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Archive for July 10th, 2012

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

July 10, 2012

War in Three Screens

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Guest blogger A K Turner on Bravo!, movies and war, among other things.

Act I: Vietnam via Hollywood

I was a bicentennial baby, my childhood memories are of the eighties. I grew up with Duran Duran, jelly shoes, and Debbie Gibson singing “Electric Youth”. The year of my birth introduced VCRs, which made movies a constant and treasured pastime. In addition to stepping up my knowledge of how much society values tits and ass, VCRs brought me a first glimpse of war. Before then I’d heard only faint whispers of Vietnam. I gleaned from overheard adult conversation, accessorized by the clink of ice in a highball, that Vietnam was something that had happened, but also something that should not have happened.

I wish I could say I expanded my knowledge by listening to veterans tell their stories, or by reading the history books, but I had a lot of “Sweet Valley High” and “Choose Your Own Adventure” on my reading list, and an occasional biography of Harry Houdini or J. Edgar Hoover. Houdini because I thought he could do amazing things; I dutifully practiced holding my breath and got up to a minute and a half. I wanted to try for two, but my mom told me I was killing my brain cells, so I stopped. I read about Hoover because I wanted to join the F.B.I. When adults spoke of the F.B.I., it came with electricity. Adults rarely spoke of war.

A K Turner

Thus occupied, my only knowledge of war came from the VCR, from Hamburger Hill, Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon. These were movies that made me cringe and cry. My heart bled for the soldier, or I despised the soldier, who was really an actor playing a soldier, so no matter how emotional I became during the movie, trying unsuccessfully to stifle the tears and snot and clenching of my throat, it was still Hollywood. After the movie ended, I made plans for the weekend or did my homework. I read another “Sweet Valley High”, because it was just a movie. Maybe an image stayed with me, maybe I dreamed of Sergeant Elias reaching for the heavens. But then I’d see a picture of Willem Defoe on the red carpet at the Academy Awards and know everything was okay.

Act II: September 11, 2001 via The Today Show

We had a one-bedroom apartment carpeted in blue. I crunched numbers, my husband managed building engineers. We stopped getting ready for work and turned our attention to the television screen. A plane had flown into a building. When the second plane hit, Katie Couric said something about planes being mysteriously drawn into the towers. Someone undoubtedly whispered via mic in her ear that there was probably a different and more malevolent explanation. We watched in shock. Eventually, we proceeded with our day, because time refuses to do anything but progress.

In the car, on the way to work, I cried. But I didn’t cry for the victims or the terror of what they felt. They were just a television screen and too far removed. I cried when I realized that my husband might be called in to active duty. For me, September 11th was a spotlight on the unimaginable depths of my own selfishness. I cried only when I saw a potential and direct impact on my life. I’d cry again when I realized how selfish I was, wondering if I lacked an emotion that others possess. I couldn’t cry for the victims, because of the filters between us, because of the television screen, Katie Couric, and three thousand miles.

Act III: Vietnam via Documentary

My husband was called into active duty, but stayed in the U.S. He went through sniper training and other things not on my daily radar. He boarded ships in the San Francisco Bay; he and his fellow comrades searched for incoming terrorist threats. Plots to blow up the Bay Bridge, that sort of thing. At night, he’d confide in me: “We’re there to make people feel better. If someone really wants to do something, we’re not going to be able to stop them.”

So what will be, will be and I turned my thoughts from war, though war continued on and still does. Vietnam resurfaced with a scourge of yellow ribbons. Support your troops with a sticker on your car. Don’t make this like Vietnam, when we spit on our boys if they were lucky enough to return – that was the fear. And again I felt the current of a war that was happening, but maybe one that shouldn’t be.

The first real emotion kicked when I saw a person like me (selfishness, again rearing its ugly head). A woman my age, with kids like mine. She looks just like me, except her husband is gone for war, or for good because of war. She’s wondering how she’ll get through, while I’m making spaghetti for my complete family of four.

The full kick came on a bigger screen. A documentary called Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor about a battle in Vietnam. There were good guys and bad guys and horrific conditions and all of the trappings that Hollywood had. Except this time it wasn’t Vincent D’Onofrio or Tom Berenger on the screen. These were Marines who had been there and had stories to tell. Real and raw and without script. Men describing what had happened to them, the life and death they’d seen, shaking, weeping, pausing, and laughing when the other options are gone. The audience made no attempt to stifle tears and snot and clenching throats.

I don’t know war, only selfishness and words and pictures. But value nests in seeing the true faces and hearing the unedited words of those who have endured what I have not. They deserve something more than what we’ve given them, certainly far beyond what I’ve given them. Taking time to honor their story is a start.

AK Turner is a co-author of Drinking with Dead Women Writers and the author of This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store. More of her work is available at AKTurner.com.