Examining the Myths of the
SESSION 2 (TRANSCRIPT)
Post Celluloid Stress Disorder (PCSD)
Steve Sherman: Our next speaker is Michael Lee Lanning who was born in Sweetwater, Texas, and he was reared on a West Texas stock farm. After graduation from Texas A&M and, since I am not from UT, so I am not going to make any jokes about that, he entered the US Army and retired 20 years later as a Lieutenant Colonel. He served in Infantry, Airborne, Ranger, Army, and Public Affairs positions in Europe, Vietnam, and throughout the United State. He earned numerous awards and decorations including a Bronze Star for valor with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Meritorious Service Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Combat Infantryman's Badge. He also completed the Army Ranger and Airborne Schools. During the Vietnam War, Lanning served as an infantry platoon leader, reconnaissance platoon leader and an infantry company commander. The army later selected him for a graduate study program and he received a Masters Degree in Journalism from East Texas State University. As a writer of newspaper articles and magazine articles dating back to his undergraduate days; he turned to full length nonfiction in the mid 80s and since that time, he has had more than a half a dozen books published by major New York Houses. Translations and reprints were done in eight foreign countries. And he currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona.
If you see a book that says Inside something (pertaining to the military), its probably Lee Lanning. The Only War We Had -- A Platoon Leaders Journal of Vietnam, A Company Commanders Journal, Inside the LRRPs, The Rangers in Vietnam, Inside Force Recon, Recon Marines in Vietnam with Ray Stubbe, the Battles of Peace, Inside the VC and NVA with Dan Cragg and the one he is here talking about today, Vietnam at the Movies, Inside the Crosshairs -- Snipers in Vietnam, The African-American Soldier from Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell. He has got quite a library of books over here and he is holding up a part of my shelving as well. So let me try to get back on schedule by turning it over it to Lee.
Michael Lee Lanning: Thank you, Steve. I originally felt very honored to be able to speak early until I sat here and watched Admiral Denton, and then I said, My goodness, I got to follow that? I think we could all go home right now and just repeat what he said and I think we would be far away and ahead of the game, but we are all here, so lets get with it. First of all, we are talking about perspective. I talk a lot to high school and college classes, I always try to put my remarks in perspective and I tell them that when I went to Vietnam in 1969, I was 22 years old. That was 35 years ago, of which most of the time, the people I am speaking to were born long after I returned and they look at our war, as many of us looked at World War II, as being a war far in the past.
So you got to try to put it in perspective from that aspect and along with perspective, my participation. As Steve very well outlined, I always like to say very much upfront that I didnt go to Vietnam from a great sense of patriotism or service to country. It was simply the greatest event of my generation and I didnt want to miss it and so there are some selfish reasons that drove me to the war. Now Ive got to admit when I got there, my perception of the military, even though I have been fortunate enough to be with the 82nd before I went and go through Ranger and Airborne School, my perception of warfare came from what we are going to be talking about today and that is the motion picture. Now I wasnt in Vietnam very long before I figured out that the 19-year-old Spec Four that was running the platoon before I got there because everybody else had been a casualty that outranked him, didnt look like John Wayne or Lee Marvin. The biggest thing I learned on my first mission; we came in off those helicopters, ran off the drop zone and kept waiting, kept waiting, kept waiting. There was no background music. Every time I had ever seen combat in the movies, it had always been great this great crescendo of music, so it wasnt there, so I had to kind of relearn the whole perspective from there.
Also any time I talk, I would say anybody that speaks or writes has an agenda. I have an agenda; most of you share that same agenda with me. I share or I have or possess a sub-agenda that if you werent a combat infantryman in the Army or Marine Corp, then the rest of you were support, no matter what you were doing. So thats my agenda and I will throw it right out front and it provides a bias for what I write, provides a bias for what I am going to talk about today.
When I returned from Vietnam, I liked being a soldier, felt like I was a pretty good soldier and I remained in the Army. As Steve pointed out, I grew up on a ranch in West Texas. My father who was not a veteran was always proud to tell people his son was in the United States Army. Before he died and I was out of the army, he just told people I typed for a living and I guess that is what I do today. But after Vietnam I didnt want to go back to the farm and ranch in West Texas. I wanted to stay in the army. I enjoyed the aspects and thoroughly the biggest part was the people, probably more of the enlisted people than the officers, but the people that were there that made the army what it was then and what it has become today. In that is the perspective that I wanted to take a look at.
Now when I came back from Vietnam and I kept up with the war and its aftermath, I kept up with the veterans, I watched what was going on, but you know, there were more important things to do. There was a company to command in Germany, there were battalions to be in at Fort Hood, a lot of things to learn and do. I knew we in the military werent popular and, quite frankly, I am glad I fought an unpopular war; I dont think I would like to come home to parades and all that. I enjoyed it much more I think because we veterans knew that what we had done and it was worthwhile and when I came back didnt care that much what other people though. That is what I did til about the mid 80s until the movies and books and everything came out that said if you werent crazy when you came back, you will be some day. You all need to heal. You all need counseling.
I know I wasnt broke. There wasnt a damn thing wrong with me and I didnt need any help, but what I finally figured out and Donna Shalala, one of Bill Clintons cabinet members, said that the best and brightest didnt go to Vietnam. Well, she is right in my case. You know, I dont have any big degrees from the eastern schools. I went to state schools, barely scrounged my way through and I am not an intellectual. I dont write from an aspect of a lot of footnotes. In fact, every time I have applied for a grant from National Endowment For The Arts or to anywhere else, I always get the notice that I am too commercial, which I consider a very high honor to be considered commercial and not academic, but, you know, I really didnt worry about that until mid 80s when I finally figured it out. A little light bulb went up above my head that war is not what happens. Its what gets written about what happens.
So I determined instead of letting all of these people that remained in college and got their PhDs etc., while we were over fighting the war, instead of letting them write our history, I would try and write our history and try to get it out to as many people as I could. I was not very confident when I started. I said, Well, I am going to write my experiences, I will make two copies, xerox them and I will give one to each of my daughters, so they will know what their daddy did in war. By the time I got it about three quarters of the way finished, I never lacked in confidence, I looked at it and said, This stuff is pretty good, its better than what I am reading. And fortunately, I went to New York and the first publisher at Random House that read it, bought it and then later gave me twice as much money to divide it into two books and I figured everybody who goes to war had one or two books about the war, but the editor said, Now, we need somebody knows something about Rangers and then Force Recon, and I had written about half a dozen books before I really decided maybe I was a writer and every book is just like a girlfriend. You dont want to lose your last one until you got your next one lined up, you know, you dont know whats going beyond that there is a dry period in between. After every one of my first five books; I knew what I was going to do next. I finished the sixth book, put it in the mail, FedEx to the publisher and didnt have a clue what I was going to next. I went to bed that night about 10 oclock. Before I went to sleep, a little light went on. My books are reaching a couple hundred thousand, but they are not reaching the masses. What do people know, what did I hear in the classrooms when I went to speak. I would ask, where did you learn about the Vietnam War? Occasionally, someones father or uncle or brother had been there, but most of them say, why, I saw the movies, I saw Platoon, I have seen television shows. Most of their perceptions came much the way my perceptions of warfare before my arrival in Vietnam came and that was from the movies. So I decided I would go rent a VCR and watch the 20 or 30 movies about the Vietnam War and write a book about it. When I got into it and found that there was something like 400 at that time in that Vietnam was either the subject or a sub-plot. I watched 400 movies in six months which I figured that is about three to four movies a day and then wrote about it in the next six months. It was like a second tour all over again, especially considering a lot of things I had to watch. Some of that motivation to watch all the movies was obsessive behavior, but most of it was, I think, was that I honestly felt I had to give it a shot. But the questions had led to this was, in the classrooms, the students in those days would ask, Do you have flashbacks? Can you sleep at night? Did you commit any atrocities? Are you proud of your service? All these things I have also heard in many ways. While I thought maybe I would answer them, by trying to give them an answer through the movies many of them had watched.
Now what I did was get very apprehensive about speaking to this group, this is not a high school class or a college class. You guys, may be if you didnt write the book, you are the people who was written about. I am in a room with legitimate heroes, there is enough combat experience here in every arms that we could put our Army and Air Force and Navy together and I am honored to be there. I would like to point out that I am younger than most of you though.
Okay, let us take a look at what happened with the movies. War movies have always been good business. They have done good. Hollywood did great. Everybody could live vicariously. You go in the back row of the theater, fight World War II in two hours, come out and feel like you had seen it, you knew what it was all about and it made money, but come around Vietnam, things changed but lets put this a little bit in perspective before we get into it.
Obviously, motion pictures are not as old as warfare. Motion pictures began in the latter part of the 19th century and really in early 20th century before they really got going. But, interestingly enough, one of the first movies ever made was in 1898 during the Spanish American War. A young filmmaker with a handheld camera went up on top of the building in New York City, dressed a friend in a uniform of whatever he could find which Hollywood still does today, just throws the uniforms together instead of paying any attention, took about a two minute film of this guy hauling a Spanish flag down off of a flagpole and soon this film was in the flickers, as they called them in New York, and people paid a nickel to see this couple of minutes of film. They tried a couple more times before the war was over even with small boats in a big vat of water, they tried to show the Spanish Fleet trying to escape and being sunk. Not good today, but in those days when there was little entertainment the public was drawn to it. Movies developed quite a bit over the next couple of decades until the time of World War I. When World War I came about, movies of course were still not talkies; they were in the phase of silent movies. By the way, I am not going to show you any today. I brought a CD with me with a lot of them, but it is difficult to put them all in there and as of two months ago, I declared a moratorium on technology. I am not going to learn anything mechanical for the next two years and I had to yet learn how to edit the CD and I am just not going to do it. So I am just going to talk to you today, if anyone wants to borrow the CD I will be glad to loan it to you.
During World War I, Hollywood and other places where they were making movies and they were making them all over the country in those days, jumped in, they saw that good money could be made and also they felt some patriotism to be able to support it. Early in the war, one of the first movies released was titled America's Answer and this is what came on the screen before the film began The time has come when it is Americas high privilege to shed her blood upon the fields of battle already hallowed by the sacrifices of our Allies fallen sons. Determined to exercise this privilege, America called up 10 million men for military service. Of these, over one million are now in Europe, eager to emulate the heroic deeds of their brothers in arms. I dont know if we are seeing that in the movies in the 60s that preceded it, but that is what happened starting in World War I. World War II came about obviously a little larger scale, movies had progressed along way and in the 30s we had Gone With The Wind, we had talkies, we had the Wizard Of Oz with special effects. Movies were catching up and I am sure a lot of you still watch a lot of movies in the 40s and 30s like I do. They are very impressive and still even the remakes they make today dont compare with them, but when America, as you know, had somewhat of an isolationist theory to start off and then immediately get in the war. In fact, Hollywood was one of the biggest supporters of the United States to get into the war, especially against Germany. Now the reasons for that are fairly simple. The moguls that ran the studios in Hollywood, many of them were first generation or second generation immigrants from Europe and their families back home were the people that were being run over by the Nazis. Also many of them were Jewish and even though our own government would not admit it at the time, it was already becoming known that Hitler had a Final Solution, so the people in Hollywood saw that it was necessary and important to support the war. When the United States finally got in the war, the Hollywood group that got together, sent their leader to the War Department and when they walked through the door they said, What can we do to help win the war? What can we do to help win the war? And that is what we saw for the rest of World War II, where movies were specifically designed to help win the war. You could spend entire weeks and weeks discussing the World War II movies and you are not going to find one made during World War II that is not anything but completely positive about the combatants and the cause of the Allies. Some of the movies that are a little objectionable now were supportive of the Soviets at that time, but dont forget they were our Allies at the time. One of my favorites is G.I. Joe which is based on an article by Ernie Pyle who is one of my heroes, who not only called us the Infantry, he called us the God-damned Infantry, which I think is pretty descriptive.
Even after the World War II concluded, one of the first movies that came out in 1946 was The Best Years of Our Lives, showing soldiers returning home from the war. You had a Air Force crew member, Air Corps crew member who had previous to the war had been a soda jerk in a drug store, came back to the job, didnt find it satisfactory, so he became a builder and built the homes for the other GIs. Another fellow was a senior banker who has been in the infantry, came back and it took him a while to adjust to the younger people, but he too was a success. The third member it focuses on is a sailor who had lost his hands in combat and who had to adjust; all did adjust, quickly. All were successful and that is where the World War II movies stayed. We had World War II movies all the way through the Vietnam era with Patton and other movies that stayed on the same theme of a good war, of a good soldier that fights it and a good public that supported it.
By the time Korea came around, Hollywood like many of the Americans, wasnt for sure of just what to do, so basically what they do is just continue the theme that they had used in World War II. I think one of the best stories is Pork Chop Hill with Gregory Peck, there is a line towards the end, a voice over where Peck explains Pork Chop Hill was held, bought and paid in the same price we commemorate in monuments at Bunker Hill and Gettysburg. Yet, you will find no monuments on Pork Chop. Victory is a fragile thing and history does not linger long in our century. Pork Chop is in North Korea now, but those who fought there know what they did, and the meaning of it. Millions live in freedom today because of what we did. Good movie. Most of the movies though after Korea went to kind of, we still dont understand it such as Robert Mitchum in the movie, The Hunters, in 1958. He has got a line towards the end where he says, the only trouble is Korea came along too soon after the big one. It is hard to sell anyone on it. So that is kind of what happened there. In fact, the last entry in movies I can find anything on the Korean War came in 1975, when Burt Reynolds played a Korea Era veteran, who has come back, who never mentions his service, but he is wearing a ranger company patch on his field jacket, one of the early field jackets you see there as well.
By the time Vietnam came around, Vietnam was not something new to the movies. Vietnam or as it was known earlier as Indo- China, was an exotic locale. It sounded great, if you say we placed the movie in Indo-China, but nobody filmed there. They did it on the back lots with portable palm trees and you know spraying water in the air, but as early as 1929, the first movie was filmed in Hollywood and set in Indo-China. It didnt have to do anything to do with what occurred later. One of the best if you ever fine one or if you catch it on the late night movies is 1932 the one called, Red Dust with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, and its sexy and its actually a pretty good movie.
By the time Vietnam actually came around, we had seen the importance of movies in help winning the war, we had seen the importance of movies making money for Hollywood. Well, then why didnt Hollywood jump on this bandwagon and make a bunch of Vietnam movies. You know, again, I dont try to get into real ideas, I mean there are a lot of the same reasons, the reason the media turned around, the same reason you have got of people downtown supporting somebody like Mr. Kerry, a lot of reasons Hollywood turned against this. Some are legitimate. People were seeing on their televisions every night the war happen and it is hard and very expensive to repeat actual combat and at the same time they didnt get real combat on TV either. How many of you ever saw a reporter 100 yards outside the fire base, you know, they film with something in the background and went from there.
But there was not much good footage, there wasnt a place where Hollywood could start and no one in Hollywood really wanted to make war movies except John Wayne who had made his whole career in war movies and I want to start off in talking about, you know, I am not going to ask, I started to ask while we have been talking the last couple days, what some of you think about the movie, The Green Berets, but I decided not to because I said, I am going to come up here and tell you, I think it is the best movie made about the Vietnam War. Why, hell its all we got, man. Its like bread thrown to a starving man or somebody going across the desert and comes across a jug of water and The Green Berets, but we have been told by movie critics and books and everything about the war that its a terrible movie. In some ways it is not all that good of a movie but it has got some great aspects. They talk about the sun setting in the east instead of the west and some other things. But it was kind of true to form of what we expected out of a war movie and even no matter what do you think about the movie, as aside, isnt it interesting that the whole Vietnam War we have got one movie, we got one book and we got one song, all Green Berets. Robin Moores novel was the basis for the movie, but the basis is great. They really did plan to film some in Vietnam, some in the Philippines. John Wayne and his crew got down to Fort Benning and liked it so much that Fort Benning became Vietnam and if you were Asian whatsoever or even looked Asian, suddenly you become a VC and there is a captain playing VC out there in the movie, but the movie to me is worth it and I will watch it time and time again for the first few minutes because it opens with that demonstration about our Special Forces A team on their functions and capabilities. Following the description of their training and skills, the team fields questions from the audience. First question is directed to Sgt. Muldoon played by Aldo Ray by a news reporter who asked, Why is the United States waging this useless war? Muldoon responds, Foreign policy decisions are not made by the military. A soldier goes where he is told to go, fight whom he has told to fight. Another reporter follows up with the question to a different member, Do you agree with Sgt. McGee that the Green Beret is just a military robot with no personal feelings? McGee ignores the implication that the reporter is trying to bring out that he is black while the other man is white and talks about the Viet Cong are guilty, of the extermination of the civilian leadership, the international murder and torture of innocent women and children. This whole interview goes on for a couple of minutes and concludes with these non-commissioned officers talking about why the war is being fought with some very reasonable aspects of what I think is well worth watching. I would like after or perhaps at the time of the questions hear some of you guys that wore the Green Beret to hear what your opinion is, but like I said, no matter what you think about it, it is all we got and when The Green Berets faded with the sun setting in the west, movies just stopped being about Vietnam. Instead, now this is what I never could really understand, one of the biggest reasons they didnt make Vietnam movies was that it was on to TV. Instead of making more movies, they made protest movies and a protest was on the movies, on the television screens every night. Every month of the Vietnam War, including 1969 when 300 were dying every week, a new movie was made about the protesters of the war making them into the heroes of the whole generation. The anti-war movies kept ranging even till the end of the war. The Strawberry Statement, Getting Straight, Zabriskie Point, the whole list; many of which starred many of the same people like Robert De Niro and some of these folks that are big stars today got their beginnings in these protest movies. Give Peace A Chance, Che Guevera was always in the background, sometimes Free Angela Davis but most of it was anti-Vietnam war and quite frankly it looked like a lot of fun, a lot of free love, a lot of good things that you didnt get to participate much if you were in the Delta in 1969. In Zabriskie Point, one of the students compares himself to John Brown previous to the Civil War, of being a revolutionary that was trying to end something evil, comparing slavery with the Vietnam War. These movies continue all the way like I said till after the war. Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today is chanted in just about every one of them. In one of the movies at the end, the young bearded hippie hero comes forward and says, We will be called heroes. In general, we got heroes in this room and they are not from these movies. Some of these movies are rather interesting to watch if you want to check them out. Alices Restaurant made in 1969 was about how Arlo Guthrie, the music star in Alices Restaurant and the whole hippie community with it got together. Guthrie is arrested for littering and later brags that his littering conviction prevented him from being drafted and that is the only reason I included the movie in there because it mentions the draft in Vietnam; it is so much fun to watch that if any of you were ever a squad leader, team leader, or above, you just thank god that Guthrie never got drafted, he got put in your squad. In the movie RPM, Jug, you may enjoy this quote, Ann-Margaret, who is one of my heroes talks to Anthony Quinn who is a college professor and they are all against the war and so Quinn has written a book, but she has got a quote in there that says, tell me Professor, what did you do for sex before you were published? Probably though what happens after the war, this continues. And the movie 1969 becomes so pivotal to the war and the movies. In 1988 they even name a movie, 1969 starring Robert Downey Jr. and Kiefer Sutherland, and Bruce Dern. Bruce Dern begins to show up in a lot of these movies about this time. They say they dont want to go to the war because they dont want to get their face shot off in Vietnam. When one of their brother gets killed the whole town revolts and does not let the recruiters take these two young men away for Vietnam. Sutherland concludes the movie by saying, its not my war, it is bullshit. I have always wondered, I wonder if somebodys name is on the wall for these young men that didnt go, that took their place. In Running on Empty in 1988, the heroes from the protest movement are further shown to be the heroes with Christine Lahti, River Phoenix, Judd Hirsch. Judd Hirsch and his wife were still on the run from bombing a place that helped support the war through its research and what they do is go from town to town setting up food cooperatives and animal shelters. So theyre the real heroes here and they keep telling their son, River Phoenix, to be a good boy and rise up the same way that they were, in being able to recognize something as wrong and protest against it.
The protest movies really kind of died on the vine though after the Vietnam War fairly quickly. Most of them were not of great quality, some of them are watchable, like I said, because a lot of the early actors and actresses that appear in them, but towards the end of the war, Hollywood reckoned that they wanted to do something more than just do these war protest films. So it said, well, we have go to do something when the veterans come home. So I dont think they got together in a room and conspired on this. No great right wing conspiracy or left wing conspiracy and anything to do with it, but they all agree that these guys coming back were bad. So what do we do with bad guys? Well, they took a look at what movies they were making, all the way back to Marlon Brando, The Wild Ones, that bad guys in the movies were motorcycle fellows. So the first half dozen movies about GIs coming home were guys that joined motorcycle gangs and went out and just terrorized the countryside basically. Most of them didnt become very popular, but nearly every motorcycle movie made after 1969, had a Vietnam vet in the lead, some of the titles even tell you what they think about. One of them being titled, Born Losers with Billy Jack. These returning movies quickly evolved and were already a part of it that the returning Vietnam veteran, if they fought an evil war or a bad cause, then therefore he was evil. Let me back up there and just say something, try to bring it a little more current. If you notice that the people that are out protesting the Iraqi War, most of them are the same old crowd that protested our war, but they finally got smart. Now they say we support the GIs. It is the war we dont like. Well, let me tell you, they dont like the GIs any better than you liked me and you, but they are now smart enough to say it this time. So when Hollywood looked at what they were going to do with these guys coming back, they said, well, theyre all crazy. They quit making westerns. You know in the westerns, the guy would walk in the bar, roll the doors open and if he had on a black hat, he was a bad guy. If he had a white hat, he was a good guy. Well, fast forward to 1969, the bar door swing, the guys got on a fatigue jacket or a boonie cap, is he a good guy? Hell, no, he is a bad guy. The fatigue jacket became the mark of every criminal in a movie for about a 10-year period. Blazing Saddles made in 1974, kind of ended cowboy movies until the next 20 years and the Vietnam movies kind of replaced them except this time, the Indians win. In all these movies that the Vietnam veteran and I say all these movies, find me an exception, I mention a few in my book when I can find paragraphs, but you can't find much, were stereotyped as being disturbed and are criminal, usually jobless and incapable of sustaining relationship with the opposite sex. Women rarely appear in these books unless we are raping them. There is no such thing as a loyal wife who remained at home or somebody to whom you got married when you returned. If they do stay employed, there are in menial job as laborers or janitors, stuffing up boxes and garbage trucks in one of the movies. The only vocation we seem to be any good at having coming back from Vietnam in the movies is crime and a lot of these movies are designed just around that. Even the biggest crime fighter of the 70s, Clint Eastwood, in his first two movies fights Vietnam veterans who in one case they are just bad guys and the second case they have united because they disliked what happened in the war and Old Clint gets them, there is one gun, he can take on all those Vietnam veterans real quick. It goes to the extreme. Bruce Dern returns in Black Sunday. He was a Navy pilot who flies a dirigible with the biggest Claymore mine in history and planning to kill the entire Super Bowl crowd. If the Cowboys were playing, I dont know, if it was too bad of an idea, but anyway that is where Bruce Dern made his first big impression on that how crazy he was, but he goes so far in 1974 that of Vietnam veterans, The Summer Vacation, they kidnap a couple, go to a cabin, rape the woman and turn the man and woman loose and hunt them for the next week or so out in the woods until they find them and by the way all these movies, most of them, are still on VCR or DVDs in your store. I have tried not to mention any that are not available. Some are getting a little obscure but you can find them all.
We are all so suicidal, according to the movies, I am surprised all of you are here. I thought all of you have killed yourself by now. We are showing that very early in a movie in 1971, a Vietnam veteran, and by the way they like the Medal of Honor, gosh, you are crazier than anybody and at least in the movie shows. A Medal of Honor winner in Vanishing Point; the whole movie is about him driving a car, Dodge Challenger, from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours to win a bet, made that he would win drugs if he wins the bet. Towards the end of the movie, he sees he is going to be unsuccessful and smiles as he ploughs into a large vehicle that they have got across the road and kills himself.
It is not all the minor actors that are doing this. In the movie that appears, remember the Big Chill? Now I liked the Big Chill, great music tracks with six I think University of Michigan grads, all get together 15 years after they graduate. Well, there is one of them that screwed up and he is the only one who went to Vietnam and even the one that killed himself, he committed suicide, they dont ever say he was in Vietnam, but they talk about he was so meticulous that he kept his Draft Notice. And by the way the body that they show you at first when they are dressing him, that is Kevin Costners first role, which as far as I am concerned, all his anti military movies he has made, it could have been his last. We will leave it at that.
Henry Winkler, the Fonz, from television, remember him? Oh, is he still around or what? Well, when Winkler got so successful as a Fonz, he said, Im going to make a movie. His movie was called Heroes, made in 1977. He escapes from a VA Hospital in New York with the objective of going to California to raise worms and get wealthy raising worms. He is worm farmer. Unfortunately when he gets there, he starts having flashbacks and kills most of the people in the town of, I think Escondido, if I remember correctly. So Winkler who was I dont think too much of a hero, but that is where people jumped on him. Bigger name, Nicholas Cage and Matthew Modine in 1984 made a movie named Birdy and both these guys really liked playing; being around birds, well, before they went into the military. When they come back Modines character thinks he is a bird. He is retreated to acting like a bird and they send in Cage to get him to come down. It is good movie and I classify these as good movies and bad Vietnam movies, it is very well made.
Audience: What is the name of the movie again?
Michael Lee Lanning: Birdy, made in 1984. The line where Cage says, They, the Army and the war got the best of us, we are totally screwed up and we didnt know what we were getting into this John Wayne shit, boy were we dumb, so there is another, you know, big star making the impression. Again, they are just movies, but after 400 of them, with nobody but Muldoon talking correctly about the Vietnam War and The Green Berets, it starts to make an impression. We go to extremes and Distant Thunder was a movie made jointly with Canada, we should have known about them right then when they made this with John Lithgow, it was about Bush Vets, guys that hide out in the woods and are scared to come back into the regular mainstream. One of the vets, they call themselves Free Looney Tunes Nuts, one of the veterans sits around and sings a song to the tune of Wake the town and tell the people, but the lyrics were changed to rape the town and kill the people. So that kind of put an end to the genuine movies and then the ultimate came around. By the time they made a movie of Graveyard Shift based on Stephen Kings book [Jug, by the way I would be interested in knowing what King did do to stay out of the war if you have to write that book] but in the movie made in 1990, kind of puts a cap to these crazy veterans and if a guy that is crazy and a pest exterminator in the movie and he is also a Vietnam veteran, but he says I aint one of them baby burning flashback fuck-ups you see Bruce Dern playing, but then he goes on to prove that he is. And of course there is some famous actresses joining the same outline. Julia Roberts in 1990 made a movie called Flatliners; it was about a bunch of medical students who want to show what it is like, they want to kill themselves and then be brought back and could see what is it like on the other side. She is confused about her whole life, when she goes back on the other side, her repressed memory is watching her father come back from Vietnam and shooting himself with a .45.
In 1972, one of the early ones the one called Welcome Home Soldier Boys, a bunch of Special Forces guys by the way, they decide to move from their discharge point at Fort Bragg and go to California and get rich, except they run out of money in Hope, New Mexico. There is a Hope, New Mexico, the original Hope, I thought it was interesting to look that up. When they stop to get gas with the last of their money, somebody harasses them, so they opened up the trunk of their car and oddly you Special Force guys got to bring back all your weapons and hand grenades and all that stuff, we didnt get to do that in the regular Infantry, but, man, they tear out this town up, they kill everybody in the town. I mean this movie is not one of those that is kind of, you know, let us just take a look at the edge, it goes way over.
Well, you cant talk about the crazy veterans without talking about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the guy with the Leatherface, he is sawing people up, he yells Ho Chi Minh -- incoming. By the way, all us Vietnam veterans have got one chance to get on top of the building and start throwing stuff and screaming and as long as you throw Ho Chi Minh and that sort of stuff in there, you probably end up on a disability instead of going to jail. Just my opinion, again, I have got some bias.
They even made one called the Memory of Justice in 1976 that runs to war crime trials in Germany comparing them with service of veterans in Vietnam. Looking for Mr. Goodbar remember that? Remember the beautiful Diane Keaton and she goes bar to bar. The guy that finally kills her, she calls him crude, vain, bold, and a liar, but she likes looking at his scars and talking about Vietnam where hes a veteran of. Again the Medal of Honor winner in the movie called The Presidio, he is described as a hero in the war nobody liked and he is leading a large gang that is stealing all sorts of stuff at the Presidio. Meg Ryan is in that movie, so is Sean Connery, but the line I kind of like, and this is my all time favorite title for a movie, it is one that is not really about Vietnam, it just got one line in and this is a movie called Tough Guys Dont Dance and towards the end of the movie, the Police Chief who is a Vietnam veteran, he asks one of these characters played by Ryan ONeal; he says, Were you in Vietnam? And ONeal says, no, I wasnt, and why do you think I was? And ONeal answers his own question, Well, I guess it is because I am an ex-con, is really why you think I am Vietnam veteran.
So I guess we have lot in common with those folks. There were some movies made that were sympathetic to Vietnam veterans, but if you wanted to be sympathetic in a Vietnam movie, you pretty well had to be disabled. Generally, you still had your upper body strength, but you are probably in a wheelchair. Who is the hero of Coming Home? Jon Voight. He is more of a man that that damn Marine, Bruce Dern who goes back to war. I won't go into at any length though on Coming Home. I think all of you have seen it and got quite sufficient opinions. By the way, Bruce Dern commits suicide at the end of the movie, if you dont remember.
Ron Kovics movie and I certainly dont mean to discourage anybodys service in Vietnam, but if Ron Kovic had won the Medal of Honor and come home whole, would that movie have been made about it. By the way, why has no movie been made about the Medal of Honor winners in Vietnam. What movie are the ones, the first ones you remember about World War I? Sergeant York. World War II? Audie Murphy. Vietnam? Well, yeah, Coming Home and all those stuff, and now who are the heroes today? What has happened from Vietnam? Heroes are not heroes. Heroes are victims. Jessica Lynch gets a half a million bucks to write a book, never fired a rifle. Our heroes are victims and thats pretty well what we saw in that vein of movie.
But, of course, all of this when people think about Vietnam movies, we think about the real war. The movies made fairly much the real, first of all they are very expensive, a lot of them didnt get made, the army wasnt supporting a lot of this or the military wouldnt or the Department of Defense. The Philippines would rent out as many helicopters and troops you needed and that finally became fairly economical for people to make like Apocalypse Now and Platoon and some of these with right equipment and some of them fairly detailed and there is some good aspects of them, but generally the ones that were successful were the ones that showed a different war, than at least I experienced. I am the first one when people ask me, if they want to see some real aspects about the Vietnam War, I tell the scenes in Platoon that are extremely accurate. The age of the troops, some of the banter back and forth amongst younger troops is good. The Philippines looks good, but I tell them, as a platoon leader and company commander, I didnt have squad leaders and platoon sergeants threaten to kill each other or smoking dope with their troops or doing all of the other horrible things that everybody does in this movie and whats interesting about the Platoon -- is Oliver Stone going to be speaking with us here or across town speaking, you know, Steve. Stone is a veteran, I give him credit, he deserves the credit as a veteran, but Stones agenda and bias are a bit different. Platoon came out and won the Academy award. He won other awards with the story of Ron Kovic. He then made a movie called JFK -- stepped on the wrong toes this time Oliver. On the front page of Newsweek, front page of Time, everybody is on Stone saying for this is not the true story of JFK. This whole assassination thing is wrong. Stone didnt know what is talking about, yet he told the truth in Platoon and that was exactly the way it was and what happened when Platoon came out was a new phenomenon. Outside of every theater was all these guys with cameras that should be here, that are going across town, they had interviewed some guy, they didnt interview people like you in this room. They grabbed some guy with a boonie hat and a field jacket that hadnt had a bath in a month and dragged this guy up and said, what do you think? This trooper, this tear rolling down his eye, he said, God dammit, that is just like it was, that is it exactly and most of them as Jug has proved lately werent even over there, but we suddenly had spokesmen for our war coming out of these ranks that made their judgments on Oliver Stones movie. Other movies made about the same time like I said, Born on the 4th of July Full Metal Jacket I dont know if there are any Marines here or not, I kind of liked the first half of Full Metal Jacket; I thought Lee Ermey, most everybody thought, what most civilians dont realize is he is not serious about 90% of the stuff he is hollering at them, he is just doing to keep things up and in the second half, of course, it is all filmed in England because the director hated to fly and decided to film Vietnam in England and it looks like Vietnam in England is what it looks like. So, but I didnt like to second half and I kind of liked the first half, although I dont, the soldiers hitting the sergeant didnt work out, although Lee Ermey has made a good career out of it. Hamburger Hill has got some good aspects of it that I liked. I liked the way the enemy appears kind of ghostly, kind of hard to keep up with. I like the main part of it that was if you think about that movie, it never pulls the camera back. You only see about a squad at a time, about 15-20 yards is about as far you can see and that is about all the war I saw. Everything I know about Vietnam I learned when I came back and read books and that sort of thing. I was there; I knew a very small sector of what was going on in the war. These movies got out of hand though and you got the Australians made some, the Canadians made some. Francis Ford Coppola's movie Apocalypse Now again convinced people that is the way it really was. Any time, anybody asks me about the reliability of that movie, I ask them and you know, you can't tell them to go kill somebodys dog, but I would say, go get a dead dog out in the street, hang it in front of your porch and say, how well do you like the smell and then all of you smell humans in all those stuff hanging around Kurts camp makes it a little real unrealistic. Sheens character talks about the insanity and murder. He says charging a man in this place for murder is like giving out speeding tickets at the Indiana 500. Of course it is based on Conrad's Heart of Darkness which is difficult to read too as far as I am concerned. He later made a documentary on making that and talks about this is not about Vietnam, this is Vietnam; and I just dont know where he is coming from, although, of course, one of his own characters, he justifies killing people by Duval by saying, Charlie dont surf although I kind of liked, I love the smell of napalm in the morning myself, I got to kind of agree with that.
So there are some things you got to drag out of these and see what you agree with. The Deer Hunter I think the first thing a lot of us think about is, gosh, every time I went to one of those roulette shooting matches they were sold out and I couldnt get in the door. You have got to give them a lot of license. Those that were POWs, I am sure could go on a lot of things about the POW scenes and I never could understand why the sergeant, I know The Green Berets wear beards now, but I dont remember them doing that in Vietnam, I never did figure out why they did that, but actually that movie is worth it not for that; part of the beginning if you remember, these guys get sent off to Vietnam by this Russian immigrant town very positively and when they come back, they are saying incidentally another hero of that movie is the guy that is in the wheelchair, another victim, but at the end of the movie, they all stand around and they havent got it yet, but they are singing, God bless America. So I got little good feelings for that movie because it has got some things in it that I think are positive. They had pretty well given up making, they made one TV movie of A Rumor Of War with Philip Caputo. If Caputo hadnt been tried for murder, I dont think they would have made the movie. Most of this stuff has gone away and I talk about it a little bit more, but I think all of you, most of you have probably seen We Were Soldiers Once recently with Mel Gibson. Finally, the movie that should have been made 30 years ago, was made and I will talk about where we are today, but when I wrote this book 10 years ago those movies didnt exist. Of course, you have got Casualties of War with good old Sean Penn and Michael Fox based on a real incident and it is based on an incident where they kidnap and rape and murder a young woman. [Two point something million people that served in Vietnam in the area, I think only one squad doing that is not too bad of a percentage.] Sean Penn says, we are to kidnap her as a portable R&R to break up the boredom and keep up morale. Like I said, it was based on a real incident and I think, we probably got a few minutes. Let me talk about real instances and I think a little truth goes a long way and hurts often times more than entire fabrications of things. All of us were impacted when the My Lai incident was revealed. I remember absolutely saying it didnt happen and couldnt believe it and later on had to accept that it did. When people ask me, in every class I do, they ask me about that incident and I give them a story of the two Bills, Bill Calley and Bill Clinton. Bill Calley was raised here on the East Coast, graduated from high school, kind of wandering around and ended up in New Mexico in Community College, flunked out of Community College, got drafted and by the way, I didnt know you could flunk out of Community College, but Calley managed to do that. He went OCS, ended up a platoon leader in Vietnam and ended up leading the biggest atrocity probably in the war committed by our side. Regardless what you think about Bill Clinton, and I doubt if you think less so of him than I do, the man does have some leadership capabilities. If Bill Clinton instead of Bill Calley, if Clinton had accepted his responsibility to serve in the United States Armed Forces and if he had been at My Lai that day, he might try to seduce the village chiefs wife, but I dont think he would allow the murder of 400 people. You could say Bill Clinton, you could substitute for Tom Brokaw, Tom DeLay, Tom Dashiell, our Vice-President today Mr. Cheney, a lot of these people and my question to them is if Bill Calley did it, may be he took your place and may be Bill Little who was my best friend in Vietnam and we had to fight three days just to return the body, may be if youd have been there, maybe his name wouldnt have been on the Wall. So that is where I kind of come from, with some of the realistic aspects of it.
The real wars, you know, some of them are fun and the Siege Of Firebase Gloria it has got some fairly good parts except the captain that commands the fire base sits naked in his bunker reading Playboy, smoking dope and worrying about ice-cream and Lee Ermey who is in one of his second movies plays again the old hardcore sergeant. He has got one of the best lines in one of these movies. He starts off and they walk into one of these places that has seen a lot of people murdered and he says it really hurt us to see their heads on stakes. So somebody is making a living writing lines like that in Hollywood, but what really happened with the real movie films?
You know, the people sitting out that should be here listening to this today, they really wonder, if the people are seeing movies and renting videos, how in hell we lost that war. I mean Rambo, Chuck Norris, these guys go in by themselves and could kill hundreds and rescue POWs and do all kind of things when we as platoon leaders and aircraft commanders and all that fail to do so. I cannot explain the phenomenon of the Ramboesque movie except it is kind of interesting because they piss off both sides and most of us didnt like them, most civilians didnt like them because they thought it made veterans look like tough guys and they didnt like that. In the best line of any film is after the second Rambo movie when they recruiting him to go back and rescue POWs, he looks at his handler and he says, Sir, do we get to win this time? which is kind of a memorable line, but we have seen so many times Braddock played and Rambo that it really brought a lot of unrealistic ideas to the moviegoers about one person, what they can do. You know you can only shoot so many people and your score can be, you can knock off 40 of them, but once you lose 40 in 1 and you are out of the game. 100 and 1 and you are out of the game and we dont ever seem like that we could see this in the part and probably one of the biggest shames that I see in the Ramboesque movie is the POWs and that we have seen in the Admiral speaking here before, an experience that I cannot even equate to anything that Ive experienced, everything that goes into it. Yet the movies plays them as a bunch of losers sitting around waiting to be rescued by Rambo and Braddock. I have never seen a movie on the escape tries made. The few TV movies that were made about Stockdale and Denton are reasonably accurate, but generally the POWs unlike other wars, and you would remember The Great Escape from World War II? Man, these guys break out, they dig holes, they ride motorcycles, they steal aeroplanes and they tear up the whole German countryside. They are heroes. What about POWs from our wars; they are generally looked at as victims by the people in Hollywood. Another aspect of Hollywood (I gonna try to save some minutes at the end of the talk to get people to ask questions because all of you have got just as strong opinions on a lot of this as I do.) In World War II particularly, there were musicals and comedies. Abbott & Costello and Francis the Talking Mule and thousand of dancers coordinating in synchronized swimming and all of it honoring the veteran and the canteens and all that which didnt really happen in Vietnam because, you know, we did get Good Morning, Vietnam with Adrian Cronauer who is very interesting to talk to. He says he wishes he could have got by with some of the stuff that they got by in the movie, but other than that, most of the comedies Mash was about Korea, set in Korea about Vietnam would be a better way to put it. The Broadway hit, Hair was made into a movie and of course it is about a guy dodging the draft and other than that it has got some good music, it doesnt add much to the war itself. Some are of them are of particular note. There were a few after Hair, they made a movie about the Woodstock which without Vietnam there wouldnt have been a Woodstock, I dont think. Well, some of you may not think of as Vietnam movies, American Graffiti, I liked that movie. The sound track is great, the cars are great, a young Ron Howard, but who is the dope in the movie, the guy that everybody laughs at and makes fun of. A character played by Charles Martin Smith, Toad, wrecks the car, loses the girl, he is the guy that everybody makes fun of. At the end of the movie, they flash up whatever happens to everybody. One becomes an author, one becomes an insurance salesman, Toad gets killed in Vietnam or is missing in action in Vietnam. The second movie shows his actual experiences there and he virtually deserts in Vietnam, but even the big movies like that. some of the others that were kind of horror or funny, the movies Piranha and Piranha 2, about the piranhas that were being raised to be set free in water ways in North Vietnam and they escape and destroy the villages here in United States instead. You know Tom Hanks, good old Tom Hanks, he made all those good World War II movies and speaks for us and never served a day. He also appeared in movie called Splash with John Candy and Daryl Hannah. Well, most of you are scratching your heads, Vietnam in that movie? Yeah. When he is riding around looking for Daryl Hannah as a mermaid, the FBI is after him also. They come to the fruit market and as soon as they show up Tom Hanks character runs away when the phone rings and he is told that the mermaid has appeared somewhere. Well, the FBI asks Candys character, why did he run away? He is a Vietnam veteran. A hand grenade went off in his helmet one day and every time he hears ringing he runs off. So you know even this is cheap shot, cheap shot. Someone deserves those, but we dont deserve those in a movie that has got Daryl Hannah showing her breasts, you know. I guess you want to edit that out before you put it out.
Finally, and I have got one big subject that I want to cover, documentaries about Vietnam. Now I heard on one of the networks the other day they are talking about Fahrenheit 911 as being the first documentary made that opposed the war during the war and my question, where in the hell were they in 1969? Documentaries, anti-Vietnam documentaries won Academy Awards, nominated for Academy Awards. Let me run through some of them for you. The first was made in 1968 and titled In the Year of the Pig being the Chinese Year of the Pig is where that comes from. It opens with the comparison of Vietnam War to Americas Revolutionary and Civil Wars. It closes with the Battle Hymn of the Republic played with oriental instruments you know the tinny, pinging sound playing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. In between it skillfully blends news footage, combat scenes and individual interviews that deliver nothing less than Hanois view of the war. Included are statements by Harrison Salisbury, Father Daniel Berrigan and other Americans all praising the valiant efforts of the freedom fighting Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. According to documentary, the best of a generation was attracted to the Communist Forces. The Americans were depicted, according to one of its own great Generals, and this is what they show a film of General George Patton Jr. as a bloody good bunch of killers. And Patton did say that and he did a lot of other things. By the way, he died a couple of weeks ago. He was a good man in my opinion. But the Viet Cong were praised were contributing to world peace by ending the arrogance of power. Nothing is subtle in any part of the movie. It was released, reviewed in America across the United States, did win a nomination for an Academy Award and it was loudly cheered when portions of it was shown at the awards.
In 1974, Peter Davis did the documentary called Hearts and Minds. This one won the Academy Award with a standing ovation. According to this award-winning documentary, for five U.S. Presidents lied to the American public about Vietnam, the bombing of the North with primarily destroyed hospitals and peaceful villages and American soldiers tortured, burned and killed with relish or maybe John Kerry saw this and got some of his lines from this, I am not very sure. Not a single incident of any brutality by the VC or NVA is evidenced in this documentary. A returning POW is shown basically as a buffoon for defending the war efforts. The director even admitted at the Academy Awards, he set out to make the ultimate anti-war movie and Hollywood accepted it. Others were made that didnt receive as much as of attention is one called The Trial of the Catonsville 9 which is about Daniel and Patrick Berrigan breaking into a draft board in Maryland and destroying a lot of selective service records and at the trial they say, We have chosen to say with the gift of our freedom that the violence ends here, that death ends here, the suppression of the truth stops here and the war stops here. This is probably the most anti-Vietnam documentary or anything ever made. These guys come across as so paranoid, so self-serving that if you will just laugh all the way through it and I tell you even the other side would if they took a good look at it. Of course, our friend Jane Fonda made one titled with a lot of inspiration FTA. The FTA though stood officially for Free The Army, correction, Free Theater Associates, but they said it really meant, Free The Army, we all know what it meant. It ends with Donald Sutherland as a part of it saying the message is clear, America lies, it takes the peace away from any of us and then somebody shouts at the end of it saying Free Angela Davis again and she shows up. So thats what we are. That is what your children, my children, our grandchildren are going to learn about the Vietnam War.
More so than probably any other source it will be and we will see a lot of them today and we are going to hear a lot of truths, but a lot of it is coming on that big movie screen and that has what has made the impression and I will real honest about it. We can counter, we can chip away, we lost that war. They got it. It is not going to change much. May be future generations will take a different look at it. There have been others made, Dumbo Drop which was kind of a comedy about Special Forces which was at least not anti-Vietnam, but unfortunately I think the myth is going to continue. Movies are not going to add to it that much and if you notice everything in there, there wasnt a single movie except for the positive one, We Were Soldiers Once made after 1991. In 1991, the Gulf War, the rise of patriotism or expression of patriotism whatever we want to put. The movies directors finally realized saying we got to make money, these guys are going to be watching any more of this anti-veteran, anti-military stuff, so they vastly toned it down after that point. I might also put, Admiral Denton talked a few moments ago about some failures in leadership of making some policies. I remember sitting around in Vietnam in a fire base talking about, well, how long is this war going to last? And someone said, man, they aint going to quit until we guys who are lieutenants and captains become generals and admirals and make the decision and get this war over with. Well, the war didnt last long enough for us to do that that, but Captain Schwarzkopf and Captain Powell, who were a little bit more ranked at the time of 1991 came around, made the decision that showed how a war could be won and won very quickly.
Movies make the impression. Any of you that may remember The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, there is a shot in there, it is a western, not about Vietnam, but there is one good truth in that movie and that is the newspaper reporter is asked about if the shooting of Liberty Valance was controversial and he says, man, when legend gets bigger than fact, print the legend. And unfortunately over the years, we have had the legends printed and not the facts and all we can do is keep pecking away at it and see what we can do. All of you, I express my appreciation for your service, appreciation for being here today and I can think many things I am, but I am nothing prouder than being a combat Veteran of Vietnam.
Steve Sherman: If you have some questions, come on up here and take a microphone.
Bob Matthews: I teach teachers a lot how to teach Vietnam and movies, of course, are a big part, because they captivate the kids and they know the things and so forth, but will you say one technique might be to let them see the bad movies? Because you said before and I have done this before. In the classroom, I will take like a segment of Platoon, I have taken part of Good Morning, Vietnam, taken a part of Forrest Gump, clips to make a point.
Michael Lee Lanning: You know I dont think there is anything wrong with any of these movies for people to see, as long as they understand what they are seeing. There is nothing wrong with watching the Democratic National Convention tonight as long as you understand what you are seeing.
Bob Matthews: Thank you.
Bill Laurie: A couple of points and you might want to comment further on these later. First of all Lenin was very quick to recognize that the new film industry would be very very important for his propaganda so that was used effectively. On Platoon, this shows the incestuous ignorant relationship with the film industry and the news media. Al Santoli offered to debate Oliver Stone on the authenticity and validity of the movie Platoon on CNN. They wouldnt let him go. So there was a chance for an objective critique of that movie and Al Santoli was in the 25th division and he was with the Combined Reconnaissance and Intelligence Platoon and the villagers kept them alive. A totally different impression than that got made by Stone. Another example, I dont know if you have seen the movie Platoon Leader?
Michael Lee Lanning: Sure McDonoughs book.
Bill Laurie: The book was very great, the movie stunk.
Michael Lee Lanning: Yeah.
Bill Laurie: The book was fantastic and they took a good book and were swayed by the prevailing winds and the prevailing perceptions and downgraded what could have been a good story into a crummy movie, I thought.
Michael Lee Lanning: It showed a lot of the conflict between the people, and you are right, but that is not just true in Hollywood with Vietnam books. I mean they take them and they dont end up according to the story.
Bill Laurie: And somehow and perhaps you having written this book, you may get a call from Hollywood someday and say would you be a technical advisor to this new Vietnam film. One thing that really grates on me is what amounts to the black face ministerial portrayal of Southeast Asians. I cannot see a so-called Vietnam movie without seeing such a stupid portrayal of the Southeast Asian people, be they Hmong, be they Vietnamese, be they Montagnard. It is a travesty of reality and I dont know why with all the veterans that are around, they cant get a technical advisor that can lend some degree of authenticity to it. The Southeast Asians are either if they are then they are craven, they are cowardly, they are crooked, they are devious and so on down the line, or if they are South Vietnamese, they are victims of our brutal policies or if they are Vietcong or NVA, they are kind people who are only fighting for the liberation of the country. These are all stereotypes that are really nothing more than combat equivalent to Amos and Andy, which of course offended black people so much and understandably so.
Michael Lee Lanning: I included a chapter in the book called the Suspicious Allies and Usual Enemies the Vietnamese and it is very short because everything except the Vietnamese women are usually portrayed as prostitutes and that is the only role unless theyre VC and then there, but yeah, there is no accurate portrayal, the Vietnamese dont come out well on either side.
Max Friedman: I just have a little graffiti for you on this sweeping comment. I was told that when John Wayne went to Vietnam to see the country in order to make The Green Berets, that he went out one day and somebody had fired on them, a VC sniper fired in the vicinity and he picked up an M-16 and started blasting the tree line. Now, I dont know whether this is one of the urban legends or not, but it sounded good. I asked George Dukai about that and he didnt know, but I did tell George Dukai and he was very impressed with John Waynes attempt to be honest about making The Green Berets, by doing he is learning what was what, doing his homework before he got there. Also I think that in the Rambo movie, there is a little scene that is really neglected or Chuck Norris I think it is. When he frees the South Vietnamese from the tiger cages, I mean they are all in cages, and they get up and grab rifles and say we are Rangers and they are going to attack. I think that is one of the few times ever seen the South Vietnamese portrayed as doing something brave, and this is were I agree with you about the racism. You see nothing on the Cambodians who probably suffered more in combat than anybody else because they lost their families when they lost and the question is, will they ever make a film that actually is pro-US in Vietnam or is it too late for anybody to make it.
Michael Lee Lanning: I think the closest we are going to get was We Were Soldiers Once true story obviously with Mel Gibson who has got so much flak for the religious movies he has made since, I think he definitely had an agenda in mind. Unfortunately, as its true in the movie, there is a member of the media with him and he must been the last mission when somebody went out on, well, I dont know, when Galloway was legitimately there and Galloway took up the weapon in real time and helped fight because everybody did. I dont think so. But, you know, any of you that grew up, and I say grew up, you may be old before you grow up, in the 70s, Richard Bach published a whole bunch of feel good [books], Jonathan Livingston Seagull and others and in one of them, at the end of the book, he says everything in this book may be wrong and I think I should end my portion of this because everything I said may be wrong, which is really perspective and how we look at it. I dont think so and I will defend that to death but I dont think anybody is going to make, they are not going to make anything that will satisfy us in this room. They might make something that is good, but I dont think it is going to.
R. J. Del Vecchio: Just a comment if I may make one. We referred to things like Fahrenheit 911 as documentaries. Well, by that standard, Triumph Of The Will by Riefenstahl was documentary, okay. They are flat out propaganda films and when I talked to people about it, I always make that correction. If it was really a documentary that was made by an objective researcher that is fine, but these are propaganda films, they should be received as such.
Michael Lee Lanning: The people that walked out, they interviewed when it first showed in Phoenix. Movies are important everywhere, and in Phoenix the whole section of the paper on Fridays dedicated to the movies and they interviewed these people coming out. And they interviewed a lot of people from that pictures that were in teen age and then in the 20s and they said, Boy, I didnt know all this. This has really opened my mind. I am going to go up and campaign for Kerry.
R. J. Del Vecchio: Great propaganda. The one last thing about Hollywood, it so happens that Gus Hastert who wrote the book that Full Metal Jacket was based on, he and I worked together, he was a correspondent and the book is lousy, but they made a much better movie out of the book then the book really was it was by itself. Counter to the normal Hollywood practice, but that was one case where it came out a lot better.
Fred Rice: I think that if you look at We Were Soldiers one of things you have to remember is that the book that it was based upon came out many, many, many years before that. It took a long time for that book to become vetted as an accurate work and have some awards and be picked up by somebody who had the guts to produce it, yet to have, one, an author who certainly believed in what he was doing and was totally credible and then a producer, Mel Gibson, who had the guts and he has shown by his other movies on the Passion that he has the guts to put something forward that he believes is an accurate portrayal. If it werent for that combination of those two, that book might still be languishing on the back shelves in the Barnes & Noble. The same thing is true with the lot of other works. You know all the books that have been written about Vietnam, there are precious few of those that are really accurate. They are kind of first person narratives about I want to tell my story, but a lot of them dont come out being all that accurate and you have got to pass that litmus test of being accurate before you are judged worthy of being a good potential subject for an accurate movie about Vietnam because without that accuracy that makes it different like We Were Soldiers what you end up with is the producers and the writers in Hollywood say, Oh, to hell with it. We can go out and make up our own fantasy better than by taking it out of this book and what they do instead is they will take the title of the book or they will take a character or they will take a little tiny thread and they will make something out of it and as your whole summary was every one of these things has got one little thing that they pulled out of it. Well, they pull what has become part of a popular culture out and they make a whole movie out of it. They spin it out of a whole cloth. About 13 years ago, I gave a lecture at the University of California at Santa Barbara. It was hosted by Professor Capps and who later went to congress and he was a very well known mis-interpreter or mis-chronicler of the Vietnam War, but he did have a class for students. It was a very popular course and I was invited to speak at that one time and there was a class with 800 students and they didnt know a damn thing about Vietnam and in part of my remarks I talked about the movies that I knew about Vietnam and I said you could take most of them and rate them a zero and then I went through three or four or five of them and just said that you know some commentaries about how they lack the reality. These kids in the class didnt have a clue that they lacked reality. They thought that Platoon was the definitive Vietnam movie because it was realistic. I said that I will give all Oliver Stone the fact that he captured the feeling of being out in the woods and being out in the jungle with the leeches and the discomfort and the mosquitoes and all aspects, that part perhaps he captured accurately, but the rest of it he took the entire experience of 40 platoons in a division over a full year and condensed into a weekend with one platoon and that just was not at all the case. It was so overly intense, it was like kind of take a sip of water out of a fire hose and it lost all credibility when he did that. But I think that what may happen in the future is that there are so many movies that are basically caricatures of Vietnam, they are not accurate, that may be over time they will fade into the background like so many of the World War II movies that we cant remember what they are now and that what will take its place is perhaps some selected stories such as We Were Soldiers that stand the test of time as being true and the character studies in them may come out to be worth depicting again and you might see some accurate portrayals of true good character incidentals of smaller stories.
Michael Lee Lanning: An interesting aspect from that also. This was my seventh book. I have written 15 now and 15th will come out in a few months. This book sold fewer copies than any book I have written. Part of the reason is I dont think people care that they dont think the movies are accurate. Mostly, at least I hope, it was put out as a film reference guide instead of on the nonfiction Vietnam shows where people could find them, but it didnt sell well at all. In fact, it never made back its advance.
Mike Benge: Really dont end up thinking that you are going to see any more accurate Vietnam movies because of the fact is the producers and directors are not out there to produce an accurate movie and in the case of Mel Gibson, he is an honest man and he wanted an honest movie with an honest story. You had asked earlier about that why dont they get better advisors on it? Because they dont want better advisors on it to give you an accurate movie. I was an advisor on Apocalypse Now for a while out there and I was getting very good pay. I was getting $450 a month per a day and I had to crown Toyota pick me up in the morning and drive me home and everything and that wasnt bad at the time when they were making that and I was supposed to be advising on the accuracy of the Montagnards in the movie, but going around I am talking to the others the Special Forces advisor, so called Special Forces advisor, who had advised them to put a cap at the base of the hill in a coconut groove which was of course very accurate was doped out all the time and I dont think he had ever been in Vietnam. He had run around in his fatigues, he very definitely had not been in the Special Forces. The story line that Francis Ford was going to end up doing and everybody finally dropped after I exposed the guy as a total fraud, was that they were coming down to the river and a scene evolved out and that was Montagnards dancing around a Montagnard woman who is giving birth and they were all pushing on her stomach and forcing the baby out and I ask him where the hell did you get this idea? I said, I spent 11 years without a fight in Vietnam or in the Hanoi or other places. I spent six years with the Montagnard and birth is a very private thing only among the women and this had never happened, and he said, oh no, this was an eye witness by my pilot. And I said, your pilot? I would like to know where in the hell he got it. Well, his pilot was right behind him and the guy was about six feet four and he was a pretty formidable-looking guy and I turned around and I said, Were you in Vietnam? and he said, Yeah, I was a helicopter pilot. And I said, Oh, you were? I said, where were you out of and he said, I was out of Pleiku and I said, you are out of Pleiku? What was the name of your base? Well he couldnt remember it and I said, well, that is interesting, because it was Camp Holloway that was the base up there for the pilots, although they did end up making another camp over in Pleiku. And I said, that was named after the first soldier killed after the Gulf of Tonkin incident. I said, well if you were a pilot out there, what the landmark, the most formidable landmark that was there and the guy said, well, he didnt know and I said, well the Vietnamese called it Dragon Mountain. I said the GIs has called it Pussy Peak and I said the reason of it being it was like a womans torso and the only trees was in crotch and that was it and any pilot who flew in Vietnam, who flew the dog leg up to Hue or north up there took their bearings on that mountain and I said, well that is two strike out so I said what is your third. The third one I said, what was the name of the ethnic minority group that you were talking about that you witnessed all this? Well, he couldnt remember that and I said, was it the Hoa Hao? He said, Yeah yeah thats it, the Wah How. And I said, well, thats interesting, that is a religious group down South. I think you are full of shit, and I said, Basically if you were ever in Vietnam, it was in a gin bottle in a bar down in Saigon and that actually had Francis Ford Coppola drop that scene from the movie. When I learned that they were going to make headhunters out of the Montagnards I very stringently objected to Francis Ford Coppola and I said, if you are going to pull that shit, I am out of here even if you are paying me good money. And he said, if I wanted to make an accurate movie, I would have went to Vietnam and I said, I wish you would have because they probably would have shot your ass and I said, furthermore, I can see Apocalypse Now where we have Martin Sheen going down, who by the way O.D.ed on the set and they had to med-evac him, going down the river looking through the binoculars and the scene evolving and we see Tarzan and Cheetah swinging through the trees and that is going to be another Francis Ford Coppola B movie and that pissed him off.
Dolf Droge: There was also one thing that came out of this We Were Soldiers Once and Young and that was the plight of Jack Smith, the son of Howard K. Smith, was the guy that was used as a sandbag by the North Vietnamese Forces. They put a machine gun on him, as he was crumpled, they thought he was dead. He wasnt dead, he was surviving, but Howard K. Smith said about his son, My son was nothing until he went to Vietnam and he came back a man. He went out a spoiled kid and he came back a man and this was part of the story that also then was circulating around and so the accuracy factor had to be very, very careful in this movie which was doubly impressive then for the production of it. When Mel Gibson would take that to heart and say, okay, we got more going here than we thought we had, and so they really really bored down on that point.
Michael Lee Lanning: [General Moore] and some of those fellows helped advise on that book.
Participant: My name is 12110 _Lam. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you for this forum and I have some Vietnamese in here. Just to get my Vietnamese perspective about the Vietnam War and my thinking about it. First, again I want to say thank you for those who fought in Vietnam War, that is why I am here today enjoying my freedom and help my family. 12134 I grew up in an orphanage in America 30 years ago, because of the Vietnam War and that is why I am here and I have a different look, a different view of the Vietnam War, I guess, as to many of you here. But what I learned about the Vietnam War through books and from movies, Platoon and We Were Soldiers 12200 _____ and a lot of my Vietnamese friends, all the Vietnamese I talk to, we go to movies or book that wrote about Vietnam, a lot of 12210 _____ interrupt description about what Vietnam is about, about the Vietnam War and very rarely, rarely does they really consider the view of the South Vietnamese people, who were the men, who actually fought in the Vietnam War and who defended the homeland, the family, that is being attacked by the North and I will just go back to the We Were Soldiers Once movie. Don Duong is a one of the actors in the movie. After the movie he was exiled to the United States, right after he made the movie. That was big things he considered a betrayal to the Vietnamese Communists, but there is a lot of myths about the Vietnam War because before the moviemakers or the book was written, rarely did he mention or attempt to consider the point of view of the Vietnamese people who fought the Vietnam War, the families who suffered like the My Lai massacre in 1968, nobody even mentioned about it. The book, the movie, except for that one picture that was taken one of the Vietnamese soldiers point a gun to the communist and that is the only picture that really blew up so big and thus when the antiwar movement really took advantage to the end and to a lot of Vietnamese, obviously the majority, consider the reason why we lose the war was because of antiwar movement back in 60s and to this day I wish to see about that point that way.
Dolf Droge: That day in Saigon, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, not General but Colonel, he was in charge of the police with the Tet Offensive breaking loose as it had in 44 cities. He was in charge of the police and when he went back to the police barracks that night, they found, as the policeman came back from that arduous terrifying day, they found their wives dead on the bed. Their legs have been cut off and written in blood on the wall was, was it really worth it to answer the call of the American imperialists today and thats why the next day, when Loan came out on to the street and somebody brought to him this captive which had, the guy was wearing a kind of a little braid there in his pocket and that was one of the symbols that they used to recognize each other one when they were getting there into Saigon. They had to have runners bring him in to Saigon because no one knew anything about Saigon, never been into the town before and this was one of the guys that had been in charge and that is why Loan just pulled out his pistol and blew the guys head off right there on TV. Without background it looked like the more savage thing you could see, but if you remember what Loan had just seen the night before with the women and their legs cut off and they had died bleeding to death on the beds and the guys came home and found their wives and the family that way, then you would think a little differently as to what happened and, of course, that context was never put in.
Participant: Just a quick suggestion as you are thinking about movies and whether there would ever be a movie that we might like, I think may be there is one coming down the pike and that is Nelson DeMille wrote a book and that book is called Up Country which I think is a pretty good novel and evidently they are going to make a movie out of it and if the movie is anything like the book, it might answer that, so look out for that.
Steve Sherman: If it would be anything like the book, we should all be very surprised.
Dave Dolby: My name is Dave Dolby. Did five tours, got the Medal of Honor and, after the first tour, went back and married the cook in the Mess Hall. Her name was Nguyen Thi Xuan. She was up on Nui Ba Den at age 15 and the Saigon police did this J.O.B. We were down along the Long Hai training the Cambodian Army, as we went up, I noticed Q.C.s (White Mice) and said to my wife, what is that? Well, that sign says, it is where you learn to be Saigon police, but the only thing they do in there is grow marijuana and sell it to Saigon. I prefer Cambodian Red myself. And when the QC come here, see my wife died in 87, one guy come here late after 75 cause theyre Lutherans, he just is so upset, he cant get no money from my wife because she would be one of those girls like my mother and father called and then they have to have the hit Broadway show, Ms. Saigon, oh, yeah, you got to be a whore, got to be a whore. I have married a cook in the Mess Hall, she was a whore, I still would have married her. I loved my wife and that man only he did his job, why the news media had to treat him like that, I dont know and the marijuana he grew wasnt good as Cambodian Red.
Michael Lee Lanning: Let me add one thing on that.
Participant: 12714 _____ about money, I dont think the police are about money, their attention is the military.
Michael Lee Lanning: When I came in the Army in 1968, one of the first stories I heard about was about a guy named Dolby and I think ever assignment I had in the Infantry for the next 10 years, people talked about him. It is a true honor to meet him today, all I didnt even know his first name, I thought it was Machine Gun, but it is indeed a pleasure to be here with you today.
Participant: Thanks very much.
Steve Sherman: We have got "the other side of the story."
Max Friedman: One little quirk of this meeting is this brought together some people who we hadnt seen in 5, 10, 20 to 30 years in fact. There is Dolf Droge over there who went into National Security Council and Mike Benge over there who spent some time in the luxurious Hanoi Hilton and myself, Im Max Friedman, we are about three quarters of the documentary called The Unauthorized Biography of Jane Fonda that Mark Mosley [Holtzer?] the former vice-president of CBS put together in and showed on Arts and Entertainment and few other stations. There were some documentaries on Vietnam which, if you have any time to talk about because most of the ones I saw, the Karnow book and some of the others are really lousy. I saw too many flaws in there, things that just didnt make any sense. Accuracy in the Media put one together with Charlton Heston, but I am really wondering, is there anything with what you would call a good academic quality documentary on Vietnam that could be used to show students, key segments of what happened as opposed to what other movies thought happened or made up as happening.
Steve Sherman: We are going up to be pressed for time.
Steve Sherman: We posted on the website one portion from a documentary called The Long Way Home Project. I havent had a chance to really look at it, but from what I saw in the process of trying to digitize it, it looked pretty good and I will probably run these things or pieces of it maybe through a dinner break or lunch break if people want to sit and see pieces when they come back in here. The documentaries on Televisions Vietnam, particularly the one on the impact of the media, I thought was pretty good and that is why thats up on the website as well. What is on the website is a low res version of it, so you guys are going to have to buy the high res version to see this clearly, but it was very nice of the people who made the movies to let us have those things for the website.
Michael Lee Lanning: There is also one that was made in 1967 called, The Anderson Platoon where they actually follow the platoon around in Vietnam. The movie is only about 65, a documentary is about 65 minutes long and its not really well made, but you recognize a lot of folks there.
Bill Laurie: I dont know if we are ever going to have a really effective documentary until we tell more about the Southeast Asians. I think like The Anderson Platoon is very good, point well taken, but that is like trying to eat with one chopstick. If we dont explain to America why we were there and what we were doing, the only way we can do that is to tell more about the Southeast Asians themselves and what they were confronted with and we have to emphasize it is not just the Vietnamese, it is the Laotian and the Cambodians. It was a theater war, it was not a war in South Vietnam and until we have documentaries that incorporate that, we are only going to get half way there. The Anderson Platoon takes us down a good road, no questions. We need more of those and we need to continue further.
Michael Lee Lanning: It is going to be difficulty to catch up though. All of us, on our name tags, recognize the red stripes on the yellow as where it came from. Last year, at New Years Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena and I dont know which network it was, one of the twinkies that they had there talking about people and there was a Vietnamese marching group came on and they were carrying the flags and wearing yellow with the red strips and the woman asked the male commentator, Oh, arent they dressed interestingly? He says, Yes, I think it is some club they belong to. The commentator didnt recognize nor the people who had the thing in their ear to tell them what it was, that it was all the South Vietnamese flags.
Steve Sherman: In 1992, Clinton came to Houston in his election effort and somebody waved a Viet Cong flag in the proceedings there and the local Asian-American News put it out in the paper saying Viet Cong flag flown at Clinton rally, and I would say that Bush won the State of Texas by 40,000 votes and thats about how many Vietnamese came out to vote.
Participant: I just wanted to add to that. Right now, the yellow and three red stripe flag is considered the Vietnamese heritage in the freedom flag and those who fought under the flag to be proud because it is heritage and freedom in that flag and they fought for freedom. We know, thats it, thats the flag. Right now there is about 60 cities around the United States recognize or pass a resolution recognizing the heritage and freedom of Vietnamese flag and about four states, nationwide, recognize this flag as the symbol of heritage and freedom of the Vietnamese-American, not only in America but Canada, Europe, Australia and just a couple of months ago up to a 20,000 Vietnamese-Australian protest against the propaganda program of the Vietnam government with propaganda on one of the Australian Television. So, the same thing in America, people are still fighting even though the war is over 30 years ago. Right now, it is just, it is not about winning the war, but about the future, about our troops, about the Vietnam future, about the future of our human rights and I have to say that the majority of Vietnamese in Boston or anywhere else in the United States still honor the flag and consider it as our identity, heritage and freedom flag.
Steve Sherman: Gentleman, I think we really should break for lunch. Those cookies are not the only thing you will have to eat all day. Our benefactor who has been our secret cookie benefactor snuck up on us wearing his grey suit over here, so I didnt recognize him.
Dolf Droge: One last word about Calvin and Crystal Crane. They are related to Phil Crane the congressman, and they are going around and they are filming the veteran returning home from the war and all of the different circumstances and all of the different parts of the country. I think they had a little problem with fund flow for this, but I believe that they are still on the trail to the finish that and get that documentary released -- the long journey home.
Steve Sherman: Another documentary that is coming out is already out. It is In The Shadow of The Blade and I saw it when it won a prize in Houston earlier this year.
Steve Sherman: In The Shadow of The Blade and you have to keep your eye out for that one. There was also a very good POW documentary. Anyway, we will get back here and meet, go out and eat. There are a number of food sources out here that I think you have seen. See you back here in a bit.