On Sunday, dozens of local Vietnam veterans and their families gathered at Clovis Veterans Memorial District to gear up for the premiere of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’ groundbreaking 10-episode PBS series “Vietnam Live: A Bridge to Understanding.”
Prior to the documentary’s 8 p.m. debut on PBS, CVMD along with other veterans organizations across the nation hosted a free event for veterans and the public, which allowed those in the community to preview screenings of the show and discuss it and the effects of the Vietnam War with veterans willing to share their personal experiences. Several veteran and family resource booths were also set up throughout the district, along with food vendors and a veterans art and photo exhibit. Veterans were also given the opportunity to share their service stories on video at a special booth. The local AUSA Sounds of Freedom band also performed.
CVMD CEO Lorenzo Rios said the event, as well as the documentary series, really reflected the wishes of local Vietnam veterans. For instance, Burns had originally created a one-hour screener to show at the event, but after receiving feedback from veterans, the screener was scaled back, removing certain parts the veterans felt were not necessary or weren’t suitable without further context. This editing resulted in a 45-minute screener instead, which the majority of veterans were pleased with.
“He really took what Vietnam veterans said to heart and made sure PBS and all the other stations involved received the same screener throughout the country,” Rios said. “Burns feels this is their story he is sharing and wants it to reflect their collective experiences so he took the feedback veterans gave him very seriously and that is why these events are going on. At the end of each screening, there was a planned discussion led by a Vietnam veteran who shared their thoughts and told their story. Valley PBS also set up a room to capture the oral histories of those veterans who wished to share their story on video. Veterans weren’t required to share, but those that wanted to were given that space and that opportunity.”
Whether or not veterans chose to share an oral history, each was also given the chance to add their name to an interactive 30 by 50-foot map of Vietnam. They were invited to walk on the map and sign on the spot where they served.
The first episode of “Vietnam Live: A Bridge to Understanding” aired at 8 p.m. on PBS Sunday night. Episodes 2-5 aired or will air during the same time slot Monday through Thursday this week. On Sunday, Sept. 24, those first five episodes will be stacked together on PBS prior to the initial airing of episode six at 8 p.m. and the airing of episodes 7-10, also all starting at 8 p.m., Monday, Sept. 25 through Thursday, Sept. 28.