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 mleepson@vva.org

Posted on January 28th 2009 in Comments

National Geographic’s ‘Brothers in War’ Doc

The lead item in the “Books in Review” column in the September/October 2012 issue of The VVA Veteran was a favorable review of Andrew Wiest’s The Boys of ’67: Charlie Company’s War in Vietnam. Wiest’s first-rate book looked at a company of the 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division—the draftee-heavy unit that was raised in 1966 and trained as a unit for service in the Vietnam War:

In the book Wiest follows a group of men who were drafted into the reformed 9th Infantry Division. After training in the States, the men went to Vietnam in January 1967  together on a troop ship. In Vietnam, the men of Charlie Company soon became enmeshed in the worst the war had to offer.

The new two-hour  National Geographic Channel documentary, “Brothers In War,” which aired on the channel March 26, is based on Wiest’s book. The doc, which was put together by Lou Reda Productions, is aided immeasurably by digitally enhanced home movies of the men in training and in Vietnam. It also includes stock war footage, news clips, and narration from back in the day, along with present-day interviews with a dozen or so Charlie Company veterans.

The men left for Vietnam after training at Fort Riley on January 10, 1967, on a World War II-era transport ship. After three weeks at sea, they landed in Vietnam. In April Charlie Company was assigned to the Mekong Delta as part of the Mobile Riverine Force, functioning as the infantry arm of that joint Army-Navy operation. The men of Charlie Company suffered extremely high casualty rates; 25 were killed in action and 105 were wounded. Many of the men suffered anew after returning home, battling post-traumatic stress disorder for decades.

The doc effectively recreates what the men went through on the ground in Vietnam. A lot of it was harrowing and the film does not avoid close-up images of dead and wounded American soldiers.  The actor Charlie Sheen, who narrated and starred in Platoon, provides voice overs, but most of the narration comes from the men of Charlie Company, most of whom articulately explain what they went through more than four decades ago.”

Charlie Company in combat in the Mekong Delta

 

Posted on April 17th 2014 in Documentaries

‘Semper Fi’ Documentary on Lejeune Contamination

Ten years ago I wrote about the disastrous groundwater contamination at Camp Lejeune, the vast Marine Corps base in North Carolina. That story in The VVAVeteran was one of the earliest looks at what has since been acknowledged as the most extensive water pollution disaster in U.S. history.

The powerful documentary film Semper Fi, originally released in 2011, examines that shameful episode with a spirit that is at once cynical and hopeful. This combination is hard to do well in any medium, but it works to potent effect in this film. For anyone who wants to understand the human cost of Lejeune’s unchecked poisoning of its own water supply, this film is a must-see.

Over a 40-year period (1957-87) as many as a million people at Lejeune–-–marines, their families, and civilian employees–-–drank and bathed in tap water tainted with dangerously elevated levels of toxic chemicals. This contamination resulted in epidemic levels of catastrophic human illness, including cancers, miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects. The water’s dangers were well known to the chain of command, including a series of base commandants, all of whom took little or no action, or mired those actions in endless loops of military red tape.

It took years of grassroots battles and lengthy federal inquiries before Congress passed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act in August 2012, assuring medical care to those injured by exposure to Camp Lejeune’s water.

Many people were involved in the long journey from cover-up to the signing of that bill, but one man in particular, retired Marine staff sergeant Jerry Ensminger, is at the center of the effort. His motivation is profound: one of Lejeune’s victims was his own daughter, Janey, dead at age 9 from leukemia, one of the illnesses now acknowledged to be a result of Lejeune’s bad water.

One in ten Americans lives within ten miles of a contaminated military site, and there are more than 130 environmentally contaminated military sites in the United States, making the Department of Defense the nation’s largest polluter. The sad tale of Camp Lejeune is not an outlyer or a tragic single event–-–it’s simply one of many military environmental debacles, most of which are stories yet untold.

Semper Fi is a memorable documentary of importance to veterans in general, and particularly to USMC vets and families who lived and served at Lejeune in those toxic years between 1957-87.

Semper Fi is available from Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and SundanceNow. The film’s web site is www.semperfialwaysfaithful.com

—Richard Currey

Posted on April 10th 2014 in Documentaries

New Vietnam War History App

Touchzing, a media company that specializes in creating history-related apps, has just introduced Vietnam War Interactive for the iPad. This $4.99 educational app contains more than 400 photos on virtually all aspects of the war in Vietnam and at home; twenty-one video clips; a detailed interactive timeline (from 1858-1976), and a slew of articles.

It divides the history of the war in six periods:

Events leading to the war

The Diem era, from 1955-63

The Johnson years

Escalation of war

The  Nixon years

America’s exit

Posted on March 19th 2014 in History

The New American Heroes Channel’s Series ‘Against the Odds’

Earlier this month Discovery Communications changed the name of its Military Channel to the American Heroes Channel. One of the newly named channel’s new series is “Against the Odds,” which profiles the actions of American troops in uphill battles in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.

The first episode of the new series ran on March 3; it zeroed on on the Battle of Hue City in January and February of 1968 during the Tet Offensive. The episode contained rare footage of U.S. Marines in action as they faced daunting odds against entrenched NVA troops as they fought street-by-street for control of Hue.  Along with narration from actor Rob Lowe, we also hear the present-day voices of Marines who took part in the vicious fighting. The episode does not spare the viewer images of dead and severely wounded American Marines.

Upcoming episodes will look at the World War II Battles of Okinawa, the Bulge, and Tarawa; the Battle of Chosin Reservoir from the Korean War; and the Battle of Ramadi from the Iraq War.

Posted on March 19th 2014 in Documentaries, History, On TV

New Web Site for Veteran Art and Writing

Matthew Bellantoni, a senior at Parsons the New School for Design, is in the beginning stages of building a website to help veteran writers and artists.  The idea is to “create an online platform for veterans to sell their stories and art works,” Bellantoni told us. “Most of the revenue will go the veteran. The project is called Bridge the Gap because we ‘bridge the gap’ between military veterans to civilians and help civilians understand the courage and commitment of a military veteran.”

There’s “a huge gap between civilians (students especially at art schools) and military veterans,” he said. “The purpose of this project is to bring that gap together.  Civilians will see military veterans as humans just like you and me instead of ‘those people.’”

To that end, he is looking for military veterans “who would want to sell their artwork on my website, people who would want to buy military veteran art work, and people who are interested on military artwork in general.”

If you fit in those categories, send an email to bellm348@newschool.edu to learn more. If you do, please mention you learned about the site on the VVA Veteran’s Arts of War on the web page.

Posted on March 10th 2014 in Art, Arts on the Web

Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Wall’

The mega rock star Bruce Springsteen was a crucial supporter of Vietnam Veterans of America during its early years. When the then-three-year-old organization was struggling financially in the summer of 1981, Springsteen turned over all the proceeds from his sold-out August 20 concert (the first of six) at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena to VVA.

Springsteen came out on stage that night and made a short speech about how the nation shamefully neglected its Vietnam veterans. He then introduced VVA Founding President Bobby Muller, who told the crowd that it was “a great night for Vietnam veterans.”

The night, Muller said, “is the first step in ending the silence that has surrounded Vietnam [and] is the beginning of thanking all the people that have worked so hard for these years all over the country” for Vietnam veterans.

“It’s a little bit ironic,” Muller said, that American businesses “haven’t come behind us and the political leaders have failed to rally behind us, that when you remember the divisions within our own generation about the war, that it ultimately turns out to be the very symbol of our generation, rock ’n roll, that brings us together.”

Rock ‘n roll, he said, ” is going to provide the healing process that everybody needs. So let’s not talk about it, let’s get down to it. Let’s rock ’n roll.”

Springsteen then led his E Street Band into a spirited and emotional version of “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” the old Credence Clearwater Revival song.

The concert, one Springsteen fan later wrote, was “possibly the most emotional show of Bruce’s career.” Several band members “reportedly had tears in their eyes when they started ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’.”  Springsteen “himself was overcome with emotion during ‘The River’ and stopped singing at one point. ”

The audio of that entire concert–all three-plus hours of it–is on You Tube.

Springsteen continued to support VVA after that concert. And he continued to honor Vietnam veterans in his life and work. That includes his  iconic 1984 song, “Born in the U.S.A,” as well as the song “The Wall” on Springsteen’s latest album “High Hopes.”

“The Wall” is a mournful, bitter ballad told in the voice of a friend of a Marine named Billy who died in Vietnam. The friend is talking to Billy at The Wall.

“This black stone and these hard tears are all I got left now of you,” he says. “I remember you in your Marine uniform laughin’, laughin’ at your ship-out party. I read Robert McNamara says he’s sorry.”

In the CD’s liner notes, Springsteen explains how he came to write the song and the real person whose name is on The Wall who inspired the song:

The song, he wrote, ” is something I’d played on stage a few times and remains very close to my heart.  The title and idea were Joe Grushecky’s, then the song appeared after [his wife] Patti and I made a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.”

The song, Springsteen said, “was inspired by my memories of Walter Cichon. Walter was one of the great early Jersey Shore rockers, who along with his brother Ray (one of my early guitar mentors), led the The Motifs, a local rock band who were always a head above everybody else.  Raw, sexy and rebellious, they were the heroes you aspired to be.

“But these were heroes you could touch, speak to, and go to with your musical inquiries.  Cool, but always accessible, they were an inspiration to me, and many young working musicians in 1960s central New Jersey.

“Though my character in ‘The Wall’ is a Marine, Walter was actually in the Army, A Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry.  He was the first person I ever stood in the presence of who was filled with the mystique of the true rock star.  ’

Walter Cichon went missing in action in Kontum,  South Vietnam, on March 30, 1968.  He remains listed as MIA from the Vietnam War.

“He still performs somewhat regularly in my mind, the way he stood, dressed, held the tambourine, the casual cool, the free-ness,” Springsteen said.

“The man who by his attitude, his walk said, ‘you can defy all this, all of what’s here, all of what you’ve been taught, taught to fear, to love and you’ll still be alright.’

“His was a terrible loss to us, his loved ones and the local music scene.  I still miss him.”


Posted on March 6th 2014 in Music

Author Query

Joseph Nasta would like a Vietnam veteran’s help in reviewing his novel, which touches heavily on the Vietnam War.  Nasta, a post-Vietnam War veteran, has filled the book with stories based on those he’s heard from Vietnam veterans, but would like a veteran of that war to offer “a serious critique of the material,” he told us.

“Snippets of the work , which is titled The Last Lieutenant are on the website Tumbler at  jgavinallan.tumblr.com

“If after a few paragraphs, the volunteer thinks it’s garbage, he should feel free to write me so,” Nasta said. “I’ve heard worse.”

If you’re interested, send an email to jgavinallan@gmail.com

Posted on February 20th 2014 in Book News

Student Query: Info on The Ho Chi Minh Trail

Mélanie Cabo, a French student at The University of Montpellier studying military history, is writing a paper on The Ho Chi Minh Trail. She would like to hear from Vietnam veterans who would be willing to share documents, photographs, letters, movies, official documents, or oral history interviews dealing with the Trail.

If you’d like to help, email cabo.melanie@orange.fr

Or write to 9 rue Ciste Fresch, 34980 Combaillaux, FRANCE

If you do, please mention that your learned of her work on The VVA Veteran’s Arts of War on the web page.

 

 

Posted on February 18th 2014 in Artistic Queries, History, In the Classroom

‘Bravo’ Screening Feb. 13 in Arizona

The excellent Vietnam War documentary, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, will be shown tonight, Thursday, February 13, in filmmaker Ken Rodgers’s home town of Casa Grande, Arizona, at the historic Paramount Theatre at 7:00 PM.

Proceeds from the screening of Bravo! will help fund the Pinal County Veterans Memorial.

Produced and directed by Rogers, a U.S. Marine Corps Khe Sanh veteran, and his wife Betty Rodgers, the doc—which we screened at VVA’s 2012 Leadership Conference in Texas—looks at the siege through the eyes of fifteen men who served at Khe Sanh with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines and survived to tell their tales.

“This is a grunt film that looks at history from over the lip of the trench,” Steven Hunter wrote in his review  in The VVA Veteran. ”It’s a privilege and an honor to come across a work as disciplined and rigorous as Ken and Betty Rodgers’s Bravo!”

For more info, go to www.paramountfoundation.org/EVENTS.html or www.bravotheproject.com or www.facebook.com/bravotheproject

For info on the Bravo! DVD, go to www.bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd 

 

Posted on February 13th 2014 in Documentaries, On DVD

Harry Bosch Comes to the (Computer) Screen

In 1992, former Los Angeles Times police reporter Michael Connelly (above, right) published The Black Echo, a taut, compulsively readable detective thriller about a quirky L.A. homicide detective named Harry Bosch. A former Vietnam War tunnel rat, Bosch was emotionally troubled by his war experiences. As brooding as he was, though, Bosch was a determined, smart detective who did rest until he solved a heinous murder.

Since 1992,  Connelly has written a total of eighteen Harry Bosch detective procedurals, including the latest The Black Box, which came out in 2012. We have reviewed all eighteen in The VVA Veteran‘s Books in Review magazine column and on our Books in Review II web page. All of those reviews have been highly favorable, as have nearly all the other critics’s reactions to the Bosch detectives. The books also have become huge bestsellers, and it seemed all but certain there would be a movie (or movies) based on them.

Connelly, in fact, sold the rights to the Harry Bosch character to Paramount Pictures not long after The Black Echo (which contains plenty of references to Bosch’s Vietnam War experiences) came out. “Many efforts were made, and many screenplays were written, some by Oscar-winning writers,” Connelly told the L.A. Times recently.  ”But they ultimately never came to fruition. And Harry stayed on the shelf for two decades.”

Connelly gave up on theHollywoodsystem, got the rights to his character back, and has just co-written and co-executive produced  “Bosch,” a new drama pilot. It’s not on TV, though, or on cable, pay cable, Netflix, or pay-per-view on-line. To view “Bosch” you do so through Amazon Prime, where it has been streaming since February 6.

Watching the pilot, which stars  Titus Welliver  (above, left) in the title role, is a treat for Harry Bosch fans as our flawed hero and his LAPD world come to life remarkably vividly. The plot is an amalgam of Boschian adventures. The one-hour show begins with a flashback of Harry tracking down a criminal and killing him in a dark alley. Did he do it in self defense or out of pure hatred? He is exonerated by the LAPD, but faces a civil wrongful death lawsuit. Meanwhile, Bosch gets enmeshed in a perplexing murder case.

All of the elements of the novels shine through in this dark film. Welliver is angst-ridden and angry—and devoted to solving the murder case he’s working on. The other actors are quite good, including Troy Evans, a VVA member and recipient of the VVA Excellence in the Arts Award, who has a small role as a grumpy detective.

The directing is tight. The atmosphere of the movie feels like a Harry Bosch novel. Every scene was shot in Los Angeles, adding to the verisimilitude. A Harry Bosch fan couldn’t ask for more—except for more episodes, which will be forthcoming.

By the way, Harry’s service in the Vietnam War is not mentioned in the pilot; there’s a one hundred per cent chance it will be as the series continues.

—Marc Leepson

Posted on February 8th 2014 in Book News, TV Series