Saturday, September 30, 2017

Ken Burns' Vietnam War

Ken Burns' Vietnam War is a towering achievement.  But then again I wouldn't expect anything less from Burns & Co.  It's 18 hours never drags and I still would have been there had it expanded to twenty.  There have been grumblings:  the issue of race among U.S. troops, not enough anti-war speakers on-camera.  But in its expansiveness, much like the war itself, it is moving, frustrating and brutally frank in its on camera depiction of battle.

I had a particular interest in the Vietnam War because my Dad served 3 tours there from 1965-69.  I was born in 1964, so I don't remember much about him coming and going.  But I do remember his last tour in 1969.  Looking out a window and waving goodbye to him at an NCO club in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.  It was the first time I realized what was happening.  He would be gone, but he'd be back.  He always came back.  And he did.

So, the parts of the documentary that covered 65-69 had me glued to see if any video or pictures of my Dad would appear.  It never happened, and I knew it was a long shot, but I was couldn't turn away.

My Dad grew up poor in Pennsylvania.  Straight out of High School in 1951 he joined the Army.  Went right into combat during the Korean War.  When I was young he rarely talked about Korea or Vietnam.  But as he got older he began to open up.  There was often a wistfulness in his recollections of old Army buddies that he still kept in contact with and those that never came home.  Listening to his war stories, I grew to believe that no one can tell me that those scars don't stay with you.

In the last episode there's a segment on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  I wanted my Dad to go there, but he never did.  Still, late in his life a mobile version of the Memorial made its way to our area.  When I asked him if he was going, he said no.  But my teenage son and I went.  Much like the segment in the documentary, I was moved and saddened by amount of names on the Wall.  When I got home and told my Dad about it, he said that he did visit it the same day.

BTW- I should also point out the superb score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  And the inclusion of musical ringers that are always associated with Vietnam:  Simon & Garfunkel, CCR, CSNY, Byrds, Hendrix, Youngbloods, etc.  There are also songs by acts not always licensed:  Fairport Convention, Johnnie Wright's "Hello Vietnam", Link Wray, Nina Simone.  Maybe you never wanted to hear "Bridge Over Troubled Water" again, but the way it's presented will change your mind.

My Dad died a few years later in 2008.  He is now buried (with my Mom) at a Veterans Cemetery in California.
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