Vietnam War's Legacy Still Felt

Dan Rather reporting from Vietnam

As Dan Rather prepares to end his 24-year tenure as anchor of CBS Evening News, he looks back at some of the stories he reported through the years.

Even a generation later, it is impossible to escape from the shadow of Vietnam.

Vietnam was the longest and eventually the most unpopular war Americans have ever fought.

This was a new kind of war, both in the way it was fought and the way it was reported by the press.

As Walter Cronkite said: "The showdown came the next day, and Dan Rather was there."

And being there meant seeing the grim reality. Vietnam was the so-called, "living room" war. For the first time combat footage could be seen on television every night, with Rather reporting from scene.

"One soldier I met at that time was a young Marine lieutenant from New York City, Raymond W. Kelly," Rather recalls.

"I was with the 2nd battalion, 1st Marines," says Kelly.

Today, Kelly is the police commissioner of New York City.

He remembers first meeting Rather in the Phu Bai area.

"I know it was certainly a hostile area," Kelly tells Rather. "You were the only person that I encountered from the press in my time in Vietnam."

What he did encounter were the heavy casualties that came to define the war.

"I remember young Marines being killed, being maimed," says Kelly. "I remember piles of body bags after big operations.

"Those are the kind of vivid memories that come back to me."

Kelly returned from the conflict in Vietnam to the conflict at home. Growing anger against U.S. involvement sparked widespread protest against the war and the men who fought it.

When he returned from the war, Kelly says he was surprised to run into hostility.

"I was involved in policing demonstrations against the war," he says.

Soldiers returning home from Vietnam were not being treated as heroes, but as "baby killers".

"I felt the people demonstrating were not, certainly not, fully informed about troops and what the troops (were) going through and the difficulties of fighting the war," says Kelly.

The guns are silent now, but the cost of the Vietnam War is forever remembered. More than 58,000 Americans lost their lives. Thousands of names etched in stone tell the toll.

From the air, Kelly says, Vietnam was beautiful.

"But on the ground it was less than beautiful, it was dangerous," he says. "It's an experience that I am so glad I had, but you know, it's something that I wouldn't necessarily want to do over."