The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

August 2002
ARTS OF WAR
   
 

Homecoming: Running For The Wall, Healing Wounds Of War

BY MARC LEEPSON 
 

The Run for the Wall, which began in 1989, consists of Vietnam veterans and their friends and supporters who ride their motorcycles cross country in May and meet at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington where they join the giant, cacophonous Rolling Thunder Memorial Day Weekend rally. The Run has three main objectives: to promote healing among Vietnam veterans, their families, and their friends; to call for an accounting of all POW/MIAs; and to honor those who perished in the Vietnam War.

The deeply emotional documentary, Homecoming: A Vietnam Vets Journey, which was shown on PBS stations beginning in June, deals with two of the Run’s objectives: healing and honoring the dead. It does not touch the POW/MIA issue, and focuses primarily on the healing aspect. Director and editor Eric Christiansen looks closely at five Vietnam veterans in a group of 300 cyclists on the ten-day 1999 journey from Ontario, California, through the southwest and across the nation’s heartland into the Nation’s Capital.

The film consists of scenes from the long bike trip itself and the thoughts of the five veterans. The events at The Wall take up only a small amount of screen time. The phrase "Rolling Thunder" is never uttered; nor does the viewer get a sense that the 300 riders become part of the huge Rolling Thunder throng.

All of the five showcased veterans - Bob Trimble, his brother Dennis Trimble, Ed Gohn, James R. Franklin, and James Grainger - are articulate. And all five have moving tales to tell about their war and postwar experiences. The star of the show is Bob Trimble, a former Army officer who served a 1967-68 Vietnam War tour as a Captain with the 1st Cav and a second 1969-70 tour with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Christiansen builds his film around Trimble, a Santa Barbara, California, therapist who was making his first Run for the Wall.

Like the other featured veterans, Bob Trimble is not afraid to share his deepest feelings. He forthrightly opens up to the camera about his tours in Vietnam, about his best friend who was killed in the war, about his relationships with his mother and his younger brother Dennis (who served in Vietnam as a 101st Airborne medic), and about what he expects to happen on his initial Run. Christiansen follows Bob Trimble - and his guardian angel on the ride, Navy veteran Ed "Fingers" Gohn - as Trimble faces down his war-induced demons.

The ride proves to be emotionally therapeutic for each of the veterans. They experience various degrees of healing, helped by each other and by the support they receive along the way. "This is our parade … thirty years late," one veteran says. For more information about dates, go to http://www.homecoming.tv

THE COFFELT DATABASE

In a brief ceremony at the National Archives in Washington June 5, a group of researchers presented an invaluable electronic database to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The database contains unit designations down to the company level of more than 50,000 of those members of the U.S. Armed Forces who died in the Vietnam War. No other centralized source for this information had existed before and much of the information will soon be in the public domain for the first time.

"The database is going to be a great tool for researchers," said Michael Carlson, the director of Electronic and Special Media in the National Archives’ Record Services Division. The database is now being processed into the Archives’ collection. Once that process is complete - probably by early October - the data will be made available to Vietnam veterans, their families, unit historians, researchers, and anyone else interested in learning about those who perished in the Vietnam War. "When we have the information fully processed, people will be able to get copies [of the database] and to gain access to it over the Internet," Carlson said.

Three people are primarily responsible for the new database: Richard D. Coffelt, a retired lawyer; David L. Argabright, a VVA Life Member who served with the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam; and Richard Arnold, a 25th Infantry Division veteran who heads the 35th Infantry Regiment Association. Coffelt, described by Argabright as "the world’s leading expert on U.S. casualties in Vietnam," began compiling the information in the early 1980s. Arnold and Argabright began helping Coffelt with this enormous task in the 1990s.

"I was working on a battalion history for my unit, and I found out that no statistics existed" on the units of those who died in Vietnam, Argabright told us. "We kept thinking that there had to be a complete list and we went on a quest to find it. We got a lot of help from a lot of people and we plumbed thousands of records in the National Archives, the presidential libraries, and the Army’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii." The database with information on more than 50,000 KIAs, he said, "is a great leap forward compared to where we were three or four years ago."

The Coffelt Database, as it is known, will be officially called the Vietnam War Combat Area Casualty Database. The researchers have kindly donated a copy of the database on CD ROM to VVA. Watch this space to learn when the database goes on line in the fall. When it does, you can view it through the Archives’ website, www.archives.gov by following the links to the "Research Room’’ and the path to "Electronic Records.’’

SOLDIERS STUFF

You’ve read the book, seen the movie, and perhaps bought the tee shirt. Now you can read Randall Wallace’s screenplay for We Were Soldiers, the excellent Vietnam War movie based on Joe Galloway and Gen. Hal Moore’s seminal book We Were Soldiers Once and Young. The screenplay, which is available through www.Amazon.com and www.TheWheelhouse.com for $16.95, contains a facsimile of the shooting script, cuts and changes, scene notes, photos, storyboards, and other features. There’s an introduction by Gen. Moore, a foreword by Galloway, and an interview with filmmaker Randall Wallace.

You’ve read the screenplay, now you can own the movie on DVD. The release date for We Were Soldiers on DVD is August 20. Aside from the film, the disc will contain director’s comments and a 30-minute documentary on the making of the film.

You’ve seen the DVD, now you can listen to the original score of the film along with the individual songs in We Were Soldiers in two different CDs, Nick Glennie-Smith’s score (Sony Music, $18.98) and Music From and Inspired by We Were Soldiers (Sony Music Nashville, $18.98). The latter contains new songs written for the film from a group of top-notch recording artists from different musical genres. That includes Mary Chapin Carpenter, Johnny Cash and Dave Matthews (who sing a duet), Michael McDonald, and the U.S. Military Academy Glee Club and Metro Voices. The album also contains the moving country ballad "Didn’t I," written by Anthony Smith and performed by the duo Montgomery Gentry.

ARTS IN BRIEF

The KIM Foundation International and the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum of Chicago are sponsoring "Children of War: A Child’s Life at War and Play" at The Peace Museum in the Windy City. The photography and art show runs through August 30. The show will benefit NVVAM and the foundation, which was founded by Kim Phuc (the famous young girl in the napalm photograph) to help children in war zones around the world. The show also will be mounted at the Aurora (Ill.) Arts Council next spring. Among the artists whose works are on display in the show is Ron Mann and his painting called "KIA." Mann, a VVA Life Member, use black-and-white, acrylic-on-canvas paintings that deal with his Vietnam War experiences.

The play One Shot, One Kill, which ran in New York City’s nonprofit Primary Stages Theater Mary 8-June 23, deals with the relationship between a present-day Marine Corps sniper and a veteran sniper who earned his stripes in the Vietnam Wear. The latter reminded one critic of the fictional Col. Nathan Jessup, the psychotic Marine Vietnam veteran in Aaron Sorkin’s play A Few Good Men. Jessup was played memorably by Jack Nicholson in the 1992 Rob Reiner film version of the play. One Shot was written by Richard Vetere, a poet, playwright, novelist, actor, and screenwriter.

If you’d like information about the song "Stand Up for the Veteran" written by Linda Oatman High and Donna Upson and performed by Upson, call 717-445-8246 or e-mail lohigh@desupernet.net

WRITING QUERY

Dr. Michael Westort of Westfield, Mass., has been working with Vietnam veterans, helping them "express their thoughts and ideas about the War through their writing." That experience, he said, "seems to be challenging but very fulfilling. As the process and effect of this writing is very meaningful for them and for me, it's now my intention to seek out and compile short and long written works by Vietnam veterans. This project is informal and still in an early stage, and the collection of works will only be distributed back to the authors." If you would like more information, call 413-572-0081 or e-mail mwestort@hge.net

   

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