ARTS OF WAR
A Nelson DeMille's
Word of Honor
Comes to the Small Screen
BY MARC LEEPSON
knows how to tell a story. A former 1st Cav LT, DeMille has been
turning out best-selling thrillers for two decades. The list
includes The General's Daughter, Plum Island, The
Lion's Game, and his most recent, Up Country. His
gripping 1985 novel, Word of Honor, has been turned into a
worthy two-hour film that had its premiere on Saturday, December
6, on the TNT cable network. TNT will rebroadcast the film five
additional times in December.
Word of Honor 's plot is intriguing: A magazine article
comes out, telling of a massacre by American troops that took
place in 1972 in Vietnam - a massacre that almost puts My Lai to
shame. Millions of Americans read about how a squad of 1st Cavalry
Division troops stormed into a South Vietnamese hospital and
indiscriminately slaughtered all the nurses, doctors, and
patients, including nuns and infants.
The article's notoriety pushes the Army into action. Ben Tyson,
the platoon's commanding lieutenant, is recalled to active duty
and court-martialed. He is accused of murdering one of his men and
allowing the massacre to take place. If convicted, he could face a
There's more. The Army is out to redress the mistakes it made
prosecuting Lt. William Calley in the My Lai trial and goes after
him with a vengeance. The former grunts who did the killing are
given immunity from prosecution. The Army sets its sights on
Tyson, an upwardly mobile business executive. Tyson faces an
extremely uphill battle trying to clear his name.
Don Johnson does a fine job as present-day Ben Tyson. Johnson is
no stranger to Vietnam veteran roles, having played the ultra hip
Miami cop, Sonny Crockett, on Miami Vice back in the
mid-eighties. Johnson invests Tyson with moral strength, as well
as with vulnerability, making him a conflicted - and believable -
character. Arliss Howard almost steals the show as Tyson's wise,
low-key defense attorney. Howard, who played Private Cowboy in
Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, gives his character
depth - and a very believable southern accent.
The always excellent John Heard - who gave a memorable performance
as a disabled Vietnam vet in the underrated 1981 film, Cutter's
Way - -does excellent work as Tyson's disaffected former medic
who spills the story to the media. Jeanne Tripplehorn makes an
effective Army prosecutor, and Sharon Lawrence holds her own in
the role of Tyson's glamorous, younger wife. In a fitting bit of
casting, Don Johnson's son Jesse shows up as the young LT Tyson.
Director Robert Markowitz is up to the task. He starts off with a
version of the horrible in-country incident and then builds the
tension slowly. Markowitz handles the Vietnam War scenes well.
They pass the realism test - for the most part. There is one
problem in that department, though. Two of the guys in the platoon
have laughably long hair - much longer than any GI outside of a
LURP team ever sported in the war zone.
Word of Honor is an entertaining, well-made movie with fine
acting and a plot that asks difficult questions and does not
provide any easy answers.
VIETNAM WAR EXPRESSIONISM
VVA member Helen White, who served as a nurse with the 67th Evac
Hospital in Qui Nhon in 1969-70, began painting in the winter of
2002. That's when she was housebound in her Missouri home by
severe winter weather and a case of PTSD. An accomplished quilter,
she made that first painting on cardboard with fabric paint, the
only materials available. After completing three more paintings in
the same medium, White started working in acrylics on canvas. Her
subjects came directly from her experiences in Vietnam and her
difficulties in adjusting to life back home.
It wasn't long before people noticed the work. Helen White's first
show, called Vietnam Nurse Art, opened in September at
Cottey College in Nevada; her second came in November at the
Portales, New Mexico, public library. Her painting, The
Thousand Yard Stare, is in the collection of the National
Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago and All Used Up is
on display at the Women in Military Service for America Museum in
Arlington, Virginia. White's new book, Lipstick and A Smile
(Bell Books), which contains both her words and her art, was
published in late November.
"No one is bored looking at my paintings," White, who worked at VA
hospitals at Fort Campbell and Fort Leavenworth after coming home
from Vietnam, told us. At the Cottey College show, she said,
"people cried when they looked at them." The work is done in a
dark style reminiscent of German Expressionism and at least one
critic has likened White's work to Edward Munch's often-reproduced
"I've decided to call what I do 'US Expressionism,' '' White told
us. "Labels are labels. As a psych nurse, I know there is much
more than labels. However, this is one label I'm proud of."
To see more of Helen White's work, go to
The Library of Congress's ongoing Veterans History Project, which
is part of its American Folklife Center, is featuring a
photography exhibit called Open Doors: Vietnam POWs Thirty
Years Later by writer Taylor Baldwin Kiland and photographer
Jamie Howren Quinn. The exhibit was part of an educational program
aimed at young people and families that took place at the historic
Decatur House on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., November
15. It will be repeated January 10. In addition to the exhibit's
photos and text, a special program includes talks by former
Vietnam War POWs.
The Veterans History Project was created by Congress to collect
and preserve the memories of living veterans and those who served
in support of them. The project works through more than 780
partners across the country to conduct and collect oral histories.
In addition to interviews, the project has accumulated more than
26,000 letters, photographs, and written memoirs. To read or
listen to personal accounts of wartime experiences on line, go to
"I'm not comfortable talking about it at all." With those words,
Vietnam veteran Clarence Sasser, who was awarded the Medal of
Honor for his courage under fire, reluctantly tells the story of
what happened to him on January 10, 1968, in the moving 90-minute
documentary, American Valor, which was aired on Veterans
Day on PBS stations nationwide. During a vicious firefight in Ding
Tuong Province during which he exposed himself to enemy fire,
Sasser was shot in both legs. Unable to walk, he continued to
treat his wounded comrades for five hours.
American Valor, narrated by Brian Dennehy and co-produced
by Lionel (Hanoi Hilton, et al.) Chetwynd, uses present-day
interviews, war-time news footage, and still photos to tell the
stories of Medal of Honor recipients from the Civil War to
Somalia. In addition to Sasser, the Vietnam War MOH recipients
profiled include Donald Dix, Wesley Fox, Jack Jacobs, and Leo
Thorsness. The program is available on videocassette and DVD
through PBS Home Video. For info, call 800-PLAY-PBS.
In the Shadow of the Blade, a documentary that looks at the
present-day travels of a Vietnam War UH-1H Huey helicopter, had
its world premier November 7 in Austin, Texas. Produced by
Arrowhead Films, the film examines the impact the visit of the
helicopter had on Vietnam veterans and their families. The film is
scheduled to be released on video next year, along with a book and
a soundtrack. For more info, go to
www.intheshadowoftheblade.com or e-mail
Griffith's moving song, "Beyond the Wall," is available on CD.
Griffith, a medical doctor in Athens, Tennessee, wrote the song,
he told us, "as a tribute to the soldiers who didn't survive the
Vietnam conflict." The CD, he said, "is for all the men and women
who have served, and now serve our country."
Click here for a free download. For more info, e-mail
who served as an infantry platoon leader in Vietnam in 1970-71,
has produced his Vietnam War memoir, Tears in the Rain:
Understanding the Vietnam Experience, electronically. It's