A new film swept Shepherd University Monday, Sept. 11, and it focused on one of the most painful topics of U.S. history: the Vietnam War.
Suzanne Higgins, the executive producer of West Va. Public Broadcasting, was the producer and researcher for the film, “Vietnam: West Virginians Remember,” inspired by a larger, 18-hour and 10-part series by Ken Burns called “The Vietnam War” set to premier on Sept. 17 on PBS. The focus of Monday’s showing was on five West Virginia veterans.
Apparently, there was a problem with the sound, delaying the event 30 minutes, and one of the tech crew had to leave the stage for an extra sound cable. The minutes kept creeping by, and finally he arrived to the audience’s relief with the sought-after cable.
But it didn’t stop there. The sound cable was not enough to get the film running properly. Because of this, the audience was instructed to migrate from Reynolds Hall to the Byrd Center.
The technology set up at the Byrd Center worked perfectly, and the show was finally on the road.
“For decades we didn’t want to talk about it,” Higgins said about the war during a short interview at Reynolds Hall. She also explained that West Virginians were patriotic at the time, and many men voluntarily enlisted, regardless of the draft. West Virginia men especially saw the military as an opportunity as well as duty to country. The film explained that at the beginning of the war most West Virginians trusted their government, and this trust led to an early support for the war. In fact, West Virginia had the highest per-capita of soldiers serving and dying in the war out of every single state in the U.S. with 36,578 who served. Out of that number, 1,182 died. For a smaller state like West Virginia, these numbers would have a large impact on the lives of the veterans, their families, and their neighborhoods.
The film was well-done, and watching it gave the viewer not only a view of the West Virginia impact but also of the nation at the time. One factor was the treatment vets received when they came back home. The Vietnam War era was a time of grand social upheaval – from the Civil Rights Movement to the anti-war protests. Some of the anti-war protesters turned their gaze toward the returning vets rather than on the top-brass and government leaders who started the whole thing.
After going through so many horrors of the war, confronting criticism when arriving home made many situations worse. Not only did they suffer bullets overseas, but now they had to suffer verbal abuse at home.
As in all wars, some veterans were left with missing limbs and handicaps. Dave Evans, one of the veterans who told his story in the film, lost both legs from an explosion in Vietnam.
Some of the vets in the film admitted there were things that happened that they could never even tell their wives, and which would leave mental scars for life. They lost close friends, witnessed children being killed, and survived engagements where others fell beside them, making them always wonder why they survived and others didn’t.
The film could never encapsulate all the tragedies or effects of the war. No documentary, book, or speech could possibly accomplish such an enormous task. But it did showcase some of the effects the war had upon West Virginians, and the stories told by the veterans in the film clearly showed the bravery and steadfastness of those who served.
This film will be shown on television Thursday, September 14 at 8 p.m. on the West Virginia Public Broadcasting channel with encore broadcasts Sep. 17 and 24 at 7 p.m.