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March/April 2007

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Vietnam Homecoming: A Personal Look At War’s Continuing Impact
By Marc Leepson

The powerful documentary Vietnam: Homecoming, which appeared on The History Channel last December 15, has as its putative theme the week-long Operation Homecoming for Vietnam veterans held in Branson, Missouri, in June of 2005. But at its heart this compelling piece of work produced by Lou Reda Productions and directed and edited by Sammy Jackson is the deeply personal life stories of a handful of Vietnam veterans who struggle on a daily basis with PTSD.

Jackson frames his 90-minute narrative around the Branson event, and he does provide shots of the parade and other parts of the resort town’s Operation Homecoming, including an appearance of one of the Moving Walls. Two of the men, Purvis Crowe and John Hedrick, have an emotional and potentially cathartic reunion at Branson. One man, Joe Moss, who lost his legs and who still suffers acute psychic wounds from his Vietnam War combat experiences, chose not to make the trip.

The film focuses on the words and deeds of Crowe, Hedrick, Moss, and two other men with PTSD—Stanley Parker and Mike Cook. The camera zooms in on the men and on their wives as they speak emotionally and movingly about the continuing impact of the war on their lives and psyches. “I’ve been gone from Vietnam since December of 1968,” Crowe says. “I’ve got memories that haunt me. It’s something I live with every day of my life, and it doesn’t take very much to trigger it.”

The men recount events that happened more than three decades ago as if they had happened three minutes ago. Underscoring that hard truth are some of the most powerful pieces of Vietnam War footage that have made it onto celluloid. When the veterans speak of flashbacks to a time when they are in the thick of action in Vietnam, Jackson cuts to Sixties footage of American soldiers under fire. We see plenty of close-ups of severely wounded men, of dead men, and of fellow soldiers reacting in shock and despair to the horror. The digital flashbacks make the men’s flashbacks all too real.

The men reflect on the underwhelming reception they faced when they came home—a story that every Vietnam veteran knows only too well. Several recount the indignities they faced from some in the antiwar movement. Those sentiments are illustrated with film of protestors flying the Viet Cong flag and carrying signs calling us baby killers. Those sensationalized images are not representative of the antiwar movement (which also was made up of plenty of Vietnam veterans and others who had no use for VC flags) but make the point that the country was in turmoil when we came home.

More to the point is the fact that the VA and the federal government as a whole, along with the old-line VSOs, also turned their backs on Vietnam veterans. The veterans in this film briefly mention those other two sides of the back-home “Iron Triangle.” Cook, who survived the hell of combat in Vietnam, speaks of how he was asked to join the American Legion, only to be told he did not take part in a war. He told the American Legion what to do with that sentiment. The film soon will be available on DVD. For info, go to

The award-winning Vietnam Veterans Memorial in February received another honor, the American Institute of Architect’s 2007 Twenty-five Year Award, which recognizes structures of enduring significance completed 25 to 35 years ago. Past winners of the award, which was first presented in 1969, include I.M. Pei’s National Gallery of Art East Building in Washington; the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs; St. Louis’s Gateway Arch designed by Eero Saarinen; New York City’s Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; and Rockefeller Center, which has been a National Historic Landmark since 1988.

The AIA, the nation’s top architects’ professional association, was a strong advocate of Maya Lin’s initially controversial design for the Memorial and in 1984 awarded the project an AIA Honor Award for Architecture. “The Memorial is a message to all visitors about the horrendous loss of war, the tragic cost of conflict,” Louis R. Pounders, the chair of the Twenty-five Year Award Committee, said in his nomination letter. “It is a message that is timeless.”

Maya Lin has gone on to become one of the nation’s top memorial architects in the last 25 years. She also has branched out into sculpture and landscape architecture. Her accomplishments include designing the Civil Rights Memorial in Birmingham, Alabama. In 2003, Lin served on the selection jury of the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition. In 2005, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

The folks at the G.I. Radio Network started a new call-in radio talk show called “Military Talks.US” on March 3. The show is designed both for veterans and active-duty military personnel and covers the latest military news, VA updates, reunions, and special events. The show airs on 1230 WBZT Talk Radio in Palm Beach on Saturdays from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. and is simulcast on the Internet at and If you’d like to contact the producers, e-mail and tell them you read about the show in these pages.

Japanese photographer Goro Nakamura’s exhibit of photographs depicting the effects of Agent Orange victims in Vietnam opened February 7 at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. It will run through June 16. The collection of black-and-white photos shows the consequences of Agent Orange and dioxin on the people and environment in Vietnam. In 2000, Nakamura exhibited photos on the same topic in Hanoi and Saigon. He announced that he will donate all money from the sale of the photos to Vietnamese relief agencies for Agent Orange victims. For info, call 212-691-7978.

Robert Greenwald of the Brave New Foundation has created an on-line memorial to the American service personnel who have died in the Iraq War. “Inspired by the AIDS Quilt, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and The New York Times biographies of the 9/11 victims, we decided to create a living online memorial called the Iraq Veterans Memorial,” Greenwald said. The memorial, he said, “will bear witness with 60-second video testimonies of family, friends, co-workers, and military colleagues of those killed—memories and anecdotes that will always remind us of the impact their lives had on those who loved them.”

The virtual memorial was unveiled March 19, the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the war. You can visit it and learn how to add to the memorial by going to

If you read Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” on January 16 and 19, you saw that the noted cartoonist for the first time worked VVA into his long-time comic strip. Trudeau, who received VVA’s President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts at the Leadership Conference in Tucson last year, evidently drew inspiration from meeting so many conference attendees sporting VVA tee shirts. That’s because Dex, one of the participants in B.D.’s veterans’ support group, is wearing a tee-shirt adorned with “VVA” across the front in both strips.

The Veterans Day National Committee, which is made up of representatives from the big VSOs and is chaired by the VA Secretary, is looking for submissions for the official 2007 national Veterans Day poster. The poster will be distributed to 110,000 schools across the country, as well as to military bases around the world and to government offices in the Washington, D.C., area. It also will appear on the cover of the official program for the Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.

The committee will meet in May to review submissions. You can submit an electronic version or send a copy of your work on a CD. The final poster must be 18 by 24 inches at 300 dots per inch, but submissions should be scaled down to 9 by 12 inches. The e-mail for submissions is The mailing address is: Department of Veterans Affairs (002C), 810 Vermont Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20420. For more info, go to and click on “Poster Gallery.”

The VA’s National Cemetery Administration is looking for volunteer buglers to participate in an event called Echo Taps Nationwide on May 19, Armed Forces Day. The event will be part of Echo Taps Worldwide, which is designed to honor and remember American veterans through a worldwide performance of “Taps.” The organizers hope that the event will interest brass players enough so that they will volunteer to perform “Taps” at military funerals of veterans throughout the year.

During the Echo Taps Nationwide event, players will form a line through a cemetery and perform a cascading version of “Taps.” The first large such event took place two years ago in New York when 674 brass players from 30 states lined 42 miles of road between Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira and Bath National Cemetery in Bath. They played “Taps” in cascade, and it took nearly three hours from the time the first note sounded at Woodlawn until the last note came at Bath. Echo Taps events were held at 52 national cemeteries and state veterans cemeteries last Veterans Day. To learn more and to register, go to

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