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

October/November 2003
ARTS OF WAR
 
 

A Groundbreaking Exhibit Shows A Side Not Usually Seen

BY MARC LEEPSON

For years, many Vietnam veterans have been interested in learning more about the culture and society of the country in which they served. Because relations between the United States and Vietnam were severed for so long after the war, opportunities to glimpse into Vietnamese life have been limited in this country. That situation changed in a big way on March 15, when the wide-ranging Vietnam: Journeys of Body, Mind & Spirit exhibition opened at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

The exhibit runs through next January 4, then moves to Hanoi. "It shows a side of Vietnam not many people in this country know about,'' Amy Chiu of the Museum's communications department told us. "It's been really well received.''

The exhibit - the most comprehensive on Vietnamese life ever presented in the United States - concentrates on Vietnamese culture today. It was put together with the cooperation of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi. The exhibitors offer intriguing glimpses into the wide range of cultural beliefs and practices among Vietnam's 54 ethnic groups. On view are some 400 ceremonial and everyday items that are used in Vietnam today. The show was curated by Nguyen Van Huy, the director of the Museum of Ethnology, and Laurel Kendall, the curator of Anthropology at the Museum of Natural History.

"The significance of our collaboration with the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology cannot be overstated,'' said Ellen V. Futter, the museum's president. "When we Americans hear the word ' Vietnam,' we think first of the tragic war that ended some 30 years ago. It is our profound hope that for many this exhibition will serve as a reintroduction to this highly diverse and vibrant culture.'' The intent, she said, is to foster "cross-cultural understanding and respect - a goal that has never been more important than it is today.''

Visitors can see a wide range of artifacts, such as handmade textiles, masks, ceramics, wooden sculptures, lacquer festival pieces, lanterns, toys, and religious objects made of paper and bamboo, not to mention modern clothing and a full-sized bicycle. The exhibition also features photography and video of daily life in Vietnam. In the hall outside the exhibition is a recreation of a traditional marketplace with bamboo stalls containing textiles, lanterns, stoneware, rattan items, hand-embroidered linens, carved boxes, necklaces, earrings, and other jewelry, silver plates, lacquerware, and musical instruments. The marketplace includes the Cafe Pho, which offers visitors the national dish of Vietnam, pho soup, plus other authentic Vietnamese foods.

At least one Vietnam veteran found the exhibit enlightening. Steve Reichl, the museum's senior publicity manager who helped put the exhibit together, served in the Army in Vietnam in 1968-69. "I spent a year in country, but I knew nothing about the culture,'' Reichl told The New York Times when the exhibit opened in March. "Vietnam was a place that seemed totally and completely foreign to me.'' After working with his Vietnamese counterparts, Reichl said, "we've done a lot of mutual learning. It is, after all, 30 years later, and time does heal many wounds.'' The show, he said, "was a real learning process.''

You can explore the exhibition on line, as well. Go to www.amnh.org

JIM LEWIS'S NEXT MISSION

We recently had a chance to talk with VVA member Jim Lewis, who back in 1981 was one of the founders of Chapter 25 in Palm Beach County, Florida. Lewis retired a couple of years ago after a 25 year career in show biz. He started in the early eighties as an actor and stuntman, doing a slew of films with Burt Reynolds, including The Cannonball Run (1981), Best Friends (1982), Stroker Ace (1983), The Man Who Loved Women (1983), and City Heat (1984). Then Lewis went behind the camera: He worked as a camera operator on scores of movies and TV shows, including Evening Shade, Hearts of Fire, and Seinfeld.

Lewis, who served with Golf Co., 2/5 of the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam, was severely wounded at the Battle of Hue during Tet 1968. Those war wounds eventually led to the demise of his stuntman days and, later, to the end of his career as a cameraman. "The long hours and the stress caught up to me,'' Lewis told us. "I had my first heart attack in 1998, and I've had two heart surgeries since then. I just can't do that kind of work anymore.''

But Lewis has been far from idle in his retirement. He is spending most of his time working on a long-envisioned project, telling the story of the eight American servicewomen who perished in the Vietnam War. There is a documentary in the works, but first Lewis wants to get the stories of women who served in the war - and the men who were wounded and treated by nurses - on  videotape. To that end, he is bringing camera crews to Washington for the tenth anniversary commemoration of the dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial.

After using some of the taped testimony in his documentary, Lewis says he will donate the tapes to VVA. "I hope VVA can make the tapes part of their archives and their history'' and one day put them on line, he said. "I feel very strongly about this. There's none of us getting any younger. I want this preserved. I feel it's a crucial part of - not only this country's - but of world history. Whatever we got out of that, we may be able to give lessons for the future. And I want it preserved for the families, for the children, and the grandchildren.''

VETERANS DAY IN DC

The Memorial Day Writers' Project, a group of Vietnam veteran poets, novelists, playwrights, and songwriters, will hold its 11th annual reading of original work on November 10 and 11 near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. The event takes place in a tent on the hill behind the sidewalk facing Constitution Avenue near 21st Street on the Mall, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

As in previous years, the public is invited to participate and read prose, poetry, or song. The Memorial Day Writers' Project, in conjunction with VVA Northern Virginia Chapter 227, also has a scholarship fund in honor of one of its former members, Vince Kaspar. It awards cash prizes to area high school students to promote creative expression through poetry and the graphic arts.

You can order tickets on line for the moving play A Piece of My Heart, which will be performed at Arlington National Cemetery during the Veterans Day weekend. The special performances, part of the activities planned to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Vietnam Women's Memorial, are sponsored by the Vietnam Women's Memorial Foundation. They will be held at the Women in Military Service Memorial on November 8, 9, and 10. A portion of the proceeds will go to the foundation. To order, go to www.womensmemorial.org/APOMH.html

ARTS IN BRIEF

The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial and Vietnam Era Educational Center hosted "Capturing the Imagination: The Art, Music, Theater, Poetry and Prose of the Vietnam Veteran," a wide-ranging interdisciplinary forum, October 17 at the center in Holmdel. The keynote speaker was Robert C. Mason, the former helicopter pilot and author of the classic memoir, Chickenhawk. The other participants - all Vietnam veterans - were photographers Tom Morissey and E. Kenneth Hoffman; painters Frank Romeo and James D. Nelson; playwrights Tom Tunnington and Bob Staranowicz; musician Saul Broudy; poets Jan Barry, Dana ("Dusty") Shuster, and Charles H. Johnson; and writers Diego Rayle, Susan O'Neill, John Ketwig, and Jerzy Zarzycki.

The LoDo Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver hosted an exhibit of evocative photographs by Vietnam veteran Ted Engelmann on September 27. The exhibit, A Living Book: Wounds that Bind: Four Countries After the American-Viet Nam War, consisted of Engelmann's images from South Korea, Australia, Vietnam, and the United States chronicling the war's continuing legacy. The "Living Book'' part of the show was Engelmann's invitation for those touched by the war to share their thoughts by sending him their comments.

"The initial purpose of this work is to provide new visuals and information to veterans and all Americans to better understand the experience of ourselves and others,'' Engelmann, who served as a USAF sergeant in Vietnam in 1968, said. "By sharing our thoughts and feelings, we can perhaps move towards resolution and closure to the emotions of the past. We're needed here in the present to help create the future.'' For more info, go to www.tedengelmann.com

More than 120 veterans from across the nation took part in the 2003 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, which was held October 6-12 at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center. The participants were all first-place winners in national VA-sponsored music, dance, drama, and art contests. Winners in the special commemorative and special recognition categories included Vietnam veterans Eugene Vicencio (art), Larry House (art), and Tim Williams (music). For more info, go to www.va.gov/vetevent/caf/2003/ArtGallery.cfm

A special ceremony was held September 30 at Fort Belvoir kicking off the National Museum of the United States Army. The ceremony highlighted the creation of the project's development center at Belvoir, which includes a staff working under the U.S. Army Center of Military History. The museum will include a central facility and a support center on 55 acres facing U.S. Route 1. The exact site has not been determined. Construction of the $120 million museum, a public/private partnership, is scheduled to begin in 2005 or 2006, and the facility is expected to open in 2009. "We intend to set a new standard for museum design,'' Gen. John M. Keane, the Army's vice chief of staff, said at the ceremony.

You can learn more about Michael Stephen Myers' play, Badges of Honor: The Warrior's Lament, at the web site: www.warriorslament.com/pages/2/index.htm  A group of actors presented a well-received dramatic reading of the play at this year's VVAs Virginia State Council convention.

QUERY

For a book and documentary video project, filmmaker Don North and author Richard Linnett are looking for anyone who served with Army Pvt. McKinley Nolan in Company A, 2nd Battalion, 16th Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, near Saigon 1966-67. Nolan is reported to have defected on November 17, 1967, and joined the Viet Cong.

They also would like to hear from anyone who ran across Nolan's propaganda leaflets, heard his radio addresses, heard stories about him in country, or anyone who knew the woman he was associated with, Thach Thi Khen, or their son, Quang. Contact: Northstar Productions, 11830 Larry Road, Fairfax, VA 22030; 703-293-9212; or e-mail dnorth6743@aol.com

   

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