Vietnam at the Heinz History Center

It’s no coincidence that the midway point of the Vietnam War exhibit at the Senator John Heinz History Center is about Tet.

The 1968 Tet Offensive, a series of surprise attacks launched in late January during the normally peaceful Chinese New Year celebration, was headline news and Walter Cronkite’s lead story for days.

“That’s really when public opinion on the war started to change,” says exhibit curator Samuel Black. “This exhibit is based on how we looked at the history of the war.”

Military experts will tell you that the U.S. came out on the winning end of the Tet battles, but the widespread coverage in what has been referred to at “our first TV war” made many Americans, and others around the world, question our involvement.

The Vietnam War: 1945-1975 opens on Saturday, April 13, at the center, 1212 Smallman Street, and runs until September 22. The exhibit, presented in partnership with the New York Historical Society, begins with the political aspects of the early Cold War and progresses through the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Little known fact: the ubiquitous Zippo lighters, carried by GIs, were manufactured in Bradford. This one may have saved someone’s life.

Artifacts include a UH-1H “Huey” medevac helicopter (minus the tail section), a diary from an area Air Force photographer who served a tour in 1963-64 and the Bronze Star awarded to Steelers running back and Mt. Lebanon resident Rocky Bleier, who will be a guest speaker at the exhibit on July 8.

This UH-1H medevac helicopter served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1970.

The exhibit places an emphasis on western Pennsylvania’s involvement in both the war and the peace movement, including protest literature and banners from local college campuses, and a 22-foot wide, 8-foot tall replica of the Vietnam War Memorial, containing the names of 752 area service members who were killed in Vietnam.

This helmet, worn by Sal Gonzalez of the 101st Airborne during the battle of Hamburger Hill in 1969, reflects some widely held grunt philosophy.

Veterans and active duty military can view the exhibit for half off the $18 admission price, and will be admitted free on the opening day, April 13, and also on Memorial Day weekend, May 25 to 27, and on July 4.

Visit the Senator John Heinz History Center website for more information.