'Vietnam in HD' is almost like being there
THE SHOW "Vietnam in HD"
WHEN | WHERE Tuesday-Thursday at 9 p.m. on History.
REASON TO WATCH Successor to History's well-done "World War II in HD"
WHAT IT'S ABOUT This six-hour telecast is built from the perspectives of 13 people whose experiences spanned various branches of the service and (in one instance) the media. According to History, "thousands of hours of uncensored footage were located, restored, and then transferred to high-definition."
The first two hours -- the only two available for review -- include battlefield accounts of Joe Galloway, UPI reporter and co-author of 1992's "We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young," who would win a Bronze Star for evacuating the wounded while under fire at Ia Drang; Barry Romo, with the Army's 196th Light Infantry Brigade; Keith Connolly, an Air Force pilot with two tours, including the first wave of "Rolling Thunder" in 1965; and Charles Brown, second in command of a platoon of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which helped take Hill 875 after the battle of Dak To in late November 1967.
MY SAY There's an on-screen "post-it" in Tuesday's telecast that says a U.S. infantryman in World War II spent an average of 10 days in combat per year compared to an average 240 days for the soldier in Vietnam. This essentially means the typical GI would spend a couple days of R&R at base camp, then the next five under fire as his search-and-destroy mission picked past napalm-blasted bamboo thickets or swamps bristling with "punji" traps.
Vietnam may have been called the "TV war" but its chaos or belly-high view of a firefight weren't always conducive to TV. Nevertheless, every soldier has a story, and it's often the most searing one of his life -- usually a moment of convulsive violence that he can instantly recreate right down to color, sound and smell.
That's the powerful insight of "Vietnam in HD." When the stories of these soldiers are matched with the footage -- some of it as vivid as the day it was shot -- you almost seem to drift into their field of consciousness. It's an illusion, but also a visceral reminder of their sacrifice and heroism.
Galloway is a wonderful guide through the early moments of this broadcast, and the rawness of his emotions bleeds through the screen when he recalls the death of Pfc. Jimmy D. Nakayama of the 1st Cavalry, killed by friendly fire on Nov. 17, 1965.
But Brown's quiet stoicism is equally eloquent: "We finally captured Hill 875 [and] that's the way we left it. We were heroes."
BOTTOM LINE Vivid and excellent, though don't expect a replay of PBS' 1983 landmark broadcast, "Vietnam: A Television History." Even at six hours, this tends to be more impressionistic, and less bound to a strict historic timeline.