The difficulty of conveying the complicated Vietnam experience to today's college students most of whom were born after the War ended was one of the challenges of The University of Rhode Island's fall 1999 Honors Colloquium, "The Legacies of the Vietnam War." One of the heroes of the Vietnam War who was able to make this connection last fall is Porter Halyburton, a resident of Bristol, retired commander, and professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport.
With this message, Porter Halyburton bridged the generation gap of the Vietnam War in a way others have been unable to do. The degradation and brutality he suffered during his prison years gave him more reasons than many to hate and want revenge. Yet, his ability to draw meaningful lessons from the horrors of his imprisonment gave many students the hope and courage that they could survive their own hardships and challenges.
Passionate responses from our students demonstrated their understanding: "His willingness to understand and forgive was the most inspirational lesson of the semester," said one student about Halyburton. Another marveled that life experiences "which could to some be tragic and ruining" had instead made Mr. Halyburton " a wonderful human being." One student described Halyburton as "an exemplary role model for those wishing to find a true hero. His forgiving spirit and wise observations are a true testament of what we should look for in a leader."
At a time in American life when anger over small slights often escalates into hatred and violent revenge, Porter Halyburton's message is particularly timely.
On Sunday, May 21, in recognition of his unique contributions to the University, the people of the State of Rhode Island, and the nation, The University of Rhode Island will award Porter Halyburton a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.
We are proud that the University and the Board of Governors for Higher Education have chosen to honor Porter Halyburton, a hero living among us. And we are pleased that now an even larger audience will have an opportunity to hear him speak at a time when we are remembering the end of the Vietnam War 25 years ago. In a sense, he will be speaking for a whole generation of us whose lives were touched by that terrible and divisive conflict, and helping a new generation to understand that important lessons can be gained from it.
University of Rhode Island English Professor Don Kunz of North Kingstown and Political Science Professor Gerry Tyler.