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

Two Momentous Events In The War
In Vietnam And At Home
 

BY MARC LEEPSON

Two years ago, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Washington Post reporter David Maraniss wrote They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, an eye-opening work that easily stands with the best nonfiction dealing with the Vietnam War. Sunlight is a deeply researched, in-depth examination of two noteworthy events that took place at the same time in October 1967: the near destruction of a battalion of U.S. Army First Infantry Division troops in the Iron Triangle in South Vietnam, and the violence that took place on the University of Wisconsin campus during a student protest.

Now comes Two Days in October, a stirring, first-rate documentary based on Maraniss’s book airing October 17 on PBS TV stations nationwide in the “American Experience” series. The documentary—written by Allen Rucker and Paul Taylor and produced and directed by Robert Kenner—tells the same two stories as the book, with the added immediacy of 1967 TV news footage in Vietnam and in Madison, and up-close interviews with many folks who took part in both events. Among the most compelling eyewitnesses is former Army Lt. Clark Welch, who commanded Delta Company of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment of 1st Infantry Division, the Black Lions.

Welch and his men watched in horror as the Black Lions’ lead company ran into a furious NVA-VC ambush on October 17, 1967, that instantly brought nearly 100 percent casualties. “We were just massacred,” Welch says. He and his men then took up the fight, also suffering many dead and wounded. Welch himself was shot three times. “It was so simple,” he says, speaking of doing his duty and going to Vietnam to lead men in battle. “It’s not so simple now.”

The documentary cuts between a harrowing recreation of the battle (and the Army cover-up of the incompetent high-command decisions that led to it) and the police riot that took place on the Wisconsin campus. After students nonviolently took over the hallway in a university building to protest a Dow Chemical (the maker of napalm) recruiting appearance on campus, Madison police officers repeatedly pounded the protesters with night sticks, sending more than sixty to the hospital.

The filmmakers interview Madison police officers, university officials, former student activists, and former non-political students who witnessed the events. Among the most eloquent is Maurice Zeitlin, a UW sociology professor who tried in vain to stop the mayhem and who—at times dispassionately and at times emotionally—recounts what happened on the scene and what happened to the antiwar movement following what became the first violent anti-Vietnam-War protest on a college campus.

BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY

The feature film, The Beautiful Country, directed by Finnish-born Hans Petter Moland, is a true multinational production. It was shot in Vietnam and the United States. It stars Damien Nguyen, who fled Vietnam for the United States with his family in 1974 when he was three years old, and features British-born actor Tim Roth, the ultra-American Nick Nolte, and Chinese actress Bai Ling. The renowned Illinois-born director Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line) co-produced the film and Filipina-American Sabina Murray wrote the screenplay with Lingard Jervey.

The best part of this visually arresting film—which was released by Sony Pictures Classics in New York and L.A. July 8 and soon will be in theaters nationwide—is
the performance of Damien Nguyen as Amerasian Binh on an odds-defying quest to find his American father. Nguyen, who is not Amerasian, plays his part as though he were born to it—a physically scarred, overly large, half American who puts up with unrelenting hostility in his home country and unrelentingly difficult odds on his journey from Vietnam to America in 1990. He plays the part with a dignified stoicism punctuated at times with barely controlled rage at the often-cruel acts perpetrated upon him.

Most of the other actors more than hold their own with Nguyen, most memorably young Tran Dang Quoc Thinh, who plays Binh’s half brother, Tam, and Nick Nolte who plays—and this is giving nothing away—Binh’s Vietnam veteran American father. Another highlight is the cinematography (by London-born New Zealander Stuart Dryburg), especially in the film’s opening Vietnamese village and countryside scenes and the New York City streetscapes.

ARTS IN BRIEF

The novelist Walter Kirn offered his list of the “ten best books about war ever written” in the August GQ. In his list—in which The Iliad is No. 1—Kirn includes books by five Americans, one of which, Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War, comes in at No. 9. The other American offerings are Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage (No. 4), Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (No. 6), Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (No. 7), and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (No. 8). Kirn has Tim Page’s photo book, Tim Page’s Nam at No. 10.

No one asked me, but I can think of at least a half-dozen books about the Vietnam War I’d list above Page’s excellent book. To wit: Neil Sheehan’s A Bright, Shining Lie, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, O’Brien’s If I Die in a Combat Zone, Gen. Hal Moore and Joe Galloway’s We Were Soldiers Once and Young, Lew Puller’s Fortunate Son, Wallace Terry’s Bloods, Michael Herr’s Dispatches, and Bill Broyles’s Brothers in Arms.


The nation has some unique Vietnam veterans’ memorials, but none approaching what the town of Milford, New Hampshire, is considering. The proposed memorial, for Vietnam and Persian Gulf War veterans, envisions an environment that includes pressure-sensor plates that, when stepped on, shoot up mist, and motion sensors that set off flashing lights. Those devices are meant to mimic Vietnam War booby traps and jungle firefights. The memorial is the brainchild of Vietnam War veteran Jerry Guthrie, a landscape architect. “I’m trying to make people understand what war is all about,” Guthrie told the Boston Globe. “I don’t want to scare people, but I don’t want them to think war is fun.”


Noted Nam vet Hollywood man Oliver Stone, never one to shy away from controversial material, is directing a film about the September 11th terrorist attack in New York. The as-yet-untitled movie, though, doesn’t sound provocative. The Paramount movie will focus on two Port Authority police officers, Will Jimeno and John McLaoughlin, who were among the last people rescued from the World Trade Center. “It’s not about the motives of the terrorists, or who the terrorists were, or the politics of 9/11 in any way,” Stone told the Los Angeles Times “It’s about people standing together and overcoming the problem. It’s a no-nonsense, austere, verité document of what they went through in those 24 hours.”


The new play, To the Colored American Soldier, written by Alexis Camins and Rashaad Ernesto Green, had a limited run during two weekends in July at the Paul Walker Theater in New York City. The play, Green told us, “addresses issues of black soldiers who fought in U.S. wars on foreign soil.”


Chris Bunch, 61, a Vietnam veteran who, with Allan Cole, co-wrote the excellent 1987 Vietnam War novel, A Reckoning For Kings, along with a series of science-fiction books, died July 4 in Ilwaco, Wash., of a lung ailment. Bunch and Cole also wrote many TV series scripts for shows such as Magnum, P.I., Quincy, Hunter, and The A- Team.

   

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