Delaware man honors Vietnam veterans with oral history project

A Delaware filmmaker and veteran who’s been on and off the battlefield is working on a series of projects to preserve the voices of those who served the country.

The story of veterans who were in Vietnam is an important part of history and one of those projects. Delaware filmmaker T.J. Healy wanted to get up close and personal with Vietnam veterans by having them tell their stories on camera. He’s looking to interview 450 veterans.

“One of the reasons we’ve got this project going on was because of the stories of these guys, people need to hear their stories,” Healy said.

The goal is to create an oral history of that war. Healy’s production office shows a map of Vietnam with several numbers on it. The first number: 8,180,445. That’s the total number of vets who served across the country. In Delaware, the number nearly reached 26,000.

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To date, Healy has recorded the personal accounts of 20 Delaware veterans including David Rice.

“The biggest problem over there was the Agent Orange. I remember standing in the middle of a field, where they just sprayed Agent Orange, and we would buy produce from the Vietnamese and that meant you were eating Agent Orange by the time you got it on your table, you didn’t know what it was, you just ate the food,” Rice said in one of Healy’s productions named They Answered the Call.

Healy started recording two years ago. He made those recordings a part his oral history archive called the Veterans Story Project. He later dedicated a series to Vietnam veterans.

“For Vietnam we’re going to have an hour and half documentary. This is just for the state. We’re going to have an hour and half documentary and also lesson plans by Wilmington University that will go again in the public and private schools,” Healy added.

Kathleen Gilbert joined the project that’s expected to develop into a bigger outreach, capturing the stories of men and women across the country as well.

“I had friends who went to Vietnam, not all came back. T.J. had friends who went to Vietnam and we started talking about we ought to do something that really inspires people, to find out more about war, about peace, about military, about commitment, about service,” Gilbert said.

To see things come full circle, Healy and Gilbert developed relationships with the Library of Congress -Veterans History Project, U.S. Department of Defense and the United States of America Vietnam Commemoration 50th anniversary. To Gilbert, there’s one common theme.

“Self-Sacrifice. I think that’s something that maybe everyone can learn from, [even] civilians. You don’t have to be in the military to be a person who thinks of others, but there are depth to putting others first when they’re in a combat or even if they are not in combat,” Gilbert said.

The message will extend beyond the video. It will also be included on a promotional tour bus designed to serve as a mobile studio. Gilbert says the moving billboard will then be a used as a veterans outreach resource center to promote employment, job training, counseling, even educational opportunities and veterans benefits information. The tour will start in Delaware and then the travel across the country for about 5-6 years.

“It’s not always centered around death, because some people think, ‘Oh my gosh I don’t want to hear about Vietnam because so many [soldiers died].’ They did but there are so many people alive to tell their stories, the stories of the people on the wall and their own,” Gilbert said.

According to project leaders, although the majority of this particular series will include Vietnam veterans, those who fought in Korea will be honored too.

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