Vets Find Voice Through Film

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By Robbie Evans

More than 40 years ago Herschel Ryan of Monroe was piloting a helicopter on a combat assault mission in Vietnam when he lost his left hand and left eye during an ambush.

But unlike many fellow Vietnam veterans, Ryan returned to Monroe to a hero’s welcome. He was wounded and medically retired in 1968, several years before a mood of protest against the Vietnam War swept the country.
“Every Vietnam veteran’s story is going to be different because we all had different jobs and served at different times,” Ryan said. “When I came back to Monroe, I was treated like a hero and learned to make the best out of the situation. But many Vietnam veterans got a bad rap from the press and several individuals.

“The reality is that these were ordinary guys that got caught up and went over there to do their jobs.”

Ryan recently recounted his war story and experiences with local film and documentary executive producer Rodney Ray. Ray has begun developing a documentary featuring the stories of nearly a dozen local Vietnam veterans as part of a Veteran’s Day celebration in early November.

The 60-to-90 minute documentary will be shown to the public for the first time Nov. 4 at the W.L. “Jack” Howard Theater. It is planned as a prelude to the area’s Veteran’s Day Celebration, which is being organized by the Louisiana Aviation and Military Museum in Monroe.

The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall The celebration will feature The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall Nov. 5-7. The wall is a 3/5-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. It stands 6 feet tall and stretches 300 feet from end-to-end. Up to 10,000 visitors from the region are expected to view the memorial wall.

“We’re taking a look at the Vietnam War and how soldiers were treated and how they perceived their service,” Ray said. “It’s not only informational but also healing.

“The thing about Vietnam veterans we’re learning is that they were the first group of soldiers that were treated differently.”

The focus of Ray’s documentary is to highlight the struggles servicemen had to deal with during the Vietnam War. Ray said those struggles were protests and difficulties on the battlefield, not being allowed to fire on the enemy without authorization, not being treated as heroes as they returned to the United States and even having to hide their service to their country.

“All those issues are what makes Vietnam veterans special,” Ray said. “We’re trying to make a documentary that shows those issues (and) also to let the veterans know they truly are American heroes and that their service was appreciated.”

Ray, who founded R-Squared Productions in Monroe, has a special attachment to veterans and their stories. He served four years in the U.S. Navy and his father, retired Monroe engineer Asa Ray, served in the south Pacific during World War II.

Ray’s most recent project was “Flag of My Father,” a drama centering on a daughter and her father’s service in the military.

“I’m very pro-military and pro-American and you hear these veterans’ stories about sharing these things they are heart-wrenching,” Ray said. “You watch a grown man crying about things that happened in 1967. We’re donating our services for this because we believe in their stories and the Chennault museum and this wall. It’s a huge event for our community.”
Ray is in the process of gathering interviews for the documentary. The documentary hasn’t been given a title, he said.

“I hope to be able to make a shorter version of the documentary available to local schools so kids can watch it and prepare for the wall coming to Monroe,” Ray said.

Ryan said he hopes documentary’s like the one Ray is filming will help people shed their negative perceptions of Vietnam veterans and help heal their emotional scars. Ryan believes the visit of the traveling wall to Monroe will benefit many Vietnam veterans who have never been to see the actual memorial in Washington, D.C.

“If films like this can change this image, my hat’s off to you,” Ryan told Ray during the interview for the documentary. “I don’t know if you ever come to terms with it. You deal with it.

“We all have names on that wall and it brings back a lot of emotional feelings. I’m really glad it’s coming to Monroe for people.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT

Christina M. Porter
Assistant to Producer
R-Squared Productions
christina.porter@r2films.net
Office: 318-323-6900

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