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Revisiting Vietnam: Why Veterans and Civilians Alike Must Wrestle With History

Tim Revell
Columbus Dispatch
Former Dispatch photographer Tim Revell was a Navy corpsman during the Vietnam War.

Decades have passed since the end of the Vietnam War, but U.S. veterans - along with the rest of the country - are still grappling with its legacy.

As Ken Burns' highly anticipated documentary "The Vietnam War" begins its run, WOSU is collaborating with The Columbus Dispatch to tell the stories of veterans living in Central Ohio.    

Holly Zachariah, a writer at the Dispatch, says that the time is ripe to revisit these people’s stories.

“We hear about Normandy, D-Day veterans who go back," Zachariah says. "You don’t hear about many Vietnam veterans who say, ‘You know, I think I’ll go back to the land I fought in.’ So, we sought them out to see why they went, and what it meant to them, and what they discovered about the land, the war, and really themselves.”

In her article published Sunday, she writes about Dr. Ed Tik, a psychotherapist and co-founder of Soldier’s Heart, an organization that takes veterans back to Vietnam. Zachariah says that Tik studied how those types of journeys can be an impetus for healing.

“The most interesting thing Dr. Tik said is that our minds sort of freeze on these images of war," she says. "And we can’t shed them, until we replace them, so going back to Vietnam allows a body and a mind to sort of replace what you saw when you were there with something good.”

But that reconfiguration of how we look at the war isn’t just necessary for veterans. Zachariah says it’s something our entire country needs to reckon with, and that the Burns documentary will help us address our conception of the Vietnam War.

“It’s going to assault us as a country with these images we’re so used to seeing from Vietnam," she says, "but I think we’re also, at some point, going to get to some introspection about, ‘What now?’ and about what we did leave behind, and how can we as a country heal, and talk about the painful things that for so long—too long most people say—we’ve not talked about in Vietnam.”

Zachariah points out that journalism has always played a major role in that representation, since the war itself. Now, she says, it’s time for closer study.

“The role journalists play in that is to continue to write about Vietnam, continue to talk about Vietnam, continue to study Vietnam," she says.

'The Vietnam War' airs on WOSU TV at 8 p.m. through September 28.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.