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

July 2004
ARTS OF WAR
   
 

In the Shadow of the Blade
Documents A Flight Of Peace

BY MARC LEEPSON

The emotionally charged documentary, In the Shadow of the Blade, is the work of director, cinematographer, and editor Patrick Fries and his wife/business partner Cheryl Fries, who served as the film’s creative director, producer, and co-writer. They are veterans of the film and video production business, not of the Vietnam War. But they have done Vietnam veterans and their families a distinct service by chronicling the 2002 journey of a UH-1 Huey helicopter as it made its way through the South and Southwest in this memorable, 110-minute, award-winning film.

Vietnam veterans played an integral role in every aspect of the Huey’s ride. Former war pilots took the controls, veterans who lives were saved took seats inside the helicopter, and scores of veterans and their families gathered at the many landing sites to pay homage to the rotary wing aircraft that played such a pivotal role in the Vietnam War.

The film begins, as you would expect, with the always-evocative whoop-whoop of a helicopter blade in action. The opening scene contains longtime VVA member Ernie Dogwolf Lovato offering his thoughts, along with an Indian blessing, as the Huey sits at its last stop, the Angel Fire Vietnam Veterans Memorial in northern New Mexico. The Huey had taken off from Ft. Rucker, Alabama, on what the filmmakers called "a flight of peace.’’ The flight succeeded, as does this film, in bringing a sense of peace to the veterans and their family members who came together at the various landing zones along the way.

The Fries make good use of close-up shots of veterans’ showing their often-emotional reactions to being in the shadow of the Huey’s whirling blades in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Texas, and New Mexico. There are many beautiful shots taken from aloft, as the Huey skims over farms, fields, forests, rivers, and even cities. In some of the most effective scenes, the Fries reunite people whose lives were altered by the war.

A Vietnamese orphan, now a grown woman with three children married to an American, was rescued by Army medics in 1969 when she was four months old; her life was saved at a U.S. military hospital. The woman, Kathleen Epps, met at a Huey LZ with Donna Rowe, the former Army triage nurse, and Richard Hock, the medic, who were responsible for her survival.

Gen. Hal Moore and Joe Galloway provide excellent, incisive comments throughout the film, as do many other Vietnam veterans, Gold Star Mothers, and sons and daughters of veterans. Ultimately, the film is a tribute to Vietnam veterans told through the Huey’s journey. That helicopter, Gen. Moore said, "is the one link that’s still alive’’ for Vietnam veteransa group, he said, that "is just as great as the men who landed at Omaha Beach.’’ Amen to that.

ROCK ARTIST

When Dan Horgan came home from the war in Vietnam he was looking for a "friendly and safe refuge,’’ he says in Being Here (Bison Films), Russ Spencer’s excellent documentary. "I didn’t want anything to do with the system or with people who could send you to war, and so I just retreated to the gardens. I knew I had to retreat to get my hands back in the dirt.’’

Horgan, who had been drafted into the Marines, retreated to a small, one-room cabin in Santa Barbara, California, near his boyhood home in Chico. In his seclusion, Horgan immersed himself in what he believed was his true calling, creating gardens. But not just any gardens. Horgan, as Spencer shows exceptionally well in his film, has spent more than three decades creating graceful and peaceful garden spaces enhanced by his ethereal rock, wood, and sand sculptures. Horgan also creates large natural sculptures in wilderness areas.

The centerpiece of Being Here is an up-close view of Horgan creating his first indoor sculpture, "Zuni Sentinel,’’ for the Channing Peake Gallery, which is located in the lobby of the Santa Barbara County Administration Building. Horgan narrates his own story, which shifts back to his childhood, his Vietnam War experiences, and a survey of his outdoor work and his Zen-like philosophy of life and art. It is an esthetically pleasing picture, given a gentle but compelling narrative drive as we see "Zuni Sentinel’’a rock cairn fashioned from Pennsylvania blue sandstone, raven black slate, Sedona Red sandstone, gravel, and topped with round white rocks—take shape from the uncut stone to the finished product. For more info, go to www.bisonfilms.com

OPERATION HOMECOMING 2004

Operation Homecoming was the military’s codename for the February 12-March 29, 1973, return of 591 American POWs from North Vietnam. On April 20, 2004, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dan Gioia, announced another Operation Homecoming. This one is quite different. Subtitled “Writing the Wartime Experience,” it consists of a series of two-day writing workshops at military installations for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan led by some of the nation’s top writers. Family members also will be invited to participate. The object is to help veterans and their significant others write about their war experiences.

The top works, as judged by an NEA panel of literary experts, will be published in an anthology, due out in late 2005. The anthology will be distributed to military installations, schools, and libraries, and sold in bookstores. A percentage of the proceeds from bookstore sales will go to military charities.

The 26 authors chosen to work with the veterans in Operation Homecoming 2004 include several with Vietnam War credentials. The list includes the Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, the acclaimed science fiction writer Joe Haldeman (The Forever War, et. al), the award-winning short story writer and memoirist Tobias Wolff (In Pharaoh’s Army, This Boy’s Life, et. al) and Bobbie Ann Mason, the University of Kentucky’s writer in residence and the author of the 1989 novel In Country. The other authors include popular novelist Tom Clancy, the poet Richard Wilbur, and Tom Bowden who wrote Black Hawk Down.

Veterans and family members who cannot take part in the workshops may take advantage of a free Operation Homecoming CD, which contains interviews and readings by writers who have dealt with war, as well as an online writing tutorial. To order a copy of the CD or the Operation Homecoming instructional booklet, or for more info, go to www.arts.gov/national/homecoming/index.html

ARTS IN BRIEF

Julia Moore, whom Joe Galloway called "the real hero’’ of We Were Soldiers, died April 17 at her home in Auburn, Alabama, after a brief illness. In the film, Madeleine Stowe portrayed the wife of Army Gen. Hal Moore as a kind, caring, compassionate womana-true-to-life portrait, according to those who knew her. Julia Moore was laid to rest at the 7th Cavalry cemetery in Fort Benning. The family suggests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent in Julia Moore’s name to the Ia Drang Scholarship Fund, First Cavalry Division Association, 302 N. Main St., Copperas Cove, TX 76522.

The latest exhibit at the Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, Traumatic Stress, Metamorphosis, and the Artistic Experience, opened April 15. It consists of a group of paintings, sculpture, prints, and poetry by Vietnam veterans. The exhibit is co-sponsored by the group Free On Board Healing Arts and also includes a lecture series on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Film & History magazine, in conjunction with The Film and History League, the Literature/Film Quarterly, and the Literature/Film Association, will hold its third biennial conference on "War in Film, Television, and History’’ November 11-14 in Dallas. Topics under discussion include what films tell us about the perception of the Vietnam War; how Vietnam War films and television documentary series have shaped the way Americans think about that war and whether or not these films and TV programs have had an impact on the way Americans view potential wars or conflicts. The deadline for proposed papers is July 30. For full details, go to www.filmandhistory.org To submit a paper, e-mail Rachel Key at Oklahoma State University, Yek2730@hotmail.com

The second annual World Peace Music Awards rock concert and ceremony was held June 26 in Hanoi. The event honored American pop music stars from the Vietnam War era, including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Harry Belafonte, Country Joe and the Fish, and Vietnamese songwriter Trinh Cong Son. The concert consisted of performances by artists from around the world, including Lionel Ritchie and Gloria Gaynor from the United States. For more info, go to www.wpma.tv

Ground was broken on Memorial Day for a new Veterans Memorial in Veterans Park, West Hartford, Connecticut. The $1.2 million memorial honors all veterans, and focuses on West Hartford residents who were killed while fighting in America’s wars. The design features polished black granite shaped as a spiral timeline. At each point along the timeline,
the spiral is violently broken to indicate a war and to highlight the names of those who fought in the war. The names of some 240 veterans who gave their lives will be engraved on the
Wall of Peace. The memorial also will include a Court of Honor, where the soils and waters from war zones will be combined with Connecticut soil, and a Walk of Remembrance, a walkway composed of large granite paving stones, a green lawn, and a fountain. Completion is scheduled for May 2006.

Belly of the Beast is the title of a well-produced CD of smooth-flowing and hard-rocking instrumental music put together by members of VVA Chapter 754, an incarcerated chapter at the Oregon State Prison in Salem. The CD features the original tunes of Danny Fritz Caldwell, who played guitar and keyboards and also mixed and edited the work. Singer-songwriter Lem Genovese, who served with the First Aviation Brigade in Vietnam in 1970-72, and as a medic in the first Persian Gulf War, is completing a new CD, Silence from Deep Center, a compilation of his original tunes written over the last four decades. For information, write to Yankee Medic Music, 3214 S. Pleasant Dr., Holmen, WI 54636.

George Butler, the director of the film Pumping Iron (1977), which helped make Arnold Schwarzenegger a celebrity, is working on Tour of Duty, a documentary focusing on John Kerry’s Vietnam War service and his antiwar advocacy. The film, based on the book of the same name by Douglas Brinkley, is scheduled to be released in September.

If you cannot visit San Remo in Victoria, Australia, you can see that city’s Australian Vietnam Veterans National Museum virtually by going to www.vietnamvetsmuseum.org For now, virtually is the only way to visit the museum, which is under construction.

QUERY

Sociology Professor Rebel Mary Reavis at the University of Tennessee, Martin, is working on a documentary about women who served in WWII, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the 1991 and current war in the Persian Gulf. She would like to interview women veterans of those conflicts on camera. The object is to "show patterns, connections, and parallels in the experiences of military women who were involved in’’ those wars. Reavis is looking for women who live within a three-hour drive of Martin, Tennessee, and a one-hour drive south of Paducah, Kentucky, or in the Los Angeles area to do interviews in June and July. If you’re interested, call 731-587-7520 or e-mail rreavis@utm.edu

   

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