ROCKFORD -- You've got your buddies over. Plenty of hot pizza and cold beers, and everyone is gathered around a living room big screen TV.
That was the setting tonight at Chuck Larson's Ridgewood Road home. But on this night, Larson and the guys didn't gather for a football game.
They gathered looking for answers, a deeper understanding and, if possible, maybe even closure.
The Rockford-area Vietnam vets gathered to watch "The Vietnam War," a documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The much-anticipated 10-part, 18-hour documentary premiered tonight on PBS and will conclude on Sept. 28.
Before the documentary aired, local veteran John Paddock spoke of things he hopes the program will include, such as the effects of Agent Orange, a poisonous herbicide used by U.S. armed forces during Vietnam supposedly to defoliate jungles. However, the chemical is suspected of causing serious health problems, including cancer.
"We have 38 names on the Agent Orange Memorial Wall," he said of Winnebago County veterans who lost their lives due to illnesses attributed to the chemical. The listing of names is part of the LZ Peace Memorial at Midway Village Museum.
Nick Parnello, president of Rockford's Vietnam Veterans Honor Society, said, "We have a saying, 'A lot of veterans died in Vietnam, but didn't know about it.'"
The Vietnam War was a direct result of the First Indochina War (1946 -- 54) between France, which claimed Vietnam as a colony, and the communist forces then known as Viet Minh. The Vietnam War pitted the Soviet-backed regime of North Vietnam against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States.
U.S. forces withdrew in 1973 and two years later Vietnam was unified under Communist control. More than 3 million people, including 58,000 Americans, were killed in the conflict. The Vietnam experience became known as "the only war America ever lost."
Fifty years ago, Larson and his comrades were in their late teens and early 20s when they joined or were drafted into the U.S. armed forces. They willing served, most following in the footsteps of their fathers who served in World II. However, the United States' entrance into the war was vastly unpopular at home.
Most of the Vietnam vets did not return home to a hero's welcome. They were scorned. They kept their involvement in the war and the horrors they witnessed or committed a secret only to discuss among themselves or not at all.
With the documentary's opening line of "Coming home from Vietnam was close to traumatic as the war itself" spoken by Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes, Larson and his buddies became a captive audience. Not a word was uttered.
Chris Green: 815-987-1241; firstname.lastname@example.org; @chrisfgreen ___
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