By Claire Ballor
He was one of ten University of Dallas students in his 1968 graduating class to serve in the Vietnam War. When I asked him about his time in Vietnam, his eyes focused as though he was seeing it all again, but his recollections were calm and he described them with a noticeable sense of responsibility, revealing the character of the young man he was in his 20s who left the comfort of the UD bubble and headed off to war in a foreign country.
“You graduated from college and you went into the military, it’s just what you did. I think we felt that we owed that time or some other expression of return to God and country.”
Dr. Robert Ansiaux was drafted into the war after completing his undergraduate degree at UD. He knew this fate awaited him after school, but he was ready for it. What he wasn’t quite ready for, though, was being sent all the way to Vietnam.
“The navy looked a whole lot better than the army did, but I ended up in Vietnam anyway even though I was trying to avoid it by choosing the navy. Out of the 606 of us, two got orders to Vietnam; I was one of them. I, at that time, supported the war, so it didn’t bother me that I was over there. Just the chances of me being sent over there were astounding.”
What were the odds of Ansiaux being sent to Vietnam?
“Well they were exactly 303 to one and all I could think was ‘Wow, who did I make mad?’ But there was no logical rhyme or reason to how we were sent over there.”
Fortunately for Ansiaux, as a first lieutenant on a ship that sailed down the Mekong Delta to support army operations, he never saw any real combat. But what he did see was its tragic aftermath, and that has stayed with him to this day.
“We picked those soldiers up and we brought the dead back. We had a 60-bed hospital on board with two full operating rooms. So I did get to see that. To see it, it just makes one very hesitant to go to war.”
Not all of his former UD classmates who served in Vietnam were so lucky.
“Of the ten of us, one died in combat, Joe Wagner, who died in January 1968. I think he was the only UD casualty in Vietnam. He was the guy across the hall from me in the dorm.”
What Ansiaux learned from serving in the Vietnam War has remained with him, and he sees his three and a half years in the navy as a debt paid to his country.
“That is why I encouraged my children and my students to think of returning something in terms of volunteer work after graduation be it military, civilian or religious. There are many ways to return some of that privilege. It seems to me the more you get the more you owe.
Since the war Ansiaux has started a family, received a law degree, earned a Ph.D in transatlantic studies and has come back to UD to teach as a history professor. He currently practices real estate and corporate law, teaches history classes and travels every chance he gets.
As a seasoned traveler, the man can pack for an international trip in an astounding 15 minutes or less.
“I always have a traveling kit ready to go. Most of the 15 minutes I spend packing are used just to gather reading material.”
He has traveled just about everywhere, but Israel is on the top of his current travel list with India as a close second. No matter how much he travels, he can never cure his self-diagnosed traveling addiction.
He has not been back to Vietnam since the war but it is a trip he is hoping to make some day to have a different experience than the one he had before.
“I’d definitely go back to Vietnam if I could fit it in. The world’s a big place and I’m one of those irrepressibly curious people. I’d go just about anywhere.”