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An Amazing Journey with Vietnam Vets
By J. Graley Taylor
It was the Spring of 1989 and I was about to set off on the life-changing journey of my life. I was a World War II vet who had mixed feelings about our war in Southeast Asia. I had been producing film documentaries about a variety of social issues with local television stations in Seattle. During a lunch conference with the station manager of the local ABC affiliate, KOMO-TV, I discovered that he was a Vietnam vet. When I mentioned to him my interest in producing a documentary based on the book, "Out of the Night: the Spiritual Journey of Vietnam Vets" by Bill Mahedy, he became immediately interested. He green-lighted the project and KOMO-TV gave full support to the production, inviting me to shoot the film in 16mm color.
That began a filming schedule that lasted almost two years and took me all over the country. It provided me the opportunity to meet and interview over 25 Vietnam vets. For me it was an awesome experience as these vets trusted this WWII vet with some heartfelt feelings about their experience in Vietnam and what was happening to them after returning home.
One of the first discoveries was that Vietnam vets needed to talk about their experience in Nam mostly with one another, and I found small groups doing just that.
In San Diego, I had an incredible interview with Bill Mahedy, the author of the book and a chaplain who served in Vietnam. He gave me permission to produce the TV documentary on the book and introduced me to several vets whose stories he had written about. Bill was also one of the organizers of Vietnam Vet Centers through out the country with the San Diego center being one of the first.
My journey took me to the campus of University of California Santa Barbara where Professor Walter Capps led a large class on the Vietnam war. He had invited vets to tell their stories to his students, some of whose fathers had fought and even some who had died in Vietnam.
I traveled to Angel Fire, New Mexico, where Victor Westphall had built the first Vietnam Memorial after losing his son in the war. Two vets joined me in that tour and shared on camera some of their powerful memories.
I met Barry Romo one day in Chicago when he was taking a walk along Lake Michigan with his daughter. An intense interview with Barry revealed that there were many Vietnam vets who were opposed to the war.
Finally, my travels led to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was an experience I'll never forget as I recalled the stories that so many vets shared with me about what that memorial meant to them.
For the numerous vets who visited with me, Vietnam had been a dark physical, emotional and spiritual journey. And thankfully many had moved out of that darkness regaining both health and faith.
J. Graley Taylor ia a WWII vet who has been a VVAW member for many years. He's a Presbyterian minister who is also a filmmaker. For 40 years he worked locally (Seattle area) with TV stations in producing public affairs programing. The last TV documentary he produced with KOMO TV was "Out of the Night" based on a book by Chaplain Bill Mahedy. He has made dvds of that film available for Vietnam vets, Vet centers and also VA Hospitals. He continues in retirement producing "mission films."