Arts of War By Marc Leepson

Welcome to “Arts of War,” Vietnam Veterans of America’s up-to-the-minute compendium of information, news and reviews about the arts—movies, television, stage plays, musicals, music, dance, popular and fine arts, and more—that deal with Vietnam veterans and the Vietnam War.

This web page replaces the “Arts of War” column that ran in Vietnam Veterans of America’s national magazine, The VVA Veteran, from 1986-2009. That popular column was written by The VVA Veteran’s arts editor, Marc Leepson, who continues that work on this web site.

We encourage feedback. Please email your comments, questions, and suggestions to

Posted on January 28th 2009 in Comments

Scruggs to Step Down at VVMF

Jan Scruggs, the former Vietnam War infantryman who spearheaded the effort to built the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington—and who has headed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for many years—has announced that he is stepping down from running VVMF in June.

“I’ll continue to sort of be the president emeritus of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund,” Scruggs told The Washington Post. “I’ll continue to work with them on a part-time basis. But basically, running the fund full time is someone else’s domain, and it’s good.”

“There would be no Wall without Jan Scruggs,” former Senator and Secretary of Defense (and Vietnam veteran) Chuck Hagel told The Post. He “came up with the whole concept of, first of all, honoring Vietnam veterans, and then had the courage to make it happen.”



Posted on February 26th 2015 in Memorials

Writer Query: Vietnam Veteran Interviews

Jack Griffiths, a staff writer at History of War magazine in the U.K., is working on a feature entitled “The Vietnam 50,” and would like to interview Vietnam veterans for it.

“We are looking for veterans who have served in the below operations, events and regiments if possible, but it is not essential,” Griffiths told us:

Battles and Operations – Ia Drang – Khe Sanh – Siege of Hué – Hamburger Hill – Binh Ba

Events – US Marines land – ground offensive begins – Tet Offensive – My Lai massacre – Fall of Saigon

Regiments – Mobile Riverine Force

For more info, email

go to 

Posted on January 24th 2015 in Artistic Queries, History, Journalism, Magazines

The First Vietnam Veterans Memorial?

The Dogwood Vietnam Memorial was dedicated on April 20, 1966, in Charlottesville, Virginia, honoring Army Spec 4 Champ Jackson Lawson, Jr., who died in Vietnam in November 1965. The memorial, which now honors all Vietnam veterans, is scheduled to be rededicated on April 24.

Its supporters would like to know if it is, indeed, the nation’s first Vietnam veterans memorial. If you know any other memorials honoring Vietnam veterans that were dedicated before April 20, 1966, please email or

If you do, please mention you read about this on The VVA Veteran‘s “Arts of War”page on the web. Thanks.

Posted on January 16th 2015 in Artistic Queries, Memorials

Robert Stone, 1937-2015

The novelist Robert Stone, whose best-known and best-received book, the Pulitizer-Prize-winning Dog Soldiers (1975) dealt with the legacy of the Vietnam War, died January 10 in Key West, Florida. He was 77.

Stone, who served in the U.S. Navy in the mid-1950s, wrote eight novels, two short story collections, and a memoir,  Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties (2007). That book includes a section on Stone’s 1971 trip to Vietnam as a dubious stringer for a British publication.

Here is Marc Leepson’s review of Prime Green, which appeared in the print edition of The VVA Veteran.

Dog Soldiers was the basis for the 1978 Hollywood movie, Who’ll Stop the Rain, which starred Nick Nolte as Stone’s antihero, Vietnam war veteran Ray Hicks.



Posted on January 13th 2015 in Uncategorized

Neil Leinwohl Exhibit Opening in NYC

Neil Leinwohl served as a U.S. Army photographer in Vietnam. These days Leinwohl is an artist working in acrylic and oil.

The latest exhibit of his work, entitled “Pathway to Abstraction,” opens today, December 23, at the Agora Gallery in New York City. The exhibit runs through January 15, with a reception on Thursday, January 8, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. The exhibit includes the above painting, “Dawson’s Finger.”

Leinwohl’s painting “Cu Chi,” was  featured in a recent Veteran Artist Program exhibit at the Pentagon.

Posted on December 23rd 2014 in Art, Art Exhibits

Bill Murray as a Saintly Vietnam War Veteran

Bill Murray is a great comic actor, a fact we’ve known since he hit the big time when he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1977. He’s also a very good dramatic actor, as evidenced by his work in a ton of movies, including Tootsie (1982), Groundhog Day (1993), Rushmore (1998), Lost In Translation (2003), and this year’s excellent (if depressing) HBO film Olive Kitteridge.

Which brings us to Murray’s latest, St. Vincent, in which the sixty-four-year-old stars as Vincent MacKenna, a cranky, antisocial, hard-drinking Vietnam veteran beset by physical, financial, and emotional problems. This is not a comedy, although Murray provides a few grins here and there—as does Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) playing a kindly, clever, young-ish Catholic school teacher. So does a terrific child actor named Jaeden Lieberher. He plays a smart, bullied pre-teen named Oliver who moves in next door to Vincent with his struggling single mother (Melissa McCarthy) and immediately comes under his curmudgeonly neighbor’s spell.

St. Vincent was written and directly by Theodore Melfi, who based Murray’s character on his wife’s father, a Vietnam veteran “who had a gaggle of kids he never really knew,” and who “abandoned my wife when she was nine-years-old,” Melfi told an interviewer. When she was thirty-four, Melfi’s wife sent her father “a letter and then the phone rang. They reconnected and became father and daughter for the last ten years of his life. He became a saint for her and she for him.”

When the film opens Vincent is anything but saint-like. He is a slovenly introvert who has a regular date with a pregnant prostitute (Naomi Watts with a Russian accent), drinks to excess, and blows money regularly at the race track. Things start to go rapidly downhill for Vincent when he has to come up with money he doesn’t have to pay off his gambling debts.

As the plot spins out (mainly involving Vincent’s reluctant babysitting of Oliver and the consequences it has for both of them), we begin to see some of his saintly qualities. One of them involves his service in the Vietnam War where he fought heroically in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley.

This small film could have descended into hokum. In fact, it comes very close at times. But it is saved by the natural and endearing acting of young Jaeden Liberher, by Murray’s charisma, and by a plot that has a few surprises. Several times Melfi makes the point that saints are, after all, human and Vincent is as human as they get, a walking contradiction of strengths and weaknesses.

Then there is the image question. Is Vincent just another in a long line of stereotypically Hollywood screwed-up Vietnam vets?  The good news is that he isn’t. Yes, he drinks, curses, and treats people unkindly. But that’s a far cry from the walking-time-bomb cardboard cut-out Hollywood used to offer us in countless movies and TV shows. Vincent is a fully flushed out human being with good and bad qualities—anything but a stereotype.

St. Vincent is a serious-minded film with a few laughs and has an ending that will not surprise you. But it’s entertaining and thoughtful. And worth seeing.

—Marc Leepson


Posted on December 21st 2014 in Feature Films

‘No Man Left Behind’ Statues Unveiled at Camps Lejeune and Pendleton

Two copies of “No Man Left Behind,” a striking ten-foot-tall bronze monument created by the artist and sculptor John Phelps, were dedicated today outside of the Wounded Warrior Battalion (East) Hope and Care Center on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and at the front entrance of the Wounded Warrior Complex of the Wound Warrior Battalion (West) at Camp Pendleton in California.

The  monument is based on “Hell Hole,” an iconic photograph taken in Fallujah by Lucian Read in 2004. It depicts two Marine Corps Lance Corporals—Chris Marquez and Dane Shaffer—rescuing 1st Sgt Bradley Kasal. Phelps, a Vietnam veteran who received the VVA Excellence in the Arts Award at the 2009 National Convention, spent four four years working on the life-sized monument, which he completed on November. 1.

His son, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, was killed at age 19 in Iraq the same year the photograph was taken. The acclaimed HBO film Taking Chance is based on the journey that Marine Lt. Col. Mike Strobl underwent after he volunteered to escort Chance Phelps’s body from Dover Air Force Base to Phelps’ hometown in Wyoming. Strobl’s journal of that journey is the heart of the film.

Marines, John Phelps said after he finished the sculpture, understand that the monument “is honoring the sacrifice of all Marines especially the wounded.”

The sculptures were presented to the Marine Corps from the organization, Hope for the Warriors, a nonprofit that works in various ways to help post-September 11th service members and their families, including those who have sustained physical and psychological wounds in the line of duty.

“I am honored to work with Hope For The Warriors in creating this monument,” Phelps said. “I express myself through my art and this monument is a labor of love for me. Love for not just my son but for my growing Marine Corps family.”

Sculptor John Phelps (at left) with the statue. Standing next to Phelps is Chris Marquez, the Marine on the left in the statue


Lucian Read photo taken in Fallujah of USMC Lance Corporal Chris Marquez, 1st Sgt Bradley Kasal, and Lance Corporal Dane Shaffer.

Posted on November 12th 2014 in Art, Memorials, Sculpture

Connelly’s ‘City of Bones’ Audio

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch detective novel, City of Bones, published in hardcover in 2002, is now available on audio (Hachette, 9  CDs, 11 hours, $25).

This was Connelly’s seventh sterling detective novel featuring former Vietnam War tunnel rat Bosch, a brooding, brilliant LAPD homicide investigator. This time Bosch will not rest until he discovers the killer of a 13-year-old boy whose bones turn up in a shallow grave in the Hollywood Hills.

As usual, Bosch gets into serious trouble with his uptight superiors, has a troubled love affair, and fights through dark emotional times before he solves the case. The plot hums rapidly and the dialogue and characters ring true in this top-notch, satisfying novel.

The reading is done by Peter J. Fernandez, in what the Publishers Weekly review calls a “convincing” performance

Posted on November 3rd 2014 in Book News, Fiction

Big Veterans Day Concert on the Mall in D.C.

HBO has been a long-time supporter of America’s veterans. The giant pay cable network continues that admirable endeavor with its sponsorship of what promises to be a memorable live concert on Veterans Day, November 11. The Concert For Valor includes performances by Bruce Springsteen (who has been an important supporter of Vietnam Veterans of America), Rihanna, Metallica, Carrie Underwood, Zac Brown, and Dave Grohl, and appearances by Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks (one of the event’s producers), John Oliver, Steven Spielberg, and others.

The concert, co-hosted by Starbucks Coffee Company, will be broadcast on HBO at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time. HBO has made an arrangement with its affiliates to open the signal, allowing non-subscribers to see the concert.

The event “will provide a national stage for ensuring that veterans and their families know that their fellow Americans’ gratitude is genuine,” the sponsors said. The goal is “raising awareness for veterans service organizations dedicated to education, wellness, reemployment and reintegration.”

Posted on October 15th 2014 in Events, Music, On TV

Website Query: Vietnam War Pinups Wanted

Andi Gustavson, a graduate student studying the history of snapshot photography and war at the University of Texas, has set up a website—“a digital archive”— for “an important group of conflict photographs that has yet to be recognized by museums, archives, or historians…. personal snapshots that were most significant to servicemen and women.

To that end, Gustavson would like Vietnam veterans to visit the Personal Pin-up Project at and upload a photograph. Submissions, Gustavson says, “may include snapshots of lovers, wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, other family members, pets, etc. I am also willing to digitize hard copy snapshots if vets want to participate but need help.”

The hope is that “by exploring the snapshots taken by service members into war zones and overseas, we can learn more about the intimate and daily experiences of conflict and the relationship between war and love, hope, longing, desire, frustration, admiration, and nostalgia.”

For more info, email and please mention The VVA Veteran‘s Arts of War on the web page if you do.

Posted on October 8th 2014 in Artistic Queries, Arts on the Web, Photography