Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

In retrospect: After their military discharge, what factors enabled combat Vietnam veterans to obtain a college degree and live a successful life, as defined by them?
by Walck, Bradley M., Ph.D., The University of Oklahoma, 2008, 183; 3304230
Abstract (Summary)

It is commonly acknowledged that American combat veterans of the Vietnam War were younger and were treated differently than veterans of any of America's previous wars, and most of the research on this war's veterans has focused on negative behaviors related to their war experiences. In many cases, Vietnam veterans had a difficult time adjusting to life after experiencing combat, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder became accepted by the American Psychiatric Association as the defining syndrome exhibited by many of these men and women.

Research has revealed that the level of combat experienced is often related to the level of trauma; however, research also indicates that the majority of soldiers who served in that war did not develop PTSD. Vietnam veterans are now approaching retirement age or have already retired, and there are numerous examples of combat veterans who have lived successful lives. Historically, Vietnam veterans have not been accurately portrayed in the media or by the public, and in general the stereotype of the Vietnam veteran has been negative. In reality, there are scores of positive examples of Vietnam veterans who have lived successful lives.

This phenomenological study was conducted with six combat Vietnam veterans who all entered the military at a young age with little or no higher education. To be eligible to participate in this study each participant had to have earned a minimum of a four-year degree after his military discharge and recognize himself as being successful. Each veteran discussed his life narrative in approximately a two hour interview with the researcher.

An interpretive framework centered on resiliency theory provides a perspective for understanding the factors that enabled these veterans to become successful. These six veterans' personal perspectives revealed similar resilient themes within three structural time frames. As a consequence of progressing through these critical stages, each veteran arrived at an individual and highly personal definition of success. The three structural time periods are: (1) Coming of Age, (2) Baptism by Fire and (3) Return to Normalcy. Their individual definition of success is also presented in: Defining Success.

The resilient themes which emerged under each of the structural time periods are listed below. During (1) Coming of Age each said he had: a close and loving family, poor/rural/humble beginnings, enjoyed school and sports, positive role models, attended church and was a Christian, ambition, and five of the six were sons of World War II veterans. During (2) Baptism by Fire, each indicated he had: military training, experienced combat and killed in combat, the discipline and will to survive, been awarded medals, not committed atrocities, been proud of his service, and five of the six had been wounded in combat. During (3) Return to Normalcy, each of them: returned home, used the GI Bill, possessed a strong work ethic, earned a four-year degree, was a first generation college graduate, had close family and personal relationships, and had a career. In (4) Defining Success, five of the six said his family was his primary success, and the sixth one indicated his career and family was his success.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Vaughn, Courtney
Commitee: Chiodo, John, Garn, Gregg, Noley, Grayson, Smith, Joan
School: The University of Oklahoma
Department: Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
School Location: United States -- Oklahoma
Source: DAI-A 69/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Educational sociology, Individual & family studies, Military studies
Keywords: College degree, Combat veterans, Military discharge, Successful life, Vietnam veterans
Publication Number: 3304230
ISBN: 978-0-549-52797-8
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