Long before the rules of Donald J. Trump or the coronavirus, there were other issues that were deemed too delicate to be addressed in good company. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Vietnam War was one of them.
But the more American history has presented other more recent hot spots, the more the passage of time has created new generations eager to learn more about the more recent past; more and more veterans and survivors of the Vietnam era are finding – or are being asked to find – their voices.
A new group of Pennsylvania veterans have joined this choir, lending their stories to a new video documentary titled “Vietnam Veterans of the Valley: A Half-Century Later” which will premiere on the Pennsylvania cable network. Sunday September 7. 26, at 2:30 p.m.
PennLive caught up with the show’s creator, former CBS21 News reporter and longtime veteran advocate Kirk Wilson to learn more about the show.
Wilson said inspiration for the film came in part from a 2018 “Wall of Honor” project at Carlisle High School that sought to commemorate former students who served in the war. Social Studies President Kevin Wagner told Wilson how, after years of collective silence, it seemed that more and more Vietnamese veterans were increasingly interested in telling their story.
“I think a lot of students and even people of my generation were used to Vietnam War veterans not telling their story, especially to a stranger,” Wagner said. “I think the fact that we were interested in at least recognizing them helped them maybe open up to a stranger who didn’t know the story.
“And nine times out of 10 it ended with,” Thank you for acknowledging our service, because we didn’t have this when we got back. “”
Wilson saw opportunities to capture more of these stories on film and ended up speaking with a dozen different topics, from relatives of the dead to former soldiers, pilots and nurses, to those trying to teach the next war. generation.
Here is his take on the soon-to-be-screened project:
Q: The Vietnam War has become one of the most politicized wars America has ever fought, diffusing – often more intensely – all the issues the current generation has just gone through with Iraq and Afghanistan. How did you manage the politics of war?
Wilson said he was happy to take a neutral stance on this, making the conscious decision to let his subjects tackle politics as they see fit.
“I more or less let the soldiers and civilians talk whatever they wanted. There is mention of how they were treated when they returned home, and I mention in the introduction that the government could not make up its mind on how it wanted to win the war …
“So there was no conscious effort to manage or stay away from it. But it was their chance to speak. I didn’t want to try to put words in their mouths … I asked them questions, and they could answer however they wanted.
“Basically, from what I see, they were there to do a job. They were trained to do the job. They followed orders while doing their job. They were apolitical in their response and only felt political pressure after returning home. “
Q: Is this a strict military story, or rather a collection of personal stories?
Wilson said the documentary focuses more on the latter.
As an example, the film features former Private Joseph McDermond’s account of how his wife numbered his letters to him, so that he could read them in order regardless of the whims of the mail calls from the ‘army.
“I think it was a little more human interest. How did we get through the war, that stuff, ”Wilson said.
“The former nurse (Florence Huard) talks about how she got used to the sight. She might get used to the smells. But she has never been able to get used to the cries and the cries of these young boys who arrive, and the sound of the helicopters still to this day makes her adrenaline rush.
How much have you been inspired by “Vietnam” by Ken Burns a 10-part airing series that aired on PBS in 2017?
“To be perfectly honest with you, I didn’t even watch it… and I think it’s probably best that I didn’t because that way what came out was the product of Craig (Hockinson, owner of the video’s production company, Southeast Media Productions) and I. And that’s something we knew he got acclaimed, so maybe we would have tried to get the ours looks like hers. “
What do you hope the project will accomplish for viewers?
Wilson believes the greatest value is adding to the oral history of a war that many Americans never really had.
“Unless you know someone who was at war … you didn’t know about war.” You didn’t understand the war, ”Wilson said.
“With this you have the opportunity, number one, to meet people who fought in the war, to hear what their words are. And I think that’s important because remember these people weren’t always talking when they got back, and they haven’t talked about it in years. So now they start talking about what they did and how they did it and why they did it. It is important.
“And then to hear from the family members who for 50 years now have lived without their best friend or brother.”
Carlisle High School teacher Dana Neeley, who teaches US history, said he thinks these stories about the costs of war are probably the most relevant to his audience.
“What would have happened to this young man if he had had the chance to grow up; have a career; to have a family? Just speaking them through the emotions and thoughts of having nothing for their siblings “was very powerful for him and will be so for his students,” said Neeley, himself a Navy veteran.
“It’s hard to make sense of the Vietnam War,” Neeley said. “There are still mixed opinions on this subject. But it’s something I think we could all agree on.
For his subjects, Wilson added, he hopes the film adds to the belated measure of respect his subjects say they didn’t feel in the aftermath of the war, and in most cases really didn’t feel. until the early Gulf War The 1990s once again raised the general profile of military service members.
“I think most of them all felt that they had been sent into a war they had no right to win. And it was very, very frustrating for them, ”Wilson said.
“And instead of the President or Congress or other influencers being blamed for it, all the blame and hate and everything else went to the soldiers who went there to do the job they were given. had been told to do and came back to be totally disrespectful for it.
The voices are varied: a fighter pilot, an infantryman, an army nurse, a helicopter pilot, family members who have suffered on the home front.
Local voices are joined by one of Pennsylvania’s most famous Vietnamese veterans, former Pittsburgh backer Steeler Rocky Bleier, who interrupted a nascent National Football League career to go fight in Vietnam, has was injured in combat, then returned to play for four Super Bowls. winning teams.
Bleier’s comments came from his appearance at Carlisle’s Memorial Day services earlier this year.
And all of the interviews are interspersed with photos and footage and real-time facts from the Army Heritage and Education Center in Middlesex Township.
“I hope this will be a resource in the years to come for people who have no contact with the Vietnam War,” Wilson said. Teachers can use the film – which is shared with local schools, museums, and oral history projects – to supplement their class texts, and most subjects are ready to talk, Wilson noted.
Supported by a group of local sponsors and produced by Southeast Media, “Vietnam Veterans of the Valley” airs on PCN this Sunday and again on November 14 at 5:30 pm. The program will also be broadcast online over the Cumberland Valley. YouTube TV channel.