Looking Back to Build a Better Future
PHOTO: Honor Guard
Holmdel, NJ - A grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission will enable the first-ever systematic collection, compilation and presentation of important demographic and sociological data describing Vietnam veterans from New Jersey. The initial phase targets those Vets and their families who were living in Monmouth County at the time they were drafted or enlisted to serve in the Vietnam War.
Principal investigator, Jess Le Vine, a faculty member at Brookdale Community College and member of the Board of Trustees for the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation, describes the overarching goal of the project, “We’re trying to get a really complete picture of each person, besides what unit they were in,” says Le Vine, "...insight into who they were before their own specific war experience and what life was like when they returned home. We want them to complete a short survey so we can know how their tour changed them, but also learn about the collective Monmouth County picture as well. We want to know where their draft boards (selective service) were, how many registered in each location, where they served, their average age, general interests, etc.”
PHOTO: Ken Burns (credit: Tim Llewellyn)
The project is being launched at a particularly relevant period. As anyone who has visited the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, Museum and Educational Center can attest, the social, political and economic climates today -- both nationally and internationally -- are strikingly similar to prevailing circumstances during the Vietnam era.
Ken Burns, acclaimed filmmaker whose newest project with partner Lynn Novick, The Vietnam War, is scheduled to air on PBS stations in September 2017, recently drew this conclusion about the parallels between the Vietnam Era and our present day:
“Just think about it. You want to understand Wikileaks? Let’s go back to the Pentagon papers. You want to understand about meddling in foreign affairs, about political parties reaching out to foreign powers that’s right now in the news? That’s in the story of Vietnam. You want to find out about the disconnect between the generals who make the plans and the service members who do the fighting and dying? Vietnam reveals this. To understand Vietnam is to arm yourself in the best sort of way for how to deal with our present incredibly fraught moments. It couldn’t be more relevant than it is today.”
Sarah Taggart, Deputy Director of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Foundation and project partner, comments, "By sharing local and personal histories with the public, this project provides relevant and logical connections between local, national and international history and communities. It will demonstrate that events and times like the Vietnam War and the Vietnam Era never occur in isolation."
The project will produce searchable service stats for Monmouth County Vietnam Veterans, and, in coordination with the Monmouth County Historical Association, all information will be archived for future researchers, family members and others to retrieve, much like Revolutionary War or Civil War data.
There will also be temporary, public exhibits mounted in both the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Museum as well as the Monmouth County Historical Association’s headquarters in Freehold, NJ, and will showcase some of the stories, data and perspective enabled by the project. A public lecture series, a print journal capturing individual stories, and a curriculum guide for educators are all additional deliverables included in the scope of the grant project.
“We are encouraging every Vet who lived in Monmouth County when they were deployed to participate,” says Le Vine, “but we’re also hoping family members of deceased vets will respond, or even family of vets who, themselves, feel uncomfortable answering the questions. The more information we have about these men and women, their support systems, their service, and their lives before and after their war experience, the better we’ll be able to document the impact of the war and lessons learned -- lessons we absolutely need to be reminded of today.”
Eventually, Le Vine hopes to expand the project to include veterans from all 21 counties in New Jersey.
ABOUT THE NEW JERSEY VIETNAM VETERANS’ MEMORIAL FOUNDATION
The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation offers a meaningful and engaging experience that recognizes the sacrifice, courage and valor of Vietnam Veterans and encourages and fosters a thorough understanding of the Vietnam Era including the political, historical, social, cultural and military aspects, which affected the United States, and especially New Jersey.
The Foundation operates and manages the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and the adjacent Vietnam Era Museum & Educational Center located at 1 Memorial Lane off Exit 116 (PNC Bank Arts Center) in Holmdel, NJ. The Memorial honors all those who served our country and state during the Vietnam War, especially the 1,563 New Jerseyans who did not return home. It is a powerful and fitting tribute to their sacrifice. The Memorial is open 24 hours, seven days a week. The Vietnam Era Museum & Educational Center is the first educational center and museum of its kind in the United States. Dedicated in September 1998, the Museum is devoted solely to gaining an understanding of the conflict in Southeast Asia and the surrounding political strife in America.
For hours and directions, visit njvvmf.org.