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Fri Nov 30, 2012, 12:05 AM

Dear America

For the third time today I'm watching Dear America, and my emotions are raw. If you haven't seen it, it's a documentary about American servicemen and women in Vietnam, based on their letters. It's one of the toughest videos I've ever watched.

I'm showing it to my students to make these men and women real. I'm showing it so they can see how television news has sanitized war.

The video is cheap and available at many libraries. Most, if not all, of the video is on YouTube in segments. Watch it if you want to see that time through the eyes of the non-elite.

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Arrow 4 replies Author Time Post
Reply Dear America (Original post)
kiva Nov 2012 OP
pinboy3niner Nov 2012 #1
kiva Nov 2012 #2
pinboy3niner Nov 2012 #3
kiva Nov 2012 #4

Response to kiva (Original post)

Fri Nov 30, 2012, 02:43 AM

1. I still have the book

It was given to me at the Wall by a friend who was in the book, and he'd inscribed it at his page and also had the editor, Bernie Edelman, write an inscription to me.

My friend, Jim, had served in the Marines in-country. Shortly after he went home on leave, he received a letter from a friend in their unit telling him of the loss of another friend on the morning the letter was written. (The letter is at the top of Page 258 in the hardcover edition.)

It sounds like you know what you're doing. When I speak about the war in schools, I also try to make it real. It might be a connection between the month and day when I'm speaking and what happened the same month and day when I was in Vietnam. Sometimes, I'll bring the telegram the Army sent my mother and brothers when I was wounded (and tell how my little brother received that telegram IN Vietnam, as we were both serving in the same division at the time).

Years ago I was one of a group of VN vets that went to speak to a HS history class in Maryland. On our first visit, we noticed "VIETNAM" spelled out in large letters across the back wall of the classroom. Looking closely, we discovered that the letters were made of 58,000 straightpins the teacher had had the students spend 5 minutes each day putting in. The next year, the back wall was filled with a collage of 58,000 faces clipped from magazine photos.

That teacher was someone who had gotten his draft notice, refused induction, and had spent either 18 months or 2 years in jail for it (I'm a little rusty on the precise time he served of his 2-year sentence). And we who had fought in Vietnam admired that teacher and felt we had more in common with him than with the VN War chickenhawks.

And, like you, that teacher strove to make the history, and the people involved, come alive for his students.

I wish you the best in your work. And remember, too, when dealing with such emotionally powerful material, to take care of yourself.

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Response to pinboy3niner (Reply #1)

Fri Nov 30, 2012, 10:36 AM

2. I've been reading the book online

through the college library, I'll look for that letter.

I've been using the video for years - I use a handful of documentaries for teaching the second half of US history, and Dear America is the most powerful. I don't know if you've seen it - I make sure to warn classes that the gunfire and helicopter sounds aren't a good mix for anyone with PTSD; I have had a Vietnamese student who wasn't able to watch the film. If you have seen it, I'd like to hear any comments you have about it.

Thank you for your comment and for your commitment to service. If don't mind talking about it, I'm curious about why you and your brother were both in Vietnam; one of our neighbors reupped twice so that his brother didn't have to go, so I thought it was standard that only one brother served at a time in country.

And thanks for your note at the end...it's always the faces that are so haunting in the video.

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Response to kiva (Reply #2)

Fri Nov 30, 2012, 01:09 PM

3. It's been many years since I last saw the film

I don't think there's much I can add beyond obvious remarks on its power and authenticity.

You're right about siblings not being ordered to serve in the combat zone at the same time involuntarily, but it was permissible if we both volunteered for concurrent service. Over my objections, my brother volunteered for VN while I was there. If he'd been in the combat arms I would have blocked his assignment by not agreeing to serve with him there. But he was an enlisted personnel specialist who would be assigned to a basecamp, not in the field. And it was nice to be able to see my brother, even if only on rare occasions.

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Response to pinboy3niner (Reply #3)

Fri Nov 30, 2012, 07:36 PM

4. Ah, I thought it may have been

voluntary - I was still on my first cup of coffee and wasn't thinking when I asked. And, yeah, I imagine it was nice to be able to see him even if you would have preferred he wasn't there.

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