2011, Shoup accompanied his father to his army reunion at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. 

As he watched his father reunite with 11 of his old army buddies after 45 years, Shoup heard the threads of trauma that ran through many of their stories and are still tangled in their heads today. Inspired by the experience, Shoup and fellow class of 2013 Tulane graduate Madeline Tideman are now working on a web series called “Phantom Force: Revisited” that will examine the veteran experience of both American veterans of the Vietnam War and the Vietnamese soldiers they fought. 

“This project [is], by far, beating the old cobwebs [and for] being a source of healing, I think, for getting over PTSD and moving past it,” Shoup said. 

The project will focus on Phantom Force, the long-range reconnaissance patrol whose reunion Shoup attended, and the North Vietnamese Army’s Phou Loi Battalion that they fought in Operation Rakkasan Chaparral.

Now, “Phantom Force: Revisited” is trying to gain funding through a Kickstarter campaign. If it meets its funding goal, Shoup and Tideman will travel across the country to interview American veterans and then to Vietnam to seek out remaining veterans of the Phou Loi Battalion in the hopes of documenting their stories. They will report on the stories of both the American and Vietnamese veterans in a weekly Web series that they plan to eventually turn into a feature-length documentary. 

“A big part of this project is the creative and journalistic element of trying to not only get a sense of the history and the lives of all the American guys, but also the … enemy and find out what the north Vietnamese veterans are like today, what they were like then and to understand their story as well,” Shoup said. 

Sophomore Amelia Bergeson grew up as a self-described military brat, living for two years on Patch, an army base in Stuttgart, Germany. On base, she noticed the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among military officers. She saw countless infomercials advertising services to treat PTSD. 

“I would be interested to see how different culture[s] handle PTSD; whether there’s a stigma attached to it in another country, or if it’s represented differently,” Bergeson said. “History has two sides. You are not really learning all of history if you only learn one side.”

When it comes to meeting these Vietnamese veterans who his father tried to kill during the war, and who likewise tried to kill his father, Shoup does not know what to expect. He has no idea where these veterans are, but he plans to approach the situation honestly, not shying away from who his father is or why he wants to tell the story of Vietnam War veterans. 

On the American side, Vietnam veterans that returned after 1968, such as the veterans of Phantom Force, did not receive a necessarily warm homecoming due to increasing political turmoil regarding the war. Vietnam War veterans were often met with anti-war protesters rather than parades. 

While the homecoming experience was unique to each individual, the combination of the normal strains of life after service with the lack of recognition in their home country added an extra layer of complication for Vietnam War veterans.

“The veterans are extremely happy when a positive light is shed on their experiences,” Lou Campomenosi, Gulf War veteran and Tulane professor who teaches a course on the Vietnam War, said. “This comes from this whole notion that Vietnam was nothing more than an immoral, illegal war and that the veterans are all a bunch of baby killers.”

Shoup credits his involvement and education at Tulane, especially his three trips abroad and his role as News Editor at The Hullabaloo, with helping prepare him to undertake this project that crosses disciplines and cultures, especially since it handles such a sensitive subject matter.

“Working on The Hullabaloo for two years gave me a great foot in the door for mastering interviews and learning how to adhere to strict standards of journalism skills that have proven invaluable to me as I’ve begun moving into professional media,” Shoup said. 

Campemonosi believes it is important to tell the stories of veterans to raise awareness of the struggles they face both in combat and once they return in terms of PTSD and the quality of care they receive, especially in the younger generation that is not as familiar with the effects of war.

“David is going to produce something very positive within the veterans’ community,” Campomenosi said. “Agreed, it’s a narrow slice of the field — okay? But guess what? It’s a building block process. You’ve got to start somewhere.”

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