By GREG COLLINS PTHS Journalism Instructor

The controversial time in American History which was the Vietnam War Era will be the subject of a student forum in the morning and a public forum in the evening at Pine Tree High School, Candee Collins, social studies instructor, announced.


The event is open to the public in the Pine Tree High School Theatre Thursday, April 13 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and will feature three people who had varied roles in the Vietnam War era in America. 


KLTV’s anchor, Anissa Centers, will moderate the evening session, while KLTV anchor Taylor Hemness will moderate a morning session – from 9:20 to 10:50 a.m. – where PTHS juniors will hear the presentations of the three principle speakers. The public is invited to attend these sessions.  


Dr. David Stroud, a retired Kilgore College professor, along with Mary Beth Tinker and Richard Pena, will discuss various aspects of the Vietnam War era in America and how it affected them and their surroundings. The forum features a veteran of the war who had to come home to mixed emotions of ridicule and shame and adulation for service to his country, a woman who was suspended from school at the age of 13 for protesting the Vietnam War and an author whose book reliving experiences in Saigon during the last days of the war consists of real-time journal entries that he kept while working in the operating room of Vietnam’s largest military hospital during the final year of the war. Last Plane Out of Saigon has shown to be both historically significant and extremely relevant today.


According to Collins, each panelist will have 20 minutes to discuss their portion of the presentation and present photographs and other media they will bring with them. The floor will then be open to audience questions and dialogue between the panelists and moderator on the subjects at hand.


“The purpose of this forum is to provide an introspective look, from the view of the three speakers, to explain what was happening at the beginning of the Vietnam War as well as what was happening domestically in the United States,” Collins said. “They will also deliberate on what was happening here in the United States as well as in Vietnam at the end of the war.”


She said March 29 marked the 44th anniversary of the United States withdrawing from Vietnam, and the subject is something that resonates with controversy nearly 50 years later.


“If our students have an opportunity to hear from the actual voices of our past, I truly believe it becomes of greater value than reading in a textbook or watching a Hollywood movie that may embellish and not have all of the true facts,” Collins said.


Dr. Stroud was born in Tyler in 1944, graduated from Henderson High School in 1963, enlisted in the United States Marines in January of 1964, served in Vietnam from January to September in 1965 and then was a drill sergeant in South Carolina until 1968. He then was a Social Studies teacher in high school and at Kilgore College until 2016. He has written five history books and is currently writing one about his service in Vietnam.


Tinker was part of an ACLU challenge to the Supreme Court of the United States for her suspension from Algebra class at the age of 13 for protesting the Vietnam War, and the case “Tinker vs. Des Moines,” has been cited in more than 6,000 cases involving students’ rights since it went before the high court in 1969. She lives in Washington D.C. but travels the country on a “Tinker Tour” to promote civics education, student journalism, youth rights and youth voices. She is a Registered Nurse with master’s degrees in nursing and public health.


Pena is a Vietnam veteran and a practicing attorney in Austin. He is the former president of the American Bar Foundation and is a leader within his field. He is nationally recognized among legal professionals. He has also served as the President of the State Bar of Texas and other prestigious organizations. Pena left on the last day of American military involvement in Vietnam in March 1973 on one of the last two planes out of Saigon. His book Last Plane Out of Saigon consists of real-time journal entries that he kept while working in the operating room of Vietnam’s largest military hospital during the final year of the war. Last Plane Out of Saigon has shown to be both historically significant and extremely relevant today. Co-author, John Hagan, is an award- winning scholar and researcher who has authored 10 books s and more than 150 articles. He is currently a Professor of Sociology and Law at Northwestern University and a leading researcher at the American Bar Foundation.


Collins said she and fellow Pine Tree Social Studies teacher Collin Robertson were presenting at a session at Region VII Education Center in Kilgore last summer and Pena was the keynote speaker.


“The Law Relation Education program affiliated with the Texas State Bar, had the opportunity to prepare lessons using Pena’s book, Last Plane Out of Saigon,” she said. “So, I attended their session, became acquainted with Pena and the idea for this forum began to take shape.”


She added she then went to Pine Tree High School Principal Cindy Gabehart, and her administrator suggested applying for the District Community Fund.


“That process began in October and, now the process has come full circle and we will have the forum next week to hopefully educate not only students but the public on an era of American History that is still, in some people’s eyes, controversial today,” she said. “I appreciate Mrs. Gabehart and Dr. TJ Farler, PTISD  Superintendent, for supporting this idea and helping to make sure this forum occurs. Now, the public has an excellent opportunity to hear a great discussion and dialogue.”