Education Blog

The Vietnam War

Soldier walking along the water in a Vietnam sunset.


As a child, I heard my family talk about the Vietnam War. I watched as many of my family members had strong emotions when this topic would come up at family gatherings. I understood that many lives were lost during this war, but I never really grasped what it was about, or why we were fighting. As I grew older, I learned that my father served in the Air Force during the war and several of my uncles.  I learned that when many of my family members came back home, they were, in my mother’s words, “not the same.”  My curiosity grew and I wanted to know what did my mother actually mean?  What happened over there? What was the Vietnam War really about?

From the History Channel and through my U.S. History classes, I learned that the Vietnam War was a long, costly, and troublesome conflict where the Communist government of North Vietnam was against South Vietnam and the U.S.  It is believed that this conflict continued to build up because of the ongoing Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. More than three million people (including over 58,000 Americans) were killed in the Vietnam War, and more than half of the dead were Vietnamese civilians.  Many Americans were opposed to this war and it caused great divisions in America even after President Richard Nixon ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973.  The Vietnam War ended in 1975 when the Communist forces seized control of South Vietnam and the country became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year.  The war may have ended but this has left a long-lasting impression on many Americans.

This Sunday night, September 17 at 7pm, WILL-TV will air The Vietnam War. This 10-part, 18-hour documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. tells the story of the Vietnam War from multiple perspectives from both countries. The Vietnam War includes rarely seen archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs, television broadcasts, home movies, and audio recordings from inside the White House. It also highlights one hundred musical recordings and original music from Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and the Silk Road Ensemble featuring Yo-Yo Ma.

In central Illinois, there have been various programs and events to support the debut of The Vietnam War film series. WILL-TV collaborated with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to host a preview screening of parts of the documentary and then held a panel discussion with Vietnam-era veterans, a draft resister and a person who fled Vietnam with his extended family when he was a child.  

Still Here: Stories of the Vietnam War from Illinois is a haunting new documentary from WILL that provides self-reflections of the Vietnam War from the personal stories of Illinois residents who fought it and opposed it and those who were displaced because of it.  The program airs at 3 pm Saturday, October 21 and 5 pm Sunday, October 29 on WILL-AM 580.

If you are looking for a real-life connection to the Vietnam War, you may want to take a trip to the Illinois Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Springfield. Located in Oak Ridge Cemetery, this memorial was dedicated in 1988 and honors almost 3,000 Illinois soldiers killed or listed as missing in action during the Vietnam War.

If teachers are seeking classroom resources to support discussions on The Vietnam War, WILL-TV worked with an Urbana High School teacher, Mark Foley, to create lesson plans for oral history reports from Illinois Veterans. Through these lesson plans and oral history reports, students can learn about the variety of reasons that Americans chose to fight in or oppose the Vietnam War.

I look forward to watching the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick film beginning this Sunday night at 7pm.  I hope to learn more and gain a true understanding of everyone’s perspective and possibly even have some of those questions answered that I have thought about over the years.  What did my mother mean when she said they were simply not the same after they returned home?  What actually happened over there? What was the Vietnam War really about?