“U.S.M.A. reunions are unlike any other college get-togethers in the country,” says Senator John Pappageorge.  He’s referring to his alma mater West Point.  “They’re more intense.  After all, as a graduating class, we got shot at together.  We’re truly a Brotherhood in Arms.”

It is safe to assume that Senator Pappageorge, who retired as a Colonel in 1984, has had a career that dwarfs many, even his fellow U.S. Military Academy graduates.  With thirty years of active duty under his West Point belt, he’s done two tours in Vietnam (’67 -’68 and ’71 – ’72), served in the State Department and displays (but only if asked) a Gallantry Cross and a Bronze Star—the latter awarded during the Battle of Soui-Tre, considered the most significant one day battle in the III Corps Tactical Area. 

Speaking candidly and emotionally from his comfortable study in Troy, Pappageorge may be somewhat reserved when it comes to his personal bragging rights, but he’s outspoken about the military contributions of his classmates—fourteen of whom died in Vietnam—and indeed, all the men and women that served in that conflict.

In the course of filming Detroit’s Vietnam Generation, we’ve heard numerous variations on the ‘coming home’ scenario, wherein soldiers returning from Vietnam were abused, insulted and provoked by the citizens of the country whose freedoms they’d risked their lives to protect.  Few of these stories had quite the emotional impact of Pappageorge’s.  He tells of sitting in an airport in full dress uniform and a random stranger that asked about his medals: 

“I told her what I’d done to earn them; that they were the result of some heavy fighting in Vietnam.  ‘Oh,’ she replied.  ‘Well, I’m proud of you anyway.’”


The misconception that American soldiers were somehow responsible for the final outcome of the Vietnam war is a subject that Pappageorge feels strongly about, and in fact, is among the overall ‘mission statements’ of Detroit’s Vietnam Generation.  He’s refreshingly honest about the darker moments of the war, and calls Mai Lai and Kent State ‘tremendous tragedies; unbelievably sad.’  He’s unrelentingly proud of his service, however, and the integrity and sacrifices made by the vast majority of fellow soldiers. 

“The war was lost here in the States,” he says.  “Not in Vietnam.  Folks who get us into these conflicts never actually fight them.  War is an awful, awful thing; there’s not a serviceman in history that will tell you differently.  You’re living a life where a good day means no casualties; where a bad day means many casualties.  When I was overseas, at base camp the radio played ‘War’—that Edwin Starr song.  The lyrics went, ‘War solves absolutely nothing…’  The truth, regrettably, is that war does solve things.  Winning World War II determined that the world would be free from Nazi tyranny. Winning the Civil War determined that we’d live as one, united nation.  That’s the tragedy—that we get to a state where war is the only thing left that can solve things and right injustices…’

Thirty-eight years after he last set foot on Vietnamese soil, Pappageorge still relives combat moments daily and has instant-recall regarding friends who did not return.  He considers himself lucky not to have been debilitated by PTST, and yet, tears of emotion well up during his reminiscing.  “Maybe that’s my PTST,” he admits.  “I know that I’ve spent the years since trying to make a difference in the United States government.”

His wife Christina concurs:  “John’s not into politics for the power.  He’s in to make sure that Washington gets it right.”



Contact Us