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

March/April 2003
ARTS OF WAR
 
 

Mara Wallis's Documentary On Show Folk In Vietnam

BY MARC LEEPSON

When most of us think about the entertainers who came to Vietnam to lift our morale during the war, we  recall Bob Hope and such big name stars as Connie Stevens, Ann Margaret, and Raquel Welch, who did their thing at blockbuster USO shows. But thousands of other--mostly unknown--musicians, dancers, singers, and other show folk from back home, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and the Philippines also entertained the troops all over South Vietnam.

Mara Wallis, an Australian entertainer, came to Vietnam in 1967 and stayed two-and-a-half years dancing and prancing in mini-dress and go-go boots with rock 'n' roll bands. "I was drawn to Vietnam with the promise of work and out of a sense of adventure," Wallis says in Entertaining Vietnam, her new, top-notch documentary. Wallace wrote, produced, and directed this revealing 53-minute film, which has been making the rounds of film festivals.  

The folks in her film are not household names: Nancy Donovan Bradberry, Denise Cooper, Daryl Fedeen, Denise Perrier, Julie Hibbard, Carol Middlemiss. They performed solo or were in groups such as the all-girl Aussie band The Vamps and Brandi Perry and the Bubble Machine. Wallis offers present-day interviews with these and other entertainers and fleshes out the story with evocative war-time home movies and still photos.  

The performers discuss how they felt about playing in a hostile war zone. They tell stories about dodging mortars at remote base camps and ducking rocket rounds fired into their helicopters.Even though the enemy did not target entertainers, several were killed in action. Australian singer Cathy Wayne, for example, was shot to death while performing on stage in a botched fragging incident. The Bubble Machine's piano player was killed and all of his bandmates wounded when they were ambushed on the road by South Vietnamese forces. 

Wallis tells a mostly compelling story. Entertaining Vietnam shines light on a little-known aspect of the war, but one that had a big impact on the lives of countless entertainers and on many of those who were entertained. For more information, go to www.entertainingvietnam.com

BILL MAULDIN, 1921-2003 

Cartoonist Bill Mauldin, the creator of the iconic dog-faced WWII GIs Willie and Joe, died January 23. Mauldin, 81, enlisted in the Army in 1940 and was a rifleman with the 180th Infantry. He began drawing cartoons in boot camp then shipped out to Europe with the 45th Infantry Division. That's where Stars and Stripes began publishing his in-the-trenches drawings. He was subsequently assigned to Stars and Stripes, but spent most of the war staying close to his 45th Division buddies.

Mauldin, who won two Pulitzer Prizes, became a freelance cartoonist after the war. He later went to work for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Chicago Sun-Times. Mauldin created 16 books, including Up Front. A critic of American participation in the Vietnam War, Mauldin made a trip to the war zone in 1965 to visit his son, Bruce, who was serving in Vietnam. "One senses that if a war reporter who had been with Hannibal or Napoleon saw Mauldin's work, he would know immediately that the work was right," said former Vietnam War correspondent and author David Halberstam. 

JULY FIFTH 

A hundred years ago--okay, it was 1979--one of the smash hits on the New York stage was Lanford Wilson's Fifth of July, an ensemble piece starring a trio of terrific thespians, Christopher Reeve, Swoosie Kurtz, and Jeff Daniels. The play is set in 1977 at a two-day Fourth of July reunion of 1960s radicals in their small Missouri hometown. It ran for years on Broadway to rave reviews. Main character Ken Talley, Jr., who lost his legs in the Vietnam War, was first played by Reeve and then by a series of other skilled young actors, including Joseph Bottoms, Timothy Bottoms, Michael O'Keefe, and Richard (John Boy of The Waltons) Thomas.  

Fifth of July is performed regularly around the nation by college and community theater groups. On January 16, the first big Off Broadway revival opened in the Big Apple. The production was mounted by the Signature Theater Company as part of its run of Wilson's works. It ran through March 23 and starred Robert Sean Leonard--best known for his starring role in the movie Dead Poets Society--as Talley, along with Parker Posey and Pamela Payton-Wright. The reviews were good. The production, said The New York Times's Ben Brantley, "glows in ways to melt even ice-bound cynicism."

ESCALATION: THE GAME 

Escalation is a computer game designed for high school students that simulates the 1964-68 decision making that went into President Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War. When you play, you become Lyndon Johnson and you get to make the big decisions about what to do in Vietnam. The game, which went nationwide in 2001, is the brainchild of Massachusetts high school teacher Kevin O'Reilly. It is intended to help students learn about the Vietnam War and improve their decision-making skills.  

The game offers background information that includes pictures, diagrams, maps, and videos to help role-playing LBJs deal with issues such as the assassination of President Kennedy, Dien Bien Phu, the Cold War, the 1964 and '68 elections, the Tonkin Gulf incident and Resolution, Tet '68, the Paris Peace Talks, fragging, Agent Orange, and the antiwar movement. Cyber LBJs also have to face off with personalities including JFK, Gen. Westmoreland, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, Barry Goldwater, and Malcolm X. For more information, go to www.escalationsim.com/index.html

LISTEN UP 

Most Vietnam veterans--along with the rest of the population--know that when R. Lee Ermey, former real-life Marine D.I., speaks (shouts, more likely), you better listen up and listen good. These days lots of folks are listening to Ermey on the History Channel every Monday night at 8:00. Since last August, Ermey has been the gruff but likable host of Mail Call, a half-hour show in which Ermey and company offer inside information about all things military, past and present.  

Each episode opens with a patented Ermey hardcore greeting, after which the veteran actor attacks a question sent in by a viewer. He does that by using graphic illustrations, expert demonstrations, and historical film footage, followed by Ermey himself going hands-on with the object in question. That has included firing an 1862 Gatling gun, crushing a watermelon with a samurai sword, and driving an M5A1 tank that saw service in North Africa, Europe, and in the Pacific during WWII.  

"My main objective is to promote the military in the glorious light it should be presented in," Ermey told a Marine Corps interviewer during a shoot at the show's base camp north of Los Angeles. "I consider myself to be a representative of the Marine Corps in Hollywood." For more info, go to www.rleeermey.com or www.historychannel.com

ARTS IN BRIEF 

VVA's good friend Dale Dye, the retired Marine captain and movie military technical adviser extraordinaire, put another group of actors through their paces in Australia recently for another Hollywood war film. The movie is The Great Raid, which tells the story of the famed WWII raid by a small group of volunteers from the 6th Ranger Battalion under Col. Henry Mucci on Cabanatuan in the Philippines, a notorious Japanese POW death camp that held 500 survivors of the Bataan Death March.  

Last summer, Dye put his actors, including Benjamin Bratt who plays Col. Mucci, through a 12-day "boot camp," a form of torture he invented in 1986 to whip actors into a celluloid-ready semblance of military shape for Oliver Stone's Platoon. In the camp, which was set up in a remote area of Southeast Queensland, the actors wore period military uniforms, carried M1 rifles, Thompson submachine guns, and other WWII weapons, and went through vigorous PT, weapons instruction, and field maneuvers. Each night Dye gave a fireside talk about the history of the raid in question. The movie is scheduled to be released this fall. 

Oliver Stone's latest project is Comandante, a documentary about Cuba's Fidel Castro scheduled to be shown on HBO in May. Stone, the noted in-your-face director (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, et al.), filmed thirty hours of interviews with the Cuban leader in 2002. Stone exhibited some of the footage at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in January. "Stone seems unconcerned about any looming criticism over what is a largely favorable portrait of the communist dictator," William Booth wrote in The Washington Post. Next up for Stone: a documentary on Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat. 

The syndicated and web-broadcasted Veterans Radio Hour presented a show on veteran authors on March 2. Appearing were Jeff Circle (Yes, Drill Sergeant), James Amos (The Memorial), Barry McWilliams (It Ain't Hell But You Can See It From Here), Raquel Thiebes (Army Basic Training: Be Smart, Be Ready), and James W. Blinn (The Aardvark is Ready for War). You can listen to that show, along with other archived VRH shows, on line at www.veteransradiohour.com

The stars came out in Washington February 9 at the eighth annual American Veterans Awards, a television event that aired live on The History Channel. This year's show biz honorees were actor Gerald McRaney, who was cited for his work as chair of the VA's National Salute to hospitalized Veterans campaign; actress Bo Derek for her work as Honorary Chair of the VA's rehabilitation special events; and Kris Kristofferson, who was presented the Veteran of the Year award by Willie Nelson.  

Joe Galloway, one of the nation's most respected military reporters, now has a new outlet, his own web page, courtesy of his employer, Knight Ridder, for which he serves as chief military corespondent. The site includes a column, links to recent Galloway articles, and an ongoing journal. Take a look at www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/news/special_packages/galloway

The Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park, the only memorial in the Western Slope of Colorado to honor Vietnam-era veterans specifically, is scheduled to be dedicated July 3. The memorial will be located at the Colorado Welcome Center off I-70 in Fruita. It will feature a wall of names and a Huey helicopter. To find out more, including how to purchase a granite etching or memorial brick, e-mail Jim Doody at doody@gj.net or go to www.field-of-dreams.org

The Washington, D.C., office of the Open Society Institute--the worldwide nonprofit that works on a range of social issues--is the host of the photo exhibit Moving Walls until December 20. The show includes the work of seven photographers who examine social problems in this country and around the world. Among the group is Lori Grinker, who has specialized in photographing war veterans. Her photos look at the legacy of the war in Vietnam and other conflicts. Grinker's striking photographs are included in the book The Wall: A Day at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1993).

   

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