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September/October Issue

red star bulletThe Veteran Departments : Featured Stories / Letters / President's Message / VVAF Report / Government Relations / Ask The Parliamentarian / Veterans Benefits Update / Membership Affairs Committee Report / Legislators View / ETABO Committee Report / PTSD Substance Abuse Comittee Report / TAPS / Region 7 Report / AVVA Report / SHAD/Project 112 Task Force Report / Veterans Against Drugs Task Force Report / VetsConnect Report / Homeless Veterans Task Force Report / Women Veterans Committee Report / Arts of War / Book Review / Membership Notes / Chapter of The Year / Locator / Reunions

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Arts of War

By Marc Leepson

This is what made me uneasy as I watched Sir! No Sir!, the documentary about the Vietnam War GI antiwar movement that was released earlier this year and took home a slew of film festival awards: the absolute certainty of the interviewees that what they did back then was 100 percent right and the unstated corollary that the rest of us who didn’t do what they did were wrong.

What the activist veterans profiled in this stridently anti-Vietnam War film did back then was refuse in varying degrees to support the war while they were on active duty. They started underground GI newspapers, organized off-base GI coffeehouses, drew up antiwar petitions, flat out refused to do their duty, or went AWOL. All received varying degrees of grief from the military. Those who ran afoul of the Uniform Code of Military Justice were prosecuted. Many went to jail for their beliefs.

David Zeiger, who produced, directed, and wrote the script for Sir!, No Sir!, makes excellent use of archival footage of GIs in revolt back in the day, and offers evocative in-country war footage. He also gets the most out of present-day interviews with a group of articulate and passionate men (and one woman, former Navy nurse Susan Schmall) who served in the military in Vietnam and at home and rebelled against the war machine.
Like all documentaries, this one has a point of view. That’s not a problem. But what is bothersome is that Zeiger presents only material that shows that thousands of military personnel took action against the war and the military in the late sixties and early seventies. He completely ignores the millions of men and women who served and did not break the law while in uniform—many of whom, to be sure, had serious qualms about the war and debated long and hard about what (and what not) to do about it.

Then there is Jane Fonda. The actress is featured in this film, with shots of her performing corny skits for GIs in the early seventies with the FTA antiwar review, and movie-star close-ups of her today speaking passionately about how right she was back then. It comes off as self-congratulatory and more than a bit self-aggrandizing. Fonda’s words and demeanor in this documentary will give ammunition to those who cannot forgive her for visiting North Vietnam during the war, a point that Zeiger chooses not to bring up in this passionate but flawed film.
If you crave more information about Sir! No Sir!, go to www.sirnosir.com

ANOTHER FACET FOR THE WALL

The National Capital Planning Commission, the Washington, D.C., board that has the final say-so about memorials and monuments in the Nation’s Capital, gave its approval August 3 to a 25,000-square-foot underground visitor and education center that will be built behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on a triangular plot of land at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. The proposed center, which would include a movie theater, an interactive display featuring photographs of those whose names are on The Wall, along with some of the tens of thousands of items that have been left there, met opposition from preservation groups concerned about protecting the open space on the grounds in front of the Lincoln Memorial, as well as from those who believe a visitors center for The Wall would set a precedent for building similar additions to other D.C. memorials.

The center will cost about $100 million. The legislation passed by Congress in 2003 authorizing the center stipulated that the funding come from private sources as was the case with the funding for the memorial back in the early 1980s. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund already has raised $25 million, is mounting a nationwide campaign to bring in the rest, and expects to have a design chosen by the end of the year.

“It’s a good day,” VVMF president Jan Scruggs said the day the commission approved the visitor and education center. “This was a long time in coming.” Today’s “schoolchildren were not even alive during the Vietnam War,” Scruggs said. “The only way we can make the Memorial have context for them is with an education center that will help them put faces to the names on The Wall.”

CATHERINE LEROY, 1945-2006

Catherine Leroy, who arrived in Saigon as a 21-year-old neophyte photographer in 1966 and left two years later with the reputation as one of the best and most daring photojournalists in the Vietnam War, died of cancer July 8 in Santa Monica, California. She was 60 years old.

Leroy, a French citizen, won the prestigious George Polk Award for News Photography in 1967. She worked in Vietnam for the Associated Press and the Black Star agency. Among her many wartime accomplishments: She was the only accredited journalist who took part in the single combat jump in the Vietnam War, Operation Junction City with the 173rd Airborne; she was wounded in action with a company of the 26th Marines near the DMZ; and she was briefly taken prisoner by the NVA in Hue during Tet 68.

Two years ago, Leroy put together Under Fire: Great Photographers and Writers in Vietnam, a book juxtaposing a series of remarkable Vietnam War photographs with insightful essays by some of the war’s best chroniclers. Many of the photos and accompanying essays appeared in this newspaper over several years.

“Catherine Leroy was a strong-willed, extremely talented woman,” said The VVA Veteran editor Mokie Pratt Porter. “She was one of the greatest combat photographers of the Vietnam War, or any war. We were fortunate to have her work featured in this paper, and we are very saddened by the news of her death.” To read our 2002 profile of Catherine Leroy, go to www.vva.org/TheVeteran/2002_09/arts/htm

ARTS IN BRIEF

Is your idea of entertainment watching Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now and the 2001 Apocalypse Now Redux with its added scenes, along with two additional hours of inside-baseball material about the film? If it is, Paramount Home Entertainment has heard your plea. In August, PHE released for the first time Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier, a two-DVD set containing all of the above material.

The additional material includes Coppola’s commentaries on both films and Marlon Brando as the demented Captain Kurtz doing a 17-minute reading of T.S. Elliot’s famous poem The Hollow Men. That poem, inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, the inspiration for Apocalypse, begins with “Mistah Kurtz - he dead” and ends with “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.” For more info, go to www.paramount.com/homeentertainment

In case you didn’t get the memo (or read the cover story in Newsweek, the feature story in GQ, the front-page article in The New York Times, or any of the other 872,000 articles and news items), famed Nam vet Hollywood director Oliver Stone has a new movie out. Stone surprised many with World Trade Center, which hit the multiplexes on August 9. The surprise: Like his previous film, a bio-epic of Alexander the Great, it is not a conspiracy-laden thriller. Instead, the movie, which opened to huge box office and mostly positive reviews, focuses on the heroic true tale of the rescue of two New York Port Authority Police Officers from the Twin Towers on September 11th.

The New York City 2007 Military Writers Society of America East event is open to veteran writers and family members of veteran writers in all genres. It will feature workshops on getting published, the pitfalls of writing, and how to deal with a literary agent. Awards will be presented as well. For more info, e-mail warriorbooks@aol.com or go to www.militarywriters.com

Harrell Fletcher, an artist who specializes in what he calls “socially engaging interdisciplinary projects,” went to Vietnam in June of 2005 as part of an international artists’ retreat. He paid a visit to the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, which features stark photographs that show only the horrors of war caused by Americans. Fletcher was so inspired by what he saw that he returned with a digital camera and covertly photographed all the exhibits. When Fletcher came home, he printed the museum photos and created a traveling exhibition consisting of about a hundred of them. The exhibit, which contains many images of war at its worst, has been traveling around this country. If you’d like to know more, go to www.harrellfletcher.com

The Unsung Heroes Living History Project, under the direction of Lisa Daniels, is working to pay tribute to African-American veterans of the U.S. armed forces. This continuing project aims to tell the stories of African-American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines through oral history interviews conducted throughout the country with veterans and their families. If you would like to share your story or get involved in helping students do interviews with veterans, call 916-821-7017, or e-mail unsnghros@yahoo.com If you do, mention that you learned about it in these pages.

Lindy Poling continues to run one of the nation’s top high school Vietnam War history classes, titled Lessons of Vietnam, at Millbrook High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. Two of the noteworthy aspects of the course: an annual trip to Washington, D.C., where the students visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (among many other things) where the names of men from Wake County, North Carolina, who perished in the war are read, and the publication of Bridges, a high-quality, student-produced newsletter. The 2006 edition includes articles by students on The Wall, on Arlington National Cemetery, on the Iraq War, and on the situation in Darfur in Sudan. To learn more about this innovative program, go to www.wcpss.net/community_in_the_classroom

In a different kind of classroom, the Harvard Film Archive presented a series of nonfiction films about the Vietnam War from June 2-24 in Cambridge, Mass. Many were of the antiwar variety or focused on the war back home. Among them: Winter Soldier (1972); In the Year of the Pig (1968); Frederick Wiseman’s acclaimed High School (1968); Bill Couturie’s Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam (1987), based on the book by VVA’s Bernie Edelman; Weisman’s Basic Training (1971), filmed at Fort Knox in 1970; Sir! No Sir!; Freida Lee Mock’s tribute to POWs, Return With Honor (1998); Peter Davis’s controversial Hearts and Minds (1974); and Errol Morris’s flawed Fog of War (2003).

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