ARTS OF WAR
Exhibit Shows A Side Not Usually Seen
BY MARC LEEPSON
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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,
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.
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.
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