In 1982, Vietnam veterans from across the nation converged on Washington D.C. for what was, at the time, a controversial memorial and to give a welcome home to veterans who hadn’t felt like their country had accepted them after the jungles of Vietnam. Gary Gilson, a longtime journalist in both television and print, followed Minnesotan veterans to the event, interviewing men and women whose limbs and lives were torn apart by war.

Gilson’s interviews include male and female veterans and include heart-wrenching stories from their time in combat. John Hovde felt the pull to serve his country though his family begged him to stay under the sole or surviving son clause. Sarah McVicker can remember the faces of the men she treated in the hospital in Vietnam, but she can’t remember their names. Terry McConnell stands vigil for the 2,500 men still listed as missing, holding the flag for over 20 hours before speaking with Gilson. Vietnam and the things he saw never far from his mind, saying that his personal memorial to the missing, “take[s] some of the monster out of my head and [helps me] get on to living the way I always dreamed that life would be.”

The topic was intensely personal for Gilson, who reveals towards the end of the documentary his own connection to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

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This story is part of the collection The Call to Serve: Stories of Sacrifice, War and the Way Home, which was funded by the Fred C. and Katherine B. Andersen Foundation.

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Two veterans share their reflection on what it means – what it feels like – to see familiar names on the Wall That Heals, a traveling replica of the Vietnam War Memorial, reigniting personal connections with those who died too soon.

As a nurse, Donna Korf was thrown into the fires of medical trauma when she was sent to Vietnam. One of her most valuable lessons? “‘You didn’t cry in front of patients.’ Not during the Vietnam War.”