There was one more episode to the Burns and Novick documentary on VietNam, which I have now seen. Happily, I taped the whole series, so was able to go back and watch the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces, the fall of Saigon, the abandonment of those VietNamese who had fought with us or worked with us as translators, drivers, etc., The Wall, and the return of some vets to VietNam in search of healing and peace.
The most moving part to me was The Wall, which I’ve seen in person. It’s even more powerful in real time than any documentary could convey. Fifty eight thousand young lives were ended prematurely. Families and friends and unit mates are still grieving. The deaths began as a trickle, turned into a flood during the peak years of combat, and then turned to a trickle again — as The Wall visually portrays. There was a first reported casualty, and a last. The deep gash in the psyche of our nation, composed of all those names, will never go away and should never go away. That’s what “a memorial” means.
The most shameful part was, of course, our botched evacuation, our blind ambassador who refused to plan for an evacuation right up until the moment he was ordered to climb on a helicopter and leave himself, and our abandonment of the South VietNamese, many of whom were killed or sent to “re-education” camps — prisons. So much for Americans giving our word.
This documentary, flawed in some respects but powerful beyond words, will stay with me for a long time. I was careful not to delete the episodes, and suspect that I will find time to watch the whole thing again. I didn’t lose anyone I loved in VietNam, barely knew anyone who went. But the war was fought under my name as an American, and the bombs and defoliants and millions upon millions of artillery shells that wracked that gorgeous land were dispatched with my presumed support. I think it’s shocking, in some ways, that the Vietnamese hold out their arms and welcome us now.