Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Into Harm's Way": Documentary gives first-person accounts of Vietnam combat service by officers graduating from West Point in 1967

Howard University Television, a PBS station in Washington DC, aired the documentary “Into Harm’s Way”, by Jordan Kronick, the day after Memorial Day 2013.  This 2011 film (85 minutes) gives first person accounts from officers who graduated from the West Point (United States Military Academy) in 1967 (846  men) and then served in combat in Vietnam within one year. At least thirty of them were lost in combat by the end of 1968, during the maximum buildup under General Westmoreland.  
The film attracted my attention because I underwent Army Basic Combat Training in the first part of 1968.  It is conceivable that I could have had members of this class as cade when I was at Fort Jackson, SC.  I did not recognize anyone, however.
The film starts with a harrowing tale of an officer living in New York who gets a call to report for duty within one hour.  At the meeting, someone committed suicide.  Nevertheless, they flew immediately on a commercial flight with stewardesses to Oakland and then to Vietnam.  They said that from the air it looked like a paradise, until they say the bombed areas from the air.  Nevertheless, when they landed at Da Nang, there was no evidence of combat up close. 
A number of officers give riveting accounts of combat, which are sometimes illustrated by rotoscopic animation. One officer described commanding a chopper and tracking a cyclist.
One officer got involved in a protest and was forced out of the Army but given am Honorable Discharge to keep the matter quiet.
One man showed the stump from his amputation at mid thigh, and demonstrated putting on a prosthesis.  But he said that in 1969, people with severe war injuries were looked down upon by society as damaged goods.  
One officer said his wife divorced him because she could not deal with being intimate with him given his wounds. 
In fact, the willingness of people to keep relationships in the face of adversity, especially that imposed by war or terror, sounds today like a moral foundation for sustainability. Another film that dealt with this sensitivity was “Body of War” (review April 7, 2008).   Another such film is “Fighting for Life” (March 29, 2008).
The official site for the film from the Documentary Group is here.  A major Vimeo video is offered.  

It seems to me that the Vietnam era draft, with the moral conundrum created by student deferments and “sheltered MOS” like the I had (“01E20”) would make a good subject for documentary or POV film. 

Pictures: July, 2011, my own visit to West Point

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