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Notes from the Boonies
By Paul Wisovaty
This column isn't about me; it just starts out that way. There honestly is a point to it, and your patience is appreciated.
Thirteen years ago, Barry Romo and I joined about ten other Vietnam vets in a one-hour WILL documentary called Vietnam Veterans' Stories. WILL is the PBS affiliate at the University of Illinois, and even though the show was planned to air only locally, it was eventually shown on over 100 PBS stations. We didn't get paid anymore because of that, of course. A few weeks before it went on the air, several of us from VVAW were invited to a screening. So off went me and Barry, Joe Miller, Jeff Machota, and Claudia Lennhoff to this event, on the way to which Claudia noticed that I appeared to be somewhat nervous.
"What's the matter with you?" she asked. "Gee," I whined, "WILL interviewed me for over an hour. I'm sure I said some really stupid stuff in that period of time." Claudia immediately put me at ease. "Yes, Paul, I'm certain that you did that. But look at it this way. WILL wants to look good, so they're going to edit out 90% of the stupid shit you said and only show the three minutes where you said something that made sense." And that's what they did! Thanks, Claudia.
So flash forward a dozen years. WILL is now putting together a documentary called the Downstate Vietnam Stories Project, which includes (yawn) me again, along with several other vets from the Boonies. I learned to my horror that my entire one hour and seventeen minute interview is on the internet, meaning that they did not repeat the courtesy of editing out, per Claudia, the "stupid shit" I said. I would only suggest your looking at my part of the documentary if you wake up at 2 am and absolutely cannot get back to sleep. But there is, finally, some legitimate news here for our readers.
I got a letter a few months ago from Moss Bresnahan, CEO of Illinois Public Media, which explained where the project stands. According to Moss, this currently online documentary includes "links to lesson plans about the Vietnam War on PBS Learning Media—a vast, free digital archive of stories, lesson plans, videos, photos and more, designed to engage teachers and students in all subject areas" related to the war. I don't know how many teachers we have among our readers, but no matter what we do or did, and no matter how old we are, we are all continuing to be "students," right? Moss went on to say that "In 2017, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's latest documentary about the Vietnam War will be broadcast on PBS stations across the country. The final stage of our project will be to produce a local TV and radio series about the Vietnam War to air in conjunction with the Burns/Novick series." Hopefully that project will cut my hour and seventeen minutes down to another three minutes, for reasons which Claudia clearly explained a dozen years ago.
OK, the PBS documentary is still a year away. So how do you find the online thing now? Glad you asked. WILL's website - will.illinois.edu/wwii - includes interviews from several Vietnam vets other than me, which means that you might enjoy them even if you're not an insomniac. Besides which, it includes all of that really neat stuff which I mentioned in the last paragraph. As I suggested, it doesn't matter if we're in our 70s; we're all still students.
Paul Wisovaty is a member of VVAW. He lives in Tuscola, Illinois. He was in Vietnam with the US Army 9th Division in 1968.