I apologize for title fatigue!
I have an interesting debate in my head when I decide to post on something that I already know is primarily an American topic of interest. This is one of those occasions. I couldn’t even think of an interesting title to give you a chance to “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.”
I remember being a little surprised to learn from my international friends that the topic of the Vietnam War isn’t a well-known reference.
I don’t know why this would surprise me. The War, or Conflict as it was euphemistically termed at the time, was a central focus of my young awareness primarily because it was the first war to be heavily televised here in America, but long before the 24-hour global news cycle.
Of the period, Edward R. Murrow said, “Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation.”.
Over several years I’ve read half a dozen good books attempting to synthesize what I remember and what I’d forgotten, what I know and don’t know, and a gazillion complexities about a conflict that lasted fourteen years. My knowledge base is still on the puny side.
But I will always gravitate to the stories that come from that era. A well told story always adds bits and pieces to that small store of knowledge.
So I was delighted when Aimee called to tell me she happened to catch a segment on Good Morning America featuring a reunion of the cast from one of our favorite television shows of long ago, China Beach.
China Beach premiered only 13 years following the fall of Saigon and was the first television series to explore the psychological repercussions of the controversial and polarizing Vietnam War. And we were hooked.
Airing between 1988-1991, the 62 emotion-packed episodes were patterned after a book written by former U.S. Army Nurse Lynda Van Devanter, exploring the war from a primarily female-centric view in an evacuation hospital setting.
Aimee is purchasing the newly released first season of the episodes so we can share an emotion-packed China Beach viewing frenzy.
However, not all stories that catch my attention are fictionalized for entertainment purposes.
In early September I read an article reporting that nearly 50 years after his plane was shot down over Cambodia in 1964, the remains of Staff Sgt. Lawrence Woods were identified and returned to his family. Fifty years!
At one time 1,350 Americans were listed as Prisoner of War or Missing in Action.
For more than 40 years I have held on to two little matchbooks I brought home from a POW/MIA rally in the late 1960s.
One hometown boy from San Gabriel, John Heber Nasmyth, Jr., was captured in 1966 and released in 1973 during Operation Homecoming. I went to more than one rally, so I don’t know when I obtained the matchbooks, but they were liberally distributed as reminders not to forget the missing.
With my interest in this era it was compelling for me to make my way to a special exhibit at the Nixon Presidential Library. I invited my blogging buddy, Rosie, to accompany me to ” An All American Homecoming,” and we spent several hours absorbing all we could from this exhibit and other parts of the Library devoted to the Vietnam War.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, Burst of Joy, was taken by AP photographer Slava Veder on March 17, 1973 at California’s Travis Air Force Base. The photo depicts the homecoming of U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm being reunited with his family after spending more than five years in a North Vietnam prison. There were only 20 POWs on that particular plane, but more than 400 family members turned up for the homecoming.
Then on May 24, 1973, most of the returned POW’s traveled to Washington to be honored by the White House at a gala dinner hosted by the President and Mrs. Nixon–the largest dinner party ever held at the White House before or since.
The White House itself wasn’t large enough to accommodate the huge party of guests, so the event was held outdoors, with the 1,300 people under tents on the South Lawn.
The Nixon Library has a permanent display of artifacts from the POW camps, including items the prisoners smuggled between themselves under threat of grave danger, to continue to communicate during extended years of solitary confinement.
There is a triumph of human spirit that sings out from the museum cases as decades later we gawk at a handmade pipe, a tin cup used to tap an improvised communication code, and a young man’s book of language translation put together to help fellow prisoners. These items are part of a permanent display.
The White House gala was planned as a private celebration to honor the men and their families, and if you’re interested in learning more about the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum or this wonderful exhibit, feel free to read HERE.
If not now, then just enjoy a few of the photos I took and if you think about the implications of these simple objects, I think you’ll be very moved.
Rosie and I were aided in our understanding of the context of the exhibit by multiple video components highlighting archival televised news reports of the POWs returning to the United States.
Told from the perspective of survivors reunited after 40 years, I know you would find this video inspirational, with or without knowledge of the war itself.
I admit, it’s a lot to absorb. That’s why for me, I take it one story at a time.
- Dana Delany Reunites With China Beach Cast (contactmusic.com)
- Local Man, Ernie Brace, to Be Awarded Two Purple Hearts and the… (prweb.com)