Archive for May, 2011

The Next Ken Burns Opus: The Vietnam War


PBS announced in March that the noted documentary film maker Ken Burns, best known for his groundbreaking 1990 TV documentary on the Civil War, and his long-time partner Lynn Novick will be producing and directing a mutlti-part documentary about the Vietnam War.

The series, PBS said, “will explore the military, political, cultural, social, and human dimensions of the war. “It will focus primarily on the human experience of the conflict, using eyewitness testimonies of so-called ‘ordinary’ people – Americans as well as Vietnamese – whose lives were touched by the war.”  The series also will give voice to Americans who opposed the war. It will consist of 10-12 parts, and is slated to air in 2016.

“Today, more than four decades after it ended, nearly everyone has an opinion about the Vietnam War, but few Americans truly know its history and there is little consensus about what happened there, or why,” Burns said. “Our series will shed light both on the history of the war, and on our inability to find common ground about it.”

“We feel it is of paramount importance to honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who did what our country asked of them, and went to Vietnam,”  Novick added. “By providing an opportunity for veterans, their families, and those who opposed the war alike, to bear witness to their experiences, we believe that this series will help heal the deep divisions that have endured in America for decades over this enormously controversial and tragic war.”

Also in the works: an interactive website; an educational component for teachers and students; and community engagement grants that will get local PBS stations involved. There also will be a book.

The Vietnam War series will follow the Ken Burns formula of using on-camera interviews with witnesses, third person narration, archival footage and photographs, music, sound effects, TV news reports, and live cinematography.

Posted on May 25th 2011 in Documentaries, History

Dan Guenther wins Poetry Award


Dan Guenther, whose trilogy of novels—China Wind, (1990), Dodge City Blues, (2007), and Townsend’s Solitaire ( 2008)—are based on his experiences as a Marine officer in Vietnam, received an award from the Colorado Authors’ League May 10 for his book of collected poetry, The Crooked Truth.

Judges from the Southwest Writers  of New Mexico chose the finalists and winners in eight categories for the 2011 CAL Awards. For more info, go to the CAL website.

Posted on May 18th 2011 in Book News, Poetry

May 21 PTSD Benefit Concert in Des Moines

The National Veterans Recovery Center Project, which is raising funds to build a nonprofit holistic treatment facility for veterans with PTSD on the site of the former VA Hospital facility in Knoxville, Iowa, will old its first benefit concert beginning at 8:00 p.m., on Saturday, May 21 at the Fourth Street Theater in Des Moines.
On the bill: Vietnam veterans singer/songwriter Lem Genovese, who lives in  La Crosse, Wisconsin, and is a 1968 Des Moines North High School alum. In addition to serving in Vietnam, Genovese, then a member of the Iowa National Guard, put in a tour as a combat medic in the first Persian Gulf War.
The Armed Forces Day event, dubbed an “Evening in Black and White,” also will honor honor Iowa’s veterans and active-duty military personnel. For more info, go to the Project’s web site.

Posted on May 17th 2011 in Music

My Vietnam, Your Iraq on PBS

The excellent documentary, My Vietnam, Your Iraq, which we reviewed a year ago, will be aired on many PBS stations around the nation around Memorial Day weekend, from May 28 to June 2. Check your local listings for times and dates.

Also: the DVD of the doc–a series of incisive interviews with Vietnam veterans and their sons and daughters who served in Iraq, produced and directed by VVA member Ron Osgood–may now be pre-ordered from PBS Home Video.

For more info on the documentary, go to the My Vietnam, Your Iraq page on the PBS web site or the film’s web site. To order the DVD, go to the PBS Home Video site.

Posted on May 6th 2011 in Documentaries, On TV

Kelley’s Where We Were Now on E Books

Former 101st Airborne rifleman and machine gunner (and long-time VVA member) Michael P. (“M-60″) Kelley’s massive, exhaustively researched, comprehensive guide to virtually every U.S. military installation in Vietnam, Where We Were in Vietnam (2002), has just been made available electronically, including on Kindle, on

Kelley tells us that he believes his granddaughter was the first person to download the book. “When I realized the book had become available electronically, I shanghaied [her] from school, rushed home and had her download it to my Kindle, since I’m a bit shaky on the technology, and  she’s a whiz,” Kelley told us in an electronic communication.

“Impressed mightily by her grandfather’s stature in the world of literature after it was aboard the Kindle, she looked at me and said, ‘Can I ride my bike now, Grampa?'”

Posted on May 6th 2011 in Book News

50th Anniversary Commemoration Website

A new, expanded website for the government’s official 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War Commemmoration has just gone live. 

Two years ago, Congress enacted a law authorizing the Secretary of Defense to conduct a program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. That program, officially called the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration, will coordinate  activities in the federal government, with other state and local governments, and with indiviudals and organizations outside the government. 

The main objective of the commemoration, in the words of the legislation, is to “thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War,” including POWs and MIAs, “for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States and to thank and honor the families of these veterans.”

The Commemoration will consist of a series of national and regional events, as well as educational outreach initiatives. The latter will include traveling museums, regional exhibits, symposia, posters, graphic novels, maps, and other reference materials.

Among other things, the new web site contains an interactive timeline, as well as information on upcoming programs and activities (none are scheduled as yet).

Posted on May 4th 2011 in Arts on the Web

‘Vietnam Journal’ Comic On Line

Don Lomax, who was drafted into the Army and did a 1966-67 Vietnam War tour with the 98th Light Equipment Maintenance Company, wrote and drew the Vietnam Journal comic book back in 1987. Individual pages of the graphically drawn and written in-country comic, now out of print, are now on line.

Vietnam Journal started out  a black-and-white comic and later was a color strip in Gallery Magazine. It now lives on in increments on Lomax’s website as a “web comic.” The story line follows Scott Neithammer, a freelance war correspondent who is reporting on the war from the infantryman’s point of view.

“We will leave each posting up for a period of time as traffic on this site dictates,” Lomax (below) says on the site, “then they will be replaced with new pages on a regular basis. Unfortunately, due to space restrictions, the pages will not be archived.”

You can read a recent interview with Lomax on the History.Net website.

Posted on May 4th 2011 in Arts on the Web, Comic Books

‘A Time to Kill’ – the Play

What’s being bill as the “Pre-Broadway World Premiere” of the play, “A Time To Kill,” based on John Grisham’s  first novel, begins May 6 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Adopted for the stage by Tony Award winner Rupert Holmes, the 1989 book (and the 1996 film) and the new play deal with a Vietnam veteran’s reaction a horrific crime perpetrated on his daughter and the racially charged aftermath, played out in a Mississippi courtroom. The Arena Stage production runs through June 19.

Here’s our brief review of the heavily promoted movie (which featured a slew of stars, including Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, Ashley Judd, Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey and Patrick McGoohan), which appeared in the in-print “Arts of War” column in the September 1996 issue of The Veteran. (Spoiler alert: read no further if you don’t want to know details of the crime.)

As all viewers of summertime TV movie trailers know, the Hollywood version of John Grisham’s first novel A Time to Kill (1989), deals with the racially charged trial of a black man in Mississippi. In the novel Grisham makes it plain that the defendant, Carl Lee Hailey, is a Vietnam veteran. Hailey even uses an M-16 to shoot and kill the two evil white men who had brutally raped his 12-year-old daughter.

In the movie, written by Akiva Goldsman, the word “Vietnam” is not mentioned, and it isn’t until well into the trial that we hear of Carl Lee Hailey’s “service during the war.” The movie, which opened July 24, stayed faithful to Grisham’s sympathetic portrait of Carl Lee (played supremely well by Samuel L. Jackson, above, right) as a family man with a steady job who is driven to act in extreme anguish after the horror that befalls his daughter.

Despite his one act of violent vigilantism, Carl Lee can be put into the positive category in Hollywood’s not-so-hot history of portraying Vietnam vets on the screen. On the other hand, it’s a good bet that the movie’s one phrase relating to Carl Lee’s military service will not even register with many viewers.

Posted on May 2nd 2011 in Plays