Arts of War By Marc Leepson

Welcome to “Arts of War,” Vietnam Veterans of America’s up-to-the-minute compendium of information, news and reviews about the arts—movies, television, stage plays, musicals, music, dance, popular and fine arts, and more—that deal with Vietnam veterans and the Vietnam War.

This web page replaces the “Arts of War” column that ran in Vietnam Veterans of America’s national magazine, The VVA Veteran, from 1986-2009. That popular column was written by The VVA Veteran’s arts editor, Marc Leepson, who continues that work on this web site.

We encourage feedback. Please email your comments, questions, and suggestions to

Posted on January 28th 2009 in Comments

Vietnam War Combat Art

There’s an excellent essay by the artist Jim Pollock (above) on the U.S. Army’s Vietnam Combat Art Program in the current issue of War, Literature and The Arts, the first-rate literary journal published by the Department of English and Fine Arts at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Pollock, who was drafted into the Army and wound up in the soldier art program in 1967, tells the story in the first person of the Army’s 1966-70 effort that sent teams of soldier-artists into Vietnam to record their experiences. A good percentage of those experiences included being directly exposed to combat.

All of the work of these soldier artists-studies, sketches, and finished art-was put into the permanent U. S. Army Art Collection, which is maintained by the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington, D.C. “From time to time the Army sponsors exhibits from their collection,” Pollock notes in the article. “One
piece, by Vietnam Combat Artist Gary Porter (CAT II), was on loan to the Pentagon when it was destroyed during the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon.”

Posted on January 20th 2010 in Art, Journals

Kevin Bacon Takes Golden Globe for Taking Chance

Kevin Bacon (above left) took home the Golden Globe award last night for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television for his memorably powerful role as U.S. Marine Lt Col Mike Strobl in the great HBO move, Taking Chance.

VVA honored HBO and the makers of that stirring 2009 film at our National Convention last summer in Louisville. The movie, which Strobl co-wrote, dramatizes the true story of his escorting the body of young Marine Chance Phelps, who was killed in Iraq, from Dover AFB to his home in Wyoming. Strobl took questions and answers from delegates at a screening of the movie in Louisville. At the Saturday night Awards Banquet we presented the VVA President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts to Col Stobl. We also honored Vietnam veteran and western artist John Phelps (the father of Chance Phelps) that night with the VVA Excellence in the Arts Award.

Posted on January 18th 2010 in Honors and Prizes, On TV

Pat Sajak Goes to Bat for VVA on Jeopardy

TV personality Pat Sajak, who served as a AFVN Army DJ in Vietnam, will be a contestant on Celebrity Jeopardy in an episode that is scheduled to air on Thursday, January 21. The big news is that Sajak, who received Vietnam Veterans of America’s Excellence in the Arts Award at the 2009 National Convention in Louisville, has designated VVA as the beneficiary of his Jeopardy winnings.

Sajak (above in Army uniform) sat for hours giving autographs and having his photo taken with VVA members before the Awards Banquet in Louisville. And he gave a gracious and funny speech to accept the award. He also has a page on his web site devoted to VVA.

Posted on January 13th 2010 in On TV

Attention: 633rd CCS Veterans

Robert Romaniello, who served with the U.S. Army’s 633rd Collection, Classification and Salvage (CC&S) Company in 1969-70 near Marble Mountain (above), is looking for old war buddies for the combination memoir and history of the company he is writing.

Mike Cerrone, Terry Riley, Ron Pollard, J.B.Barnes, and Dennis Wilson, or anyone else who served with the 633rd CC&S and has stories or photos they’d like to share, contact him my mail (734 Falling Oaks Drive, Medina, OH 44256) or phone: 330-722-6019. If you do, please mention you read about it here at Vietnam Veterans of America’s Arts of War on the web page.

Posted on January 12th 2010 in Artistic Queries

William Lederer, 1912-2009, Co-Author of The Ugly American

William Lederer, the co-author of the enduring 1958 novel The Ugly American, died December 5. He was 97. Written with political scientist William Burdick, The Ugly American is set in a Sarkhan, a thinly veiled Vietnam, and is a Cold War parable of the consequences of American political and diplomatic ignorance, arrogance, and incompetence in Southeast Asia.

The title made its way into the American lexicon to connote bull-in-a-china shop Americans overseas who know or care little about native society, culture, politics or mores. Ironically, Lederer and Burdick used not as its meaning has come to be known. Instead the ugly American in the novel is a physically ugly, but for-the-people American engineer who works to win the hearts of minds of the fictional people of Sarkhan by getting his hands dirty working on civic improvement projects in the countryside.

The character Colonel Edwin Hillendale in the book is modeled on famed American CIA operative Edward Lansdale, who advocated people-to-people, hands-on diplomacy to fight communist insurgencies in developing nations. Lansdale put those practices to work in the Philippines following Word War II and in Vietnam in the mid to late 1950’s. He remained an advocate of that strategy—which the Pentagon more or less scorned—during the duration of the Vietnam War.

Lederer—a 1936 Naval Academy graduate who served in World War II—and Burdick’s book was a huge bestseller and was the basis of a 1963 Hollywood film starring Marlon Brando. The film changed the book’s message into a call to fight communist insurgencies in developing nations. The book is still in print today.

Posted on January 11th 2010 in Book News, Obituaries

African-American Military Info Wanted for Exhibit

For its annual Black History event February 25, the Newton White Museum in Mitchellville, Maryland, is looking for information on African Americans in the military, from World War I to the Vietnam War.

In you’d like to share stories, photographs, artifacts or memorabilia, call 301-249-2004 or email

The Newton White Mansion, which is in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Prince George’s County, is a Neo-Georgian-style brick mansion sitting on 586 acres. The mansion was the home of Navy Captain Newton H. White, the first commanding officer on the U.S.S. Enterprise prior to World War II.

Posted on January 7th 2010 in Artistic Queries, Events

War Correspondent William Tuohy, 1926-2010

William Tuohy, the well-respected former Newsweek and Los Angeles Times Vietnam War correspondent, died Dec. 31 following open heart surgery in Santa Monica, California. He was 83, and had received the Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for international reporting for his Vietnam War coverage for The Times.

“Few correspondents have seen have seen and written more about the war in Vietnam than William Tuohy,” the Pulitzer judges noted.

Tuohy moved to The Times in 1966 after serving as Newsweek’s bureau chief in Saigon. He wound up working for The Times for 29 years. Tuohy served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific in 1945-46, according to his LA Times obit.

Posted on January 3rd 2010 in Journalism, Obituaries

The Latest Labowski Book

When I saw The Big Lebowski in 1998, I loved it. But I had no idea it would become a cultural icon that would spawn its own subculture of devotees. I just thought it was clever, funny, and intriguingly strange.

The movie, among other things, has inspired several books. The latest is The Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies, a group of essays by academics edited by two college English professors (who else?), Edward P. Comentale and Aaron Jaffe (Indiana University Press, 512 pp., $24.94, paper).
The book contains the work of 21 “fans and scholars.” It deals with topics such as the film’s influences (westerns, noir, grail legends, the 1960s, and Fluxus) and its themes, which include the first Iraq war, boomers, slackerdom, surrealism, college culture, and bowling.

Here’s my brief review, which appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of The VVA Veteran.

Big John Goodman (Roseanne’s TV hubby) plays Walter, a big-hearted, big-mouthed Vietnam veteran in the Coen brothers’ cartoonish black comedy The Big Lebowski, which opened in the multiplexes early in March. Walter constantly prattles on about his war days. It’s the early nineties, yet he goes around wearing jungle boots, cut-off fatigue shorts and dog tags. Walter’s also got a wicked temper, and is not hesitant to brandish a firearm or resort to physical violence.

Okay, Walter is another cinematic Nam vet nutcase. Still, the movie is played for laughs, and Walter is pretty damn funny. And how can you get upset with a guy who confronts a transgressing fellow bowler by bellowing: “This is not Vietnam, this is bowling. There are rules!”

Posted on January 3rd 2010 in Book News, Feature Films

C.D.B. Bryan, 1936-2009

C.D.B. Bryan, the journalist and author best known for his best-selling 1976 book, Friendly Fire, the story of the death in Vietnam in 1970 of infantryman Michael Mullen by an errant U.S. artillery round, died of cancer December 15 at his home in Guilford, Connecticut. He was 73.

Bryan had a long and fruitful writing career. He will be remembered, though, for his contribution to the Vietnam War nonfiction literary canon for his powerfully told story of Michael Mullen’s death in Vietnam and its aftermath. The book began as a New Yorker article, and then was the basis for a 1979 Emmy-Award-winning TV movie starring Carol Burnett (below) as Michael Mullen’s mother Peg, who later became a prominent antiwar activist.

Peg Mullen died Oct. 2. She was 92 years old.

Posted on December 20th 2009 in Book News, Obituaries