Tag: Etchings in Stone

Etchings in Stone, Moving Beyond Belief …

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also referred to as The Wall, in Washington DC, is a late but wonderful first step in welcoming home Vietnam Veterans. Etchings in Stone is an unbelievably moving play written by Ron Harris about The Wall from a very unique perspective.

Ron Harris, Playwright and Vietnam Veteran

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I met Ron Harris, a North Carolina Vietnam Veteran, at the Raleigh Museum of History during a Vietnam Veteran’s Day event. This event featured the mobile “Wall” exhibit, a Huey (bringing back my own fond memories of my time with the 101st Air Assault Division), and other Vietnam War memorabilia collected and displayed by the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Chu Chi Tunnels and a conversation 

While looking at a great 3-D diorama of the Chu Chi Tunnels of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), a man came up and asked if I had any questions about the diorama. We began to talk about the Chu Chi Tunnels and other dioramas he had built and that were on display.  During the conversation, I disclosed that I had written a novel that begins with the story of my main character’s father fighting in Vietnam, titled Serpents Underfoot

Ron then told me that he’d written a play called Etchings in Stone about The Wall, and  that it was showing every hour in the museum auditorium. I decided I needed to see this play. We talked a bit more before I headed toward the auditorium to see Etching in Stone. I was not entirely prepared for what I was about to experience.

Twenty-one Etchings

The play features about twenty-one segments, or stories, about visitors to The Wall.  Ron took the unique and extremely moving perspective of placing the audience inside The Wall, and giving them the ability to hear what the visitors were saying as well as their unspoken thoughts. The effect was moving beyond belief.  

etchings

Each visitor approaches The Wall looking for a name … a father, a husband, a brother, an uncle, or a fellow soldier, sailor, marine, or airman. You hear their words as well as their thoughts. One emotional soldier thanks a medic for saving his life. Then there’s the widow who misses her husband dearly. And, the father or mother missing their son. We meet a  woman missing her older brother. There’s even a soldier apologizing for accidentally shooting his buddy because his buddy had not given the countersign when challenged upon entering the defensive perimeter. The anguish was very real! It was palpable!

You are all my father …

The last segment blew me completely away. It featured a young Amerasian woman, who I later learned she was played by Ron Harris’s adopted daughter. The young woman approaches The Wall. We learn that she is the daughter of the an American soldier and a Vietnamese woman. The soldier planned to marry her mother, but is killed in action before that could occur. The mother, with little chance of making a life for her daughter, puts the baby up for adoption. The baby is adopted and raised by a wonderful American couple. While the young woman loves her adoptive parents very much, she wants to know who her real father was.

She seeks help from the U.S. military but they have no records of who he father might have been. She contacts other Vietnam Vets, but they are unable to help her either. The young woman then returns to Vietnam and locates an aunt who tells her that her mother died and never talked much about her American fiance. He aunt is very sorry, but she cannot help her.

The young woman finally comes to The Wall to pick a name … a name to be her father.  But, when she sees the number of of names on The Wall, she is completely overwhelmed. How can she choose only one? The woman decides to choose them all … they will all be her father. And that way, in the future, if anyone should ever asks if her father’s name is on The Wall, she can answer truthfully … yes.

Moments of respite …

I do not know if it was intended this way, but between segments of Etchings in Stone there are power point slides that include interesting facts about the Vietnam War and The Wall. There is also music from the era, video, and still photos of the Vietnam War. There are interviews with veterans and songs about The Wall. The play is entertaining, extremely moving, and very educational.

A shift in America’s conscience.

This country always welcomed  its Veterans home with open arms. That is until the Korean War. Korean War veterans came home to simple indifference. However, when Vietnam War ended, that indifference became outright disrespect and even hatred. Far too many Americans spit on these veterans, or called them baby killer and other names.  These men and women only did the job their government had sent them to do. Therefore, in addition to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) some suffered due to the effects of combat, many suffered an additional layer of PTSD caused by this treatment. This treatment of these American veterans was a national disgrace. 

While the Vietnam War certainly affected the men and women who fought it, it also had a profound effect on those who stayed home. The mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and children, girlfriends, friends and strangers were all touched by the war. This play, Etchings in Stone, addresses the issues that affected all these people, veterans, family and friends. It is Ron’s hope that through this play, Vietnam veterans will come to realize that they are not alone in their feelings.

D.C. Gilbert

Vietnam Veteran’s Day in Raleigh, NC

Vietnam Veteran’s Day Weekend!

Vietnam Veteran'sI went to the Vietnam Veteran’s Day Weekend held in  Raleigh. It was sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of History & The North Carolina Vietnam Veterans, Inc. This turned out to be a very moving day. First, I will say it was a real honor to talk to several of these veterans. I enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1979, so the Vietnam War had been over for 4 years. However, several of the drill instructors I had in Basic and AIT were Vietnam Veterans home from the war. As a young trainee, I was in awe of these veteran warriors.

Talking to Vietnam Veterans

Vietnam Veteran'sFrank Lazarro was there with a display. Frank is a Marine Corps veteran who wrote a poem about PTSD that I posted on this blog some time ago. I also talked to a veteran who was talking to visitors about the Huey chopper. Kids and adults were having a great time climbing on the chopper and sitting in the pilot’s seat. It brought back memories of my experiences flying over the jungles in Panama when I was with the 1/501st Air Assault. I also talked to a veteran who had published a book and we exchanged some writer’s “tips.”

One Vietnam Veteran’s Dioramas

Vietnam veteran'sI found myself admiring several dioramas depicting scenes from the Vietnam War. A man came up and said if I had any questions about them, he would be happy to answer them. His name was Ron Harris. He had built the dioramas. They were all good, but the one depicting the tunnel complex at Chu Chi really intrigued me. The  tunnel system built and utilized by the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies is simply amazing. Ron stated he had been back to Vietnam since the war, and the tunnels at Chu Chi have been converted to a major tourist attraction, albeit enlarged a bit to fit the frames of western tourists.

Etchings in Stone

We started talking about his dioramas and other topics and I mentioned my novel, Serpents Underfoot. I guess because its narrative begins in the jungles of Vietnam. Ron was interested in my writing and said he would have to get the Kindle version of my novel. I hope he enjoys it.

Ron then told me that the play, Etchings in Stone, they were showing a filmed presentation of in the auditorium was written by him. I decided I needed to see it. So, after viewing a few more displays, I went into the auditorium to watch the film. It was, simply put, amazing.

It opened with the playing of Taps. Then the audience finds themselves having the unique perspective of somehow being inside the black wall of the Vietnam War Memorial and listening to the thoughts and words of visitors to the memorial. An officer who lost men, a buddy, a girl friend, a Gold Star Mother, a Gold Star Father, the wife of an MIA, an Amerasian girl, an Antiwar Protester, and others. You participate in their emotional healing, their asking for forgiveness, their searching for answers, and longing for lost family members. Several of the scenes brought tears to my eyes.  The heart-touching scenes are interspersed with photos from the Vietnam War and very moving music, mostly by Country-style artists … and very well done.

My Father

Vietnam veteran'sThe scene that really got to me the most involved an Amerasian orphan. She approaches to the wall and talks of her birth parents. Her mother is a Vietnamese woman she has never met and who gave her up for adoption. Her father was an American soldier in Vietnam who was killed in action before he could marry her mother and take her back to America. The girl came to American, adopted by loving American family who has taken her into their hearts and home, and given her everything they could. She loves them dearly, but still sometimes wonders about her birth parents.

Now older, she goes back to Vietnam to try to locate her mother and perhaps find out who her father was. She manages to find an aunt, only to learn that her mother died in the 1980s.  Her aunt tells her that her mother would never talk about the American GI who was her father. The young woman returns to America and next seeks the help of other Vietnam veterans to try to determine who her birth father was. But, there is simply not enough information.

So finally, the young woman comes to the Wall to choose a name to be “the name” of her birth father. However, she is overwhelmed. There are over 50,000 names on the Wall. How can she choose one? She decides to choose them all! She will come back to visit them often and when she does, if anyone asks her if she knows someone whose name is on the wall, she will simply answer yes, “My father.” It was all I could do to keep from crying.

On the way out, I stopped to tell Ron Harris how much that play had affected me and how much I enjoyed it. It was really quite an amazing day.