Smithsonian Channel will celebrate Veteran’ Day with two specials that recognize and honor military servicemen that fought during the Vietnam War. The Gun Trucks of Vietnam, which debuts Nov. 11, explores the ingenuity of American servicemen through never-before-seen eight millimeter films shot directly by soldiers during combat, while The Lost Tapes: Tet Offensive premieres Nov. 18 and brings to life a defining moment of the Vietnam War through rare audio and exclusive video.
I recently spoke to Smithsonian Channel executive vice president of programming and production David Royle about the two Veteran’s Day-themed specials as well as their appeal to a new generation of viewers.
Why has the network put so much emphasis on Veteran’s Day-themed programming this year?
This isn't our first Veterans Day project for us, and telling America's big, dramatic history stories is right at the heart of what the Smithsonian Channel stands for. It feels like if any channel is going to tell these stories we should be doing it. These are pivotal moments in American history -- it's the heart of the American experience and they are big, bold dramatic stories that people forget about. I think we have a role in helping to bring them back to life and to tell them in a way that resonates for today's generations.
You mentioned that this isn’t the first time Smithsonian has created content around Veteran’s Day, but does this particular moment in time -- given our political environment -- invite a greater emphasis on honoring our military heroes and veterans?
We look for stories that resonate with today's audiences and stories that may be historical but have a current meaning. The films we've done this year are really the stories of young men who are sent to fight a war they frequently don't fully understand but nevertheless show extraordinary bravery. I think that obviously there are comparisons to be drawn with Afghanistan and Iraq. The viewer doesn't have to believe in the wars themselves, but I think what they take away from these films is that they can believe in the courage of the individuals who have gone to war on behalf of America.
Will these two specials have any appeal to young viewers?
I often talk of The Lost Tapes (franchise) as history for the Internet age; what for me really makes it work is the fact that no one's telling you what to think. We live in an age where people get sick to death of all people of all political persuasions and television pundits telling them exactly what they should be and how they should interpret life and the events that go on. With The Lost Tapes: Tet Offensive there's no interviews or recreations but instead video and audio that's put together like a quilt into a seamless narrative, and you the viewer get plunged back into time and get to draw their own conclusions.
With Guns Trucks Of Vietnam, this is a film that's not about re-creations; I find it absolutely astonishing that these young men are being ambushed by the Vietcong on these really dangerous roads and some of them are filming amateur 8 millimeter films. They're just doing it for themselves; they're not doing it for television stations but they're doing it because they want to record what they went through. In today's age of iPhones and droids and everyone taking video we don't think of this happening 50 years ago, but they were filming video in the middle of the Vietnam War that was going on at the time.