Since July, Mr. Coleman has transcribed more than 300 documents into his Vietnam Data Resource and Electronic Library [now over 150,000]. Leaders of vets groups and historians at the State Department say his effort is the first serious attempt to chronicle the Vietnam War by computer. Schools use other, larger Vietnam research collections, like those at the Indochina Archive at the University of California, Berkeley and the State Department, but Mr. Coleman's library is free to anyone with a computer that can communicate over a telephone line. The Library's phone number is 213-373-6597 [now 1-562-422-4100] or go to URL: http://www.amervets.com/library.htm]. So far, Mr. Coleman said, 4,433 people [now over 73 million], most of them students and Vietnam vets, have used the system. He has publicized the library through fliers to university history departments and vets groups. The computer files, alphabetized and with cross-references, are mainly declassified State Department documents dealing with the war's early years. The files include Mr. Coleman's lists of top military leaders, air craft and other equipment of the war. Mr. Coleman's work is "quite invaluable," said Wayne F. Smith, Membership Director of the Vietnam Veterans of America. "There is no easy-to-use central depository on information related to Vietnam." "We need more things like this," said William G. Wells, an analyst with the Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs. While he was working on a study of the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used to destroy enemy ground cover, Mr. Wells had trouble finding out how much of it was used in Vietnam. "I called the computer and what we needed was right there," he said.
Mr. Coleman says he feels he is spending his life transcribing 1,000s of documents. He is doing it at his own expense, so far about $12,000. Some vets' groups of vets offered money and help, but he declined. "I didn't want anyone imposing any political slant," he said. "I just want to provide as much information as I can, without editing or deletions. My hope is that if kids out there are ever called upon to fight a war, they will have a better idea of how to coordinate their contributions. I know how people can forget."The agonies of the war, here at home and in Asia, seem far away from "Timing," Mr. Coleman's sun-drenched shop less than a mile from a popular beach in this Los Angeles suburb. But those tumultuous years' history lives in the shop. Timing offers clothing for aerobic exercise, and many customers are too young to remember much about the war. Mr. Coleman, who is 38 years old, went to Vietnam as a communication specialist. While he was in the Army the shop's co-owner protested the war at home. For generations, nearly all the men in his family served in the military. Mr. Coleman says he was "One of three Republicans in my high school class," and went to Vietnam as a supporter of the war. His desire for an Army career quickly palled. "The Army was so disorganized and everybody was out for themselves," the said.
He remembers sharply the day he made a commitment to his cause. It was February 17, 1970, a year after he graduated from Los Angeles High School and enlisted. On that day, his communication outpost at Bien Hoa, 20 miles northeast of Saigon, was hit by artillery fire that killed 6 soldiers and wounded 30. The shelling, Mr. Coleman says, was attributed to errors by South Vietnamese or American gunners. "Some of my buddies and I made a pact right there," Mr. Coleman said. "To first, live for the guys who didn't make it out of Vietnam and, second, to educate people about the true nature of the war."Library Note: [now] entries included in the original text, above, are current for December, 1997.