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American War Stories | Vietnam

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Watch Sunday, May 29, 2016 starting at noon on WMHT-TV

Approximately three million troops served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. This three-hour documentary focuses on the personal stories of individuals who served in the conflict and provides insight into a war that continues to profoundly affect the lives of Vietnam veterans and their families today including our general culture, politics and lives.

Many Vietnam veterans are reluctant to share their experiences. Due to the controversy over the war and the reaction many experienced upon returning home, these men and women have carried a greater burden. They put away their uniforms and medals and tried to put away their memories, but these are memories that cannot be forgotten.

This documentary gives those veterans a voice so that we can better understand their experiences and the Vietnam War’s effect on all of our lives. As they relate their memories, they offer a perspective of military service that is neither romanticized nor demonized. It is simply humanized.

AMERICAN WAR STORIES: VIETNAM is structured as three one-hour programs; Escalation, focusing on the growing U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia from the mid-50’s to 1967; Turning Point, the turbulent and tide-turning period of 1968 and ’69 ; and Draw Down, the eventual reduction of forces until America’s departure in 1973, followed by the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Over the course of those many years, Vietnam veterans were stationed in vastly different areas, ranging from mountains to tropical jungles to the delta, facing both guerilla forces and conventional armies. The Vietnam War was the first so-called “TV War”, which brought the horrors of conflict into America’s living rooms. But there are many stories which have not been heard. Until now, Vietnam War veterans have not had an opportunity to share their accounts of valor, pride of service, devotion to duty and intensely personal stories of loss. The stories they share will not necessarily change our view of the war, but it will change our view of the men and women who fought it. It will challenge the conventional view of the Vietnam War veteran, supplanting it with a more accurate representation of these heroes as neighbors, civic leaders, successful businessmen and contributing citizens. And it will make all too clear the disservice they received when they returned home.

“American War Stories: Vietnam” will be a powerful series that will inform, inspire and most of all, in a gesture that is long overdue, say to these men and women that it is never too late to honor the service and sacrifice of our Vietnam veterans.

Based on a similar production by Wisconsin Public Television, which broke new ground and was highly acclaimed, this long form documentary will premiere on Maryland Public Television as Maryland Vietnam War Stories. Even though the stories related here are by residents of Maryland and surrounding states, these recollections are also the shared experience of many in our nation who served in Vietnam. Maryland Public Television is a nonprofit, state-licensed public television network and member of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). MPT’s six transmitters cover Maryland plus portions of contiguous states and the District of Columbia. Frequent winner of regional Emmy® awards, MPT creates and distributes local, regional, and national television shows, including Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke, Space Racers, and Chesapeake Bay by Air.



Escalation | Sunday, May 29 at noon

Escalation focuses on the growing U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia from the mid-50’s and early 60’s, a time when America sent ‘military assistance and advice’ to a beleaguered South Vietnam increasingly under attack by the Communist North. American involvement escalated dramatically after the first combat Marines arrived in 1965 and the bombing campaign known as Rolling Thunder began. Through first-hand accounts of the men and women who were there, the documentary explores how they flew the planes, cruised up the Mekong Delta, and slogged through the jungles and rice paddies to try to locate an elusive enemy. Veterans of the rear echelon describe how they supplied the mountains of materiel necessary to support the growing forces. Escalation also explores the new tactics our military used in this war to fight an almost unseen enemy, including the same guerilla tactics they employed, and embracing the groundbreaking technology of helicopter warfare.

Turning Point Sunday, May 29 at 1pm

Turning Point recounts the growth of American forces to over 500,000 troops by 1968, and how some Americans estimated the Communist enemy’s days were numbered and the war would be over in months. Yet the shock of North Vietnam’s massive Tet Offensive surprised and dismayed a public that was tiring of the weekly scene of flag draped caskets arriving at Dover, Delaware. Stories from Marines trapped in the deadly siege of Khe Sanh and of the terror of “walking point”, when a soldier leads his squad into the jungle, highlight the danger and intensity of this phase of the war. Turning Point also explores the illogical set of rules of when, who, and how our troops could attack the enemy, a system that perplexed our men and women to no end. But the war also had its lighter moments when soldiers had a chance to kick back and relax. In this hour, veterans reminisce about going on R&R’s – Rest and Relaxation breaks – in Hawaii, and how difficult it was to return. Soldiers also talk about nonsense games they created to beat the boredom. There were even rare moments of romance, and one soldier tells the story of how he fell hard for a South Vietnamese girl with whom he just celebrated their 42nd year of marriage!

Drawdown Sunday, May 29 at 2pm

Drawdown looks at the “Vietnamization” of the war--the eventual decision by the United States to turn the war over to South Vietnam--allowing the gradual return of American troops home. This hour focuses on the real costs of war, including the broken bodies and spirits that are the inevitable result of conflict. Veterans recount what it was like coming home to a divided nation, when protestors blamed the warrior for the war. Two prisoners of war share how they successfully survived years at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp. Drawdown also highlights the wonderful rescue of thousands of babies from Saigon orphanages, dubbed “Operation Babylift”, as South Vietnam began to fall to the Communists. The hour ends with some powerful reflections by Vietnam veterans who describe how profoundly the war affected their lives and discuss how not all the effects were bad.