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PAINTER: TV series on Vietnam War worth watching

• Oct 9, 2017 at 12:00 PM

There are certain TV programs that should be on your must-watch list. Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” is one of those programs.

The 10-part, 18-hour documentary on the controversial war aired on PBS. Burns, of course, is well known for his historical films on the Civil War and Major League baseball. He teamed up with Lynn Novick to produce the series on the Vietnam War.

For those of us who grew up in the 1960s, Burn’s latest endeavor is a stark reminder of the sadness and turmoil that occurred during that time period. It is heartbreaking to watch, because of all the soldiers who were killed or injured, and the suffering experienced by both North and South Vietnam citizens.

It also has to be difficult to watch for all those families who lost loved ones. But the series is worth watching for young and old. The Vietnam War obviously was a tumorous time in U.S. history. Burns and Novick captured the events brilliantly.

It was fascinated to listen to soldiers and government officials from both sides of the war tell their stories.

According to the National Archives, more than 58,000 American soldiers lost their lives. Thousands more were injured. Vietnam officials claim that 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters were killed. The U.S. military estimates that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers were killed.

The New York Times wrote the following about the documentary: ”The war in Vietnam offers no uplift or happy ending. It’s simply decades of bad decision after bad decision, a wasteful vortex that devoured lives for nothing.”

While it has been widely reported that numerous mistakes were made strategically, it was interesting to hear again how U.S. government and high-ranking military officers misled Americans.

As a young man in the 1960s, the Vietnam War was constantly on my mind. I lost a teammate from our Southgate High School baseball team. Mike Sorovetz and I shared the same position on the team. Sorovetz, a Marine corporal, was killed in 1967 during a battle in Quang Tri, Vietnam. Other graduates from my high school also lost their lives.

I joined the Navy following my high school graduation in 1963, and really didn’t think about how I no longer would be eligible for the draft. Had I not already served in the military, I would have been drafted in 1970.

Some of my friends weren’t as fortunate. They were either drafted or joined the military so that they could choose the branch of service in which they would serve.

In the early years of the war, college students could get a deferment until they graduated. A lottery system was implemented during the latter part of the war.

Another way to avoid being drafted was to join the National Guard, but the guard was difficult to join unless you had connections.

My best friend in high school was drafted and was fortunate to work as a cook. But he seemed different when he returned from the war, and our friendship grew apart. I had another friend who joined the Marines. He was wounded in Vietnam and had issues with substance abuse.

As the war continued into the 1970s, there were protests. I enrolled at Central Michigan University in 1970. While CMU wasn’t a hotbed for antiwar protests, some did occur on campus.

In 1970 — a year before I enrolled — following the shooting deaths of four people at Kent State University, CMU students occupied Central Hall and the ROTC building.

Some people called for then-CMU President William Boyd to call in the National Guard, but he didn’t, believing the students would eventually stop their protests. They did.

I didn’t encounter too many protests, but a number of students did gather at the student union after it was revealed that the U.S. was bombing Cambodia.

I belonged to the Veterans Club on campus. We were more of a social organization, but we still managed to talk about their feelings about the war. Some of the veterans had become opposed to the war, while some still supported the war effort.

While I wasn’t a major player in the protest movement, I became disillusioned with what was going on in Vietnam.

It was a difficult time for the veterans who served in Vietnam, some of whom had no choice but to go there to fight. Some still believed that it was important to fight for their country.

As time has gone by, we’ve seen greater acceptance of the gallant effort of our soldiers. Some were greeted rudely when they returned from Vietnam. They shouldn’t have been. Our Vietnam veterans, no matter what the outcome of the war, were courageous under difficult circumstances.

Burns and Novick’s series on the Vietnam War is definitely worth watching.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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