When WQED-TV talk-show host and documentary maker Chris Moore reconnected with two Vietnam War buddies four years ago, they got together to tell some stories, "tell some lies," he admits, and joke about pissing out of toilet-less planes, dancing with cobras and fearing the jungle's huge orangutans were the enemy closing in. Now Moore has secured funding to revisit 1970 for a documentary.
On Mar. 3, Moore and his two friends -- Leroy Perry, now in Wilmington, N.C., and Andrew Boone, of Chicago -- flew back to Vietnam with about 25 members of the Friends of Da Nang, a local group of Vietnam vets who annually raise money to support humanitarian efforts in that Vietnamese city. Formed in 1998, the group has already helped build a school and a medical clinic there.
Moore's documentary will focus on the black experience in Vietnam.
Seated in Moore's living room table with stacks of photo albums a couple of days before their departure, Perry and Boone recalled being jeered at once they returned from the war.
"You were in a combat zone, and then you come back to the States and have to fight all over again," says Boone. Part of the incentive to revisit the damage done in Vietnam is public reaction to the current war in Iraq, he adds. Every time they're in an airport now and see a young man just returned from Iraq they salute, the vets say.
"I go up to them and tell them, 'I'm a Vietnam veteran and no one ever did tell us 'welcome home,' so I'm telling you, soldier, welcome home,'" says Moore, whose television credits include producing the series Black Horizons and the documentary Wylie Avenue Days.
All three vets, who are black, were pleased to dispel the misperception that blacks died in Vietnam in disproportionate numbers. Boone displayed a report compiled by retired Naval Reserve Captain Marshal Hanson, showing that 86 percent of the war's U.S. combat deaths were whites and 12.5 percent were black, reflecting the country's population. Each of the vets said they could only remember about 10 to 15 other blacks in their company out of hundreds of members.
The three had gathered on the same day that the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report showing more than a third of returning Iraq War troops have sought mental health treatment. Boone still visits a therapy group twice a month to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. Perry developed diabetes from stress after the war as well as PTSD, he says.
Moore today is afraid of fireworks.
When they go off, he says, "I gotta go inside."
The documentary will air on WQED on July 4.