The Vietnam War, In Veterans' Words

Posted: May 18, 1989

After many years of pointed neglect, the Vietnam War has become a fit subject for the entertainment merchants. Although most movies and TV shows have maintained a high-minded gloss, one wonders how long it will be until that period is so distant, or cliched, that it can admit its own Hogan's Heroes or McHale's Navy.

If that day ever comes, every viewer in the country should first be given a chance to see an unassuming but powerful little video called Kindred Men of a Dark War (28 minutes, $24.95), distributed by Creative Street. Its haunting honesty makes any entertainment-oriented treatment of war seem shameful by

comparison.

Kindred Men presents a succession of three veterans, two of them Medal of Honor winners, who address an unseen audience about their specific war experiences. Shot against a black background, with only the veterans' heads and shoulders in view, the video forces us to focus on their faces and their words.

Visually, the only relief consists of occasional amateur photographs of

Vietnam jungles and sky, usually showing helicopters arriving or departing. Sophisticated war machines hovering over a primitive, hostile landscape, these images become a virtual symbol of that disastrous war.

Other photographs show the men - Sammy L. Davis, Allen J. Lynch and David H. Moran - as they were then, grim-faced at 19 or 20.

In a scrolling written introduction, producer-director Dustin Teel frames the question that seems to lie at the heart of the matter: "What prompts a man to jeopardize his own life to save another man?" The three war heroes, each in his own words, identify that reason as love.

As facile as that might sound, Davis gives it extraordinary weight with his testimony on the special bond that men form when in the constant company of death. He explains that in Vietnam, "you knew the person from the soul out, so every time you lost a friend it was like losing a part of yourself."

Davis, the first to speak, could have supported a half-hour program by

himself. His Medal of Honor was awarded for rescuing three wounded men whom he ferried across a river on an air mattress after he was seriously wounded. All this was carried out under heavy fire.

Davis' gift for self-expression is one of the most memorable aspects of Kindred Men. In commenting on how he was able to push on through a hail of gunfire, he recalls, "I was already scared to the maximum anyway. How much scareder can you get?"

Davis also remembers the keen reflex that the survivors developed in

Vietnam, the sense that danger was always at one's side. One of the scars of war is that the edginess persists to this day, he says with sadness. Then he surprises himself - and us - with a wry observation on the persistence of the survival instinct: "My wife always thought I was funny, until we went to the

Vietnam War memorial in Washington, and she met all those other guys. Have you ever seen 10,000 guys all trying to get their backs to the wall?"

Lynch and Moran lack Davis' flair for phrases, but they're just as thoughtful in their comments. From Lynch, who also rescued wounded comrades under fire, we hear the kind of statement that unassuming heroes often voice: ''You can't think about it. You just do it."

And Moran, who at 19 was leading men into combat, says with understandable pride, "I never ordered anybody into a situation where I thought they would be hurt or killed." He pauses, then adds a chilling afterthought: "I always

went myself."

The tape closes with a separate short made at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. It's the video equivalent of the photo-essay style made famous by magazines such as Life and Look, with lots of close-ups of small, telling details as hands reach out to touch engraved names.

Compared with the stark photographs and word pictures that precede it, this epilogue has a manipulative quality, despite the beauty of its images. A tear emerging from behind a pair of sunglasses is just a little too much in the vein of how Hollywood might imagine a veteran's grief.

But this is a quibble. Kindred Men of a Dark War is a superb example of how a simple personal vision, not elaborate enough for a movie or commercial enough for a TV program, can still find an audience through the medium of home video.

For ordering information, write to Creative Street, 3719 Washington Blvd., Indianapolis, Ind. 46205, or call 800-733-8273.

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