Vietnam War

Coming in September to WXXI-TV, The Vietnam War is an immersive, ten-part, 18-hour documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that tells the epic story of the Vietnam War as it has never-before been told on film.

These stories from WXXI News help to shape an understanding of the reasoning and impact from The Vietnam War ahead of the documentary in September. You can find more on the upcoming documentary including a 30-minute preview at WXXI.org/Vietnam.

Tai Le: 'We have a great life here'

Sep 8, 2017
Emily Hunt/WXXI

Tai Le was 6 years old when he almost died.

It was 1968, and he and his family could hear the sounds of war outside their home in Saigon, Vietnam.  Soldiers. Gunfights. Helicopters flying over their house.

“So my mom told us to put all the pillows and blankets on the bed, and we hiding underneath there,” Le recalled. “I still remember. I'll never, ever forget that. And so my mom said she heard the helicopters around the house, she said, ‘We have to get out.’ ”

His father wasn’t home. His mother managed to get herself and her four children out of the house.

Pat Mannix: 'I was becoming more aware'

Sep 7, 2017
Emily Hunt/WXXI

“I was not what you would call an activist during Vietnam. I was what you would call a Republican fundamentalist.”

During the Vietnam War, Pat Mannix started a chapter of Operation Morale in Brighton to support the soldiers. Every six to eight weeks, the members would get together to package cookies, candy, personal hygiene items and other items, which were then sent to the soldiers.

“I was all very pro-war, pro-country, pro-everything,” Mannix said.

So how did a Republican fundamentalist become an activist taking stands on everything from cruise missiles to racism?

Henrietta and Max Levine: 'We've seen some big problems in the world'

Sep 7, 2017
Emily Hunt/WXXI

Max and Henrietta Levine met more than 70 years ago on a blind date — but it wasn’t with each other.

“Some other guy was my date,” Henrietta Levine said. “By the end of the evening, he took the young lady that he had a date with back to wherever she was staying and we joined forces at somebody's house.”

He invited her to Thanksgiving dinner the day after they met. Henrietta Levine said while she came from a “rather conservative Jewish family,” she quickly learned his was quite different.

George McVey: 'We were all active locally'

Sep 7, 2017
Emily Hunt/WXXI

When you think of an anti-war protester, what comes to mind?

Students, carrying signs? The word “hippie?”  So-called leftists?

In the 1960s, George McVey was very much against the Vietnam War, but as a practicing dentist in his 30s, he didn’t exactly fit that stereotype.

“I was downtown in the Temple Building at that point,” he said of his dental practice.

His anti-war stance cost him some patients, as some conservative Rochesterians were less likely to seek his services, he said.

Doug Escher: 'It just didn't seem right'

Sep 7, 2017
Emily Hunt/WXXI

Doug Escher’s 8-year-old grandson, Rafael, calls him “Pow.”

He also calls him his hero.

“We went to one of his plays in the morning,” Escher said, and afterward, the families had a chance to view the students’ pictures on the “hero wall.”

Escher spotted Rafael’s creation.

“He says, ‘Pow’s my hero because he fought in the war,’ ” said Escher. “Tears came.”

That moment wiped away decades of inner conflict, said Escher, who fought in the Vietnam War.

“I always had this thing,” he said, “I really had a problem with Vietnam because it was wrong.”

Barry Culhane: 'I wanted to do something for them'

Sep 7, 2017
Emily Hunt/WXXI

After completing U.S. Army basic and medical training in 1969, Barry Culhane had orders to be sent to Vietnam.

He was ready.

“I'd already written my parents a note and said I’ve upped my life insurance, and I'll be back when I get back,” Culhane said.

He had seen some of the grim consequences of the war at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where he had trained as a combat medic and an eye, ear, nose and throat corpsman.

Alan Levin: 'I have many dead brothers'

Sep 7, 2017
Denise Young/WXXI

Many years before he became known as Brother Wease to local radio fans, Alan Levin made a big decision.

It was 1966. He was 19. One of his best friends was fighting in the Vietnam War.

So he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army.

“It's just stupid kid crap. I was 19, so I go, ‘Joe's there, I gotta go.’ ”

And because that friend was a paratrooper, Levin went through that training, too.

He said when he started the first of his three tours in Vietnam, he didn’t even know why the U.S. was involved in the war.

Bob Good: 'It tore society in half'

Sep 7, 2017
Emily Hunt/WXXI

Paul Good was 19 when he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. Less than two months after he arrived in country, he was killed.

“In many ways,” said his brother Bob Good of Rochester, “it had the effect on our family similarly to how it had an effect on society. It tore society in half. It ran it right down the middle. And it did much the same to our family.”

Bob Good says his brother’s death and his own subsequent education about U.S. history led him to take a strong stand against the war.

Brent Downing: 'I'm not sorry I was there'

Sep 7, 2017
Emily Hunt/WXXI

A doughnut almost led to disaster while Brent Downing was serving with the U.S. Navy's Seabees during the Vietnam War.

He was on a mortar crew, which typically only fired flares. But one night, the crew was asked to set up for high explosives, or HE. A lieutenant a mile away from the mortar pit was instructing the crew by telephone on what to do during the drill.

At one point, Downing said, the lieutenant told the crew, “Give me one.”

So, the mortar crew dropped a round of high explosives in.

During this special broadcast from The Little Theatre, we delve into the history of the Vietnam War with members of the Vietnamese community. It’s a preview of the forthcoming 10-episode documentary series called The Vietnam War on PBS. The series, produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, launches Sunday, September 17 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV.

Our panelists share their personal experiences of the war: stories of heroism, loss, and hope. Our guests:

  • Ginny Nguyen, Rochesterian, Blue Star Mother and Vice President of the Vietnamese Community of Rochester, Inc.
  • Loan Nguyen, wife of Special Force Lieutenant Colonel Doi Nguyen of the South Vietnamese Army, and mother of Ginny Nguyen