Reenacting the Vietnam War (Part 1/2)

Uploaded by vice on 03.01.2013


THOMAS: Fuck me.
Damn it.
Get in.
THOMAS: For those of us who weren't there, man, the
Vietnam War has always been forbidden territory--
a searing national void whose depths and horror we can never
know outside of grisly Fogerty scored movies and Mark Baker's
"Nam." Even playing Vietnam as kids seemed off limits unless
you did it under the auspices of Rambo.
To full on reenact it would be the ultimate heresy, a slap in
the face of all the vets who died or were captured in the
US military's first defeat, right?
But they do it in North Carolina.
And you know who does it?
Other vets and a bunch of regular reenactors.
I think, uh.
I think we're ready for war.

Over the last 50 years, war reenactment has gone from
something Elks lodges did on the weekend as an excuse to
get away from their wives, to an obsessive pastime where
hardcore reenactors spend their entire free time
shopping, sewing, and researching to make the
experience as true to life as possible.
As the intensity of the reenactments has grown, the
wars reenacted have raced forward in time, from the old
favorites of the Revolutionary and Civil War, to World War I,
World War II, and every so often Korea.

Vietnam, however, is tricky.

For starters there weren't really battles.
Most of the fighting was done on an ad hoc day by day and
night by night basis.
To solve this problem, the reenactors we're with built a
mock firebase out somewhere in the shit, picked an arbitrary
year in the war, and just dedicated themselves to
defending it from Viet Cong assault all night.
Are you still in the service?
RUDY SCHULZ: No, I retired in 2005.
I was in the Army.
I got restarted in reenacting.
I missed the camaraderie.
But once you get out there and you get the feel for it, it's
like, wow these guys were studs.
THOMAS: Even just a little, little taste of it.
RUDY SCHULZ: Just a couple of days.
And these guys were out there for 40 days, 50 days in the
snow, nothing.
And you're like, wow it sucked for two days.
They had to do it for a month.
You know, war sucks.
It's true nobody wants to do it.
THOMAS: Well, except kind of, you guys for fun.
RUDY SCHULZ: It's true.
THOMAS: Well, cool.
Thank you very much.
RUDY SCHULZ: Oh, you're welcome.
THOMAS: Good luck on recon.

Then there's the issue of finding someone to play the
In our case, the reenactors just grabbed a bunch of kids
from the local college and surrounding towns, which is
kind of how Ho Chi Minh did it when you think about it.

This isn't your first reenactment though?
CHRIS EVANS: I've been reenacting
since I was about 15.
How did you end up as Charlie on this little foray?
CHRIS EVANS: Well, to put it blank, you can't play Cowboys
and Indians without Indians if you understand my meaning.
You got to have both sides to do something like this, and
we're just more willing to do both sides.

THOMAS: So you're NVA?
THOMAS: Right.
OK Like is there any sort of particular
attraction to Vietnam?
Like does that resonate with you in a particular way?
My great uncle was a First Lieutenant
in a Calvary Division.
Does he know you're doing this, this weekend?
He doesn't know I'm doing this.
I don't think he'd be very happy if he did.
THOMAS: So I'm supposed to be, basically, a civilian reporter
I guess I'm kind of half-dressed right now.
How am I doing though, so far?
ZACK SEVER: I mean, you're doing pretty good.
The reporters would be out there in the army OD greens
wearing helmets.
They would have a big old PRESS written on and around
their helmet.
THOMAS: That's what I need.
ZACK SEVER: They'd have a--
THOMAS: Instead of a goth band from the '80s button.
THOMAS: Hey, thank you so much man.
No problem.
THOMAS: Happy hunting today.
ZACK SEVER: Thank you.
THOMAS: All right.
Tape rolling.
Good morning, Vietnam.
We are outside a firebase.
The men you see milling behind me are
members of the 89th Infantry.
I don't know if the rest of this unit has gotten up and
gotten dressed.
It feels like they're taking a collegiate Saturday approach
to this war.
We've seen formations of VC, irregular troops moving
through that sort of area towards our, I'm thinking
that's the, north east.
It is pouring rain which is great for the realism but
sucks for, I guess, the reality.
Perfect weather to absorb the misery that is
this ongoing war.
-Yeah, we're going.
-Just skirting it.
-No, we're going in.
-Should be roughly silent movement with all the rain.
Whenever you're ready.
-This guy right here, Mooch, he'll be the last guy.
Give us about five yards.
THOMAS: So five behind Mooch is going to be our maximum.
Since there's no predetermined outcome, unlike traditional
reenactments, this means America could win the battle
or maybe even the war.
THOMAS: The first thing we learned about war reenactment
is that it's fucking terrifying having guns fired,
even ones loaded with blanks.
THOMAS: The second thing we learned was a common
reenactor's dilemma called the GI effect, which is basically
that people playing Americans don't like to die so sometimes
they just don't.

DON WHITE: Most everybody out here is an amateur military
historian and that's the main reason we do this hobby.
About half of my reenacting group are actually military
veterans or active duty.
SGT. WILSON: The real soldiers, sailor, airmen,
Marines, they all go through horrible hardships to protect
this country.
We want to make sure that when we're out here and we're doing
these reenactments, that we're not doing a
disservice to them.
THOMAS: The realism of the combat makes it even more
psychologically intriguing that ex-combatants would
submit themselves to this guaranteed flashback trigger.

Does anybody ever have any problems with it?
Like having come from combat basically going
into simulated combat?

DON WHITE: We have some guys once in a while
that have some problems.
I'd say it's about 40% of them.
Their first event back they'll actually go sit in the camp
for that event or have some issues with the--
THOMAS: Yeah, it'll take them time to acclimate to that.

SGT. WILSON: The horror and the terror is just shards of a
veteran's experience in the military.
And if we can focus on the positive aspects as well as
the hardships, the veterans, they really appreciate that
and they really like that.

THOMAS: We've been asked along, actually, by this recon
unit made up of Special Forces guys that are going back out
into the woods trying to flush out the dudes who are lighting
up the firebase.

They are lighting this fucking forest up.
-VC eat shit.
-They're wiped out.

-All right then.
Let me go.
Let me grab a quick [INAUDIBLE]
just so that they understand.

THOMAS: This is a part of the war you don't very often get
to see, and that's--

Oh, no, no.
This is--

No, no, no.
We understand that.
You obviously get breaks and things.
We'll head back and hopefully not see you again.
CHRIS EVANS: You'll see us again as soon as we
get our guys back.
THOMAS: All right As night fell, we snuck away from the
American unit we were embedded with and fell in with a bunch
of VC and NVA regulars who were planning a nocturnal raid
on the firebase.
-When we were young, we'd do like little pranks, right?
So we'd phone up a Chinese restaurant, we go, do you have
one young guy?
And literally this guy said, he looks,
I'll look in the menu.
He looks in the menu.
He goes, no, we don't have one young guy.
And I said, well, do you have an old one then?
And hang up the phone.
-One young guy?
-One young guy.
-Oh, jeez.
THOMAS: Just a bunch of VC hanging out in a tobacco
field, teaching each other how [INAUDIBLE].
I mean, it's not a rice paddy but whatever,
you're in North Carolina.
-This is your team.
Anybody with a red scarf, you're NVA.
If you get killed, stay there.
The Americans are going to check you, search you, then
they're going to leave you, OK?
After they check you.
they know that you all are girls, don't worry about it.

THOMAS: It begins.

-Come on you fucking gook.

THOMAS: Charlie's fucking everywhere.
Our firebase is under attack.
-Cut the camera off.
THOMAS: So we just witnessed a war crime.