Missing in America, an indie
movie with big stars (Danny Glover, Linda Hamilton, David
Strathairn, Ron Perlman), deals with homeless Vietnam veterans
living in the woods in the Pacific Northwest. The comparatively
low-budget feature film was in the can and ready to hit the
multiplexes in 2004, but it never made it to the nation’s big
screens. Missing, instead, had its premiere at the
Seattle International Film Festival in May of 2005. That’s where
it stood until early this year when the film was released on DVD.
Here’s what you’ll see on DVD in
the comfort of your living room: The film opens with the
curmudgeonly Glover more or less holding things together living
in the woods in fairly comfortable style. He has a well-ordered
house, a beat-up pick-up, food on the table, and gorgeous views
of the woodsy mountains (the Pacific Northwest of Canada).
Granted, he talks to his animals and has the occasional
flashback (he was a Nam LT), but he is coping.
Glover’s solitary life soon
becomes crowded when a guy who served under him in the war (Strathairn,
who went on to create the role of a lifetime as Edward R. Murrow
in Good Night and Good Luck) shows up unannounced, says
he has lung cancer, and asks Glover to take care of his young
half-Vietnamese daughter while he goes off for medical care.
Glover tries to refuse, but Strathairn tricks him into becoming
the girl’s caregiver.
Glover and the girl (whose mother
has died) don’t get along. She wants to interact. He wants to be
left alone. They clash. Much more serious complications arise in
the form of four people-averse trip-wire vets living off the
land (including a woman, a former nurse) whom Glover helps
support. One of them is a disfigured, mute, violence-prone
mountain man (Perlman). Dangerous, tense happenings ensue.
First-time feature-film director
Gabrielle Savage Dockterman co-produced the movie and had a hand
in the screenplay, along with Nancy L. Babine and Ken Miller, a
former Green Beret and Vietnam War helicopter pilot. Miller came
up with the plot after contemplating the Lee Teter “Reflections”
painting. He originally entitled his story “The Woodcutter.”
Missing in America aims
high: to illuminate the ongoing emotional fallout of the Vietnam
War among those who bore the brunt of the fighting. But that’s
an extremely difficult assignment because of the danger of
treating this very real problem with a broad brush and thereby
creating the impression that reclusive back-to-the-bush Vietnam
veterans in the film are typical of the 2.8 million who took
part in the war.
No one’s asking anyone to make a
movie about the true typical Vietnam veteran: the man or woman
who goes to work every day, comes home, and falls asleep in
front of the TV. But to dwell exclusively on these six extremely
disturbed individuals without shading in background and fleshing
out their characters any more than showing a few flashbacks and
having them greet each other by saying “Marines, ’70,” amounts
to stereotyping all Vietnam veterans as, at best, maladjusted
and, at worst, as Ron- Perlman-like hulking monsters.
That’s what you get with
Missing in America: a well-meaning effort with top-quality
actors and gorgeous scenery that does little to illuminate the
very real problems of PTSD.
This column first appeared in this newspaper twenty years ago,
in the March 1986 issue. It was something of an experiment: to
see if we could find enough books, movies, plays, TV shows, and
other artistic endeavors dealing with the Vietnam War or its
veterans to write about, to fill a page in The VVA Veteran.
Not to worry. We have had plenty of artistic endeavors to
review, so much so that in February 1994 we split off the book
review segment of Arts of War into its own column.
In the last twenty years, we have
examined hundreds and hundreds of books, movies, plays, TV
shows, musicians, songs, art openings, and other artistic
ventures dealing with the Vietnam War and Vietnam veterans. I
would like to acknowledge the undiminished support I’ve had from
all six VVA presidents (the publishers of this newspaper),
countless board members and national office staffers, and
especially my co-workers in the Communications and Publications
Department, along with the many supportive readers who have
helped shape this column. Thank-you to everyone for the help. I
eagerly look forward to continuing this work.
The unveiling of the long-awaited memorial that honors Hmong and
Lao soldiers who fought alongside Americans in the Vietnam War
took place December 21 at the Fresno County Courthouse Park in
California. The memorial features a life-sized bronze sculpture
of two Hmong soldiers coming to the aid of an injured American
fighter pilot. Among the dignitaries at the opening ceremonies
were Gen. Vang Pao, the former Hmong military leader, and Jane
Hamilton-Merritt, who is perhaps the leading American expert on
the so-called “secret” war in Laos.
The privately financed,
non-profit, grassroots effort to build the Pentagon Memorial,
which will honor the 184 federal employees, military personnel,
and civilians who perished there on September 11, 2001, has one
thing in common with the early 1980s campaign to build the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Just as Vietnam veterans took it upon
themselves to build our own memorial, the Pentagon Memorial fund
is being led by family members of those who were killed when
terrorists crashed an American Airlines plane into the Pentagon.
The $20 million memorial will
consist of a two-acre, tree-shaded park on the Pentagon’s west
lawn with 184 cantilevered benches, each dedicated to a
September 11 victim. Each bench will overlook its own small,
illuminated reflecting pool. The goal is to begin construction
in the fall and complete it in the spring of 2008. Contributions
of any amount may be made on line at
www.PentagonMemorial.net, by phone at 800- 929-4911, or by
check made payable to Pentagon Memorial Fund, Inc., and sent to
5185 MacArthur Boulevard, Suite 115, Washington, DC 20016.
The fund’s organizers have asked
us to tell VVA members to note “Vietnam Veterans of America” on
their contribution checks so the nation will know of VVA
members’ support of this worthy endeavor.
THE ACADEMIC ARENA
The William Joiner Center’s Annual Writers Workshop has started
taking applications for its June 19-30 sessions at its
University of Massachusetts, Boston, campus. The faculty for
this always-excellent program once again is filled with
accomplished writers and poets who have written about the
Vietnam War and Vietnam veterans. The list includes Martin
Espada, Bruce Weigl, Lady Borton, Demetria Martinez, Larry
Heinemann, and Fred Marchant. You can apply on-line at
where you also can find faculty bios and course descriptions.
The Department of History at
Texas A&M University-Kingsville and the John B. Conner Museum
will hold a symposium on the Vietnam Experience on Tuesday,
April 18, at the Kingsville campus. “The symposium is intended
to address and dispel misconceptions of the Vietnam experience
through speakers and panel discussions,” said the event’s
organizer, Pete Wyro.
The panels include topics such as
the history of the United States involvement, the legacy of
service of Hispanic Vietnam veterans, and the experiences of
family members and survivors of Vietnam veterans. Seating is
limited for this free event. For info, email
The Vietnam Center at Texas Tech
University and the Center for the Study of Intelligence are
co-hosting a conference October 20-21 in Lubbock, Texas, that
will focus on intel in the Vietnam War. The conference will look
at every aspect of intelligence activities in Vietnam, Laos,
Cambodia, and elsewhere and what impact it had on the war.
“While the focus will remain on historical events, it is our
distinct hope that appropriate historical lessons might be drawn
of more immediate applications to current wars and conflicts,”
the conference’s organizers say.
If you are interested in
participating by making an individual presentation or taking
part in a panel discussion, submit a single-page (or less)
proposal by August 1 to Stephen Maxner, Deputy Director of the
Vietnam Center, by e-mail,
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 806-742-9010 for more info.
On two weekends in late March and early April the Simpatico
Theatre Project presented four performances of Vietnam 101:
The War on Campus at the Shumbin Theater in Philadelphia.
Vietnam 101, which was written by Rich Orloff, is a
documentary theater piece about a college community’s
experiences during the Vietnam War years. It is based on
recollections of dozens of students who attended Oberlin College
from 1964-72. Director Jennifer Pratt used monologues and story
theater-type scenes to recreate the students’ diverse feelings
about the war. For info, go to
The play, A Piece of My Heart,
by Shirley Lauro, has become the nation’s most enduring
theatrical production that deals with the Vietnam War. Lauro’s
play, which is based on the oral history book by Keith Walker,
had its debut 20 years ago off Broadway in New York. Since then,
more than 800 theater companies have performed the show that
follows the true stories of six women who served in the Vietnam
War. Among the latest was a production by Theatre Unbound that
ran for two weeks in March at the Playwrights’ Center in
Minneapolis and one at the Palmdale Playhouse in California.
Members of Chapter 470 in Anoka, Minnesota, have been long-time
supporters of the County Historical Society, so it’s no surprise
that the society’s current exhibit on the Vietnam War had its
genesis in an oral history project that the chapter sponsored.
“The Vietnam War exhibit would not have happened without them,”
Vicki Wendel, the society’s program manager, told us. “Chapter
members were the initial core of those we interviewed for the
exhibit. They helped find other veterans to interview, and they
have been most supportive in providing artifacts and photographs
for the exhibit and our archives. They also have provided
volunteers to lead scout tours and do talks on Vietnam War
history for local groups and the local community college.”
The chapter provided funds for
the exhibit, which opened last May. It takes visitors through a
Vietnam War journey by walking a path that includes a gear-heavy
GI hootch, a grass village hut, a small jungle area, an R&R
display, and a back-home living room where reels of Vietnam War
news footage play on a vintage TV. The final stop is a shiny
black wall that contains images of the rubbings of 31 names from
Anoka County that appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
In addition to everything else,
Wendel said, chapter members donated “some special little
things” for the exhibit, including “rubber snakes and leeches to
use in the jungle scene.” Chapter 470 members, moreover, “built
the exhibit’s punji pit, found the military truck tail gates and
tires I needed, then got the tires cut in half to mount on
the wall, which was no small feat.” To take a virtual tour, go
Currently on view at the National
Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.: Japanese-American painter On
Kawara’s 1965 triptych entitled “Title.” In keeping with
Kawara’s conceptual art vision, the triptych consists of three
large canvases upon which are the capitalized words “ONE THING,”
“1965,” and “VIET-NAM,” respectively.
Celebrated works of this kind
always bring to mind a piece of dialogue between the artist
Charles Ryder and teen-aged Cordelia Flynt in Evelyn Waugh’s
classic novel Brideshead Revisited, which takes place just after
World War II. “Modern art is all bosh, isn’t it?” Cordelia, who
is hoping for a positive reply, asks Charles as they stroll
through a gallery exhibit. Ryder unblinkingly replies: “Great
Afterwar: Veterans From a World in Conflict is the name
of renowned photographer Lori Grinker’s recent exhibit at the
Project 4 Gallery in Washington, D.C. The exhibit consisted of
about two dozen of Grinker’s chromogenic prints that give stark
evidence of the human cost of war taken in many countries around
the globe during the last two decades. It ran in February and
Flight 33 Productions, the producers of the Shootout
series on the History Channel, is putting together an hour-long
episode on the 1968 Tet Offensive for its upcoming second
season. The producers are looking for Vietnam veterans with
compelling Tet ’68 stories to participate in the show.
If you’d like to be interviewed,
contact Brittany Graham by e-mail,
email@example.com or call
818-505-6640, ext. 138. And please mention that you read about
it in The VVA Veteran.