Growing up in Highland, Heather Marie Stur became aware at a young age of the impact that Vietnam had on her parents, Jeffrey and Michaline Stur, who now live in Munster.
“They'd occasionally talk about kids from their high school class who were killed in the war, or so-and-so who'd been in Vietnam and had been screwed up ever since,” said Stur, an assistant professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi. “My dad had saved his draft card for many years, and his lottery number had been called, but then the draft was stopped, so he didn't have to go. I remember my Grandma Stur was OK with Nixon because she felt that he had saved her son by ending the draft.”
It was also when such big Vietnam War movies such as "Platoon" and "Full Metal Jacket" were in the theaters. But the people who served in Vietnam came of age in a time where war movies and Westerns glorified traditional views of masculinity and war.
All this made Stur, a 1994 graduate of Bishop Noll High School, aware that Vietnam was important to American identity.
“It was something we as Americans had still not come to terms with,” Stur said. “I want to figure out why. That pretty much led me here.”
Here is her position as a fellow at the university’s Center for the Study of War & Society and director of the Vietnam Summer Studies Program. She is also author of "Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era" (Cambridge Press 2011; $27.99 paperback) which came about as she realized that women’s voices were relatively absent from the narratives of Vietnam despite ideas about women and gender — masculinity, femininity, sexuality — being pervasive in the politics and culture of the war.
Using the oral histories she gathered from interviewing women — and some men — who fought in the war, Stur used their stories in her book including that of Linda McClenahan, who grew up in Berkeley, Calif., and is a veteran of the Women's Army Corps. In 1968, on her way home from high school, McClenahan, then 18, saw an anti-war rally from a distance.
“In that moment, she decided that she needed to go to Vietnam to see for herself what was really going on there,” says Stur. “Her dad had to go with her to the Army recruiting station because women younger than 21 had to have their parents' permission to enlist. Linda went to Vietnam and served at the U.S. Army Republic of Vietnam (USARV) Communications Center at Long Binh, a major U.S. base that was the headquarters for the U.S. Army in Vietnam, from November of 1969 through November of 1970. Even though she had an office job, the war had a serious impact on her, and when she returned home, she struggled with alcohol as she tried to find her place in civilian society. She now is a Catholic sister, and she ministers to veterans.”