The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
May/June 2005
ARTS OF WAR
 
 

Re-Experiencing the End of the Vietnam War
on Public Television

 

BY MARC LEEPSON

It’s difficult to believe, but Vietnam: A Television History, the multi-award- winning, 13-part PBS documentary, was first broadcast 22 years ago. On April 25, PBS’s American Experience series marked the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War by re-broadcasting episode eleven, “The Fall of Saigon.” The hour-long, visually arresting documentary makes gripping viewing in 2005.

“The Fall of Saigon” covers more than the events of April 1975. It starts with the 1973 peace agreement and goes over the political, diplomatic, and military maneuvering that took place during the following two years in North and South Vietnam and in this country. The episode includes early eighties interviews with some of the main players in the drama such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, President Gerald R. Ford, NVA commanding general Van Tien Dung, and other former NVA and ARVN officers.

We are reminded that the North Vietnamese had planned a two-year campaign to take South Vietnam, and that they were as surprised as everyone else when Saigon fell 55 days after Gen. Dung launched the NVA’s final offensive. The ten-year American war, the longest in U.S. history, ended when the final Marine helicopter lifted off the roof of the American Embassy.

Why did South Vietnam collapse so quickly? “The Fall of Saigon” offers no conclusive answer. Instead, the producers present the differing views of experts and those who were on the scene. Some point the finger at Congress for failing to provide the eleventh-hour aid that the Ford administration sought for South Vietnam. Some blame the Watergate scandal, which brought down President Richard Nixon in 1974, a time when his attention was diverted from the deteriorating situation in Vietnam. Others cite the corruption, incompetence, and lack of resolution in the Saigon regime of Nguyen Van Thieu.

The latter-day analysis is accompanied by evocative images of Saigon during the final days and hours before it fell, along with North Vietnamese footage of its army on the march southward. For more on the series, go to www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/vietnam

MEMORIAL NEWS

Thanks go to Roger A. McGill of Chapter 242 in Chicago, who wrote to let us know that Vietnam veterans can help choose which piece of art will be part of the new Chicago Vietnam Veterans Memorial, due to be dedicated on Veterans Day 2005 at Wabash Plaza along the Chicago River. To see a rendering of the memorial, go to www.nvvam.org That’s the web site of Chicago’s National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum. While you’re there, you can vote for one of five works of art that have been chosen as worthy to be part of the new memorial, which will feature the work of Vietnam veteran Gary Tillery. For more info on the sculptor, go to www.garytillery.com

In early February, sculptor Rolf Kriken began making repairs to the bronze sculptures that grace the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial near the state capitol in Sacramento. Kriken made the sculptures when the memorial was built in 1988. The memorial contains the names of more than 5,800 Californians who died in the Vietnam War.

Dennis E. Rindone of Erving, Mass., has spent the last nine years photographing, researching, and documenting veter ans’ memorials in 351 Massachusetts towns and cities. Photos of more than sixty Massachusetts veterans memorials may be found on his website, www.honorrollofliberty.com

ARTS IN BRIEF

The demise of the hit ABC-TV show NYPD Blue after a dozen seasons marked the end of weekly appearances by noted Vietnam veteran actor Dennis Franz, who portrayed a notable Vietnam veteran character, Detective Andy Sipowicz. Franz earned widespread acclaim, including four Emmys, for his portrayal of the hard-bitten Sipowicz. Not bad for a guy with “a face that looks as if it were carved out of potatoes and the body style of a greeter at Home Depot,” as The New York Times described the actor.

Among the cultural events marking April’s 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War was Larry Burrows: War and Peace, an exhibit of the photographs of the famed Life magazine photographer who took many memorable images of the war and who was killed in a 1971 helicopter crash over Laos. The exhibit was on view at New York City’s Laurence Miller Gallery.

Vietnam: The Next Generation, a documentary by Sandy Northrop that looks at eight young Vietnamese people, was broadcast on PBS stations nationwide on the “Independent Lens” series on Tuesday, May 17. Northrop has made two other PBS documentaries on the war: Pete Peterson: Assignment Hanoi, and Vietnam Passage: Journeys from War to Peace. For more info on her latest film, go to www.pbs.org/independentlens/vietnam

If you are in Washington between now and Veterans Day, be sure to head over to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery to see the Faces of the Fallen exhibit. It consists of 1,328 portraits by nearly 200 artists of American servicemen and women who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq from September 11, 2001, to November 11, 2004. The portraits are done in different styles and in different media. Taken as a whole, the portraits pack a powerful emotional punch. For more info, go to www.facesofthefallen.org

A new selection of 20 collections of materials from the Library of Congress’s two-year-old Veterans History Project became available in March at www.loc.gov/warstories That marked the sixth set of interviews, letters, photographs, and written memoirs featured on the site, called “Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project.” This latest addition focuses on military medicine from World War I through today and highlights personal accounts from doctors, nurses, medics, and other medical personnel.

The new set brings the number of digitized collections available on-line to 1,024, comprising some 48,000 individual items. So far, more than 25,000 veterans and others whose lives have been touched by America’s wars have submitted stories. To learn more, call 888-371-5848, e-mail vohp@loc.gov, or go to www.loc.gov/vets

Texas Tech University’s Vietnam Center held its fifth huge Triennial Symposium March 17-19 in Lubbock. The arts-oriented panels included “The Vietnam War in Fiction” with John Clark Pratt and the celebrated Vietnamese novelist Bao Ninh, an NVA veteran who wrote the acclaimed Sorrow of War. For more info about the Vietnam Center, including on-line videos of each of the panels at the symposium, go to www.ttu.edu/vietnam
 

   

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