Like millions of others, I’ve now watched all 10 episodes of the moving Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary, “The Vietnam War” on PBS. My thoughts are filled with the stories and images in this film and with my personal Vietnam War memories.
After we’ve watched each compelling episode, my husband and I talked about his Vietnam War memories. He served in the U.S. Navy and my father in the U.S. Army.
The war started the year I was born, and I have vivid memories of watching the fall of Saigon on our television set in North Dakota, where my parents had settled upon my father’s retirement. My older brother was soon to enter the Army and he would not have to risk death in the jungles of Asia. Every day, we watched the horrible news from Vietnam and then watched episodes of the TV show “M*A*S*H.” All the years I was growing up, we subscribed to Life magazine and even as a little girl, I read each issue.
This photo was taken of my father in the ’60s. The other is of my parents, at a military ball, with our neighbors, the Ray Morrisons, when we lived on Okinawa. I remember watching my mother put on her lovely gown, secure in the knowledge that my parents were so beautiful and so brave.
One of the thousands of images that caught my eye was a scan of household products of the era. My mother must have used several hundred cans of this spray starch on my father’s uniforms over the years.
I knew much about the images I saw on my TV these past two weeks, but I learned so much in the poignant stories of the individuals who were featured, especially the Vietnamese people. I will never forget Karl Marlantes, Vincent Okamoto, Eva Jefferson Patterson, Matt Harrison and all of the others. I grew up with people just like them and have known them all of my life. I knew the Crocker story would end in tragedy, but I still cried when his mother and sister shared their memories.
One of the people featured in the film is the writer Tim O’Brien, a soldier of the Vietnam War. I had the privilege of hosting O’Brien when he was at the Dickinson (N.D.) State University as a visiting author for the Heart River Writers’ Circle, a literary series of which I was the co-coordinator.
The night he gave a reading from his book, “The Things They Carried,” the rapt audience was forever changed by his courage and his powerful words. The students studying the literature and history of the Vietnam War received a very special gift that night. O’Brien signed a copy of his book for my husband, Jim, and it is in our collection here at Red Oak House.
And then there is the music of the film, a haunting accompaniment to the story that captured the times in which we lived, both period songs and original music, a full listing of which can be found here.
“Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 10-part, 18-hour documentary series, ‘The Vietnam War,’ tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive and controversial events in American history as it has never before been told on film. Visceral and immersive, the series explores the human dimensions of the war through revelatory testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides — Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam. Ten years in the making, the series includes rarely seen and digitally remastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th century, historic television broadcast, evocative home movies and secret audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. ‘The Vietnam War’ features more than 100 iconic musical recordings from greatest artist of the era and haunting original music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as well as the Silk Road Ensemble featuring Yo-Yo Ma.”
The episodes of this extraordinary film are now streaming.
I freely admit that I have a penchant for guys in uniforms. And I’ll just leave it that I have a visceral understanding of PTSD.
At Sunday morning Mass, I said a private prayer for all of these people, for my father and for my husband (pictured here on the flight deck of the USS Oriskany, which was cruising the Gulf of Tonkin), and a prayer for peace.