KRWG-TV, New Mexico State University’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) affiliate is airing a three-part documentary series on Vietnam veterans in New Mexico from Nov. 13-15.
The series is scheduled to run at 7 p.m. on KRWG, channel 22 in Las Cruces. The series will run again in its entirety on channel 22 in Las Cruces from 7-10 p.m. on Nov. 28.
“Our Stories: Vietnam” series serves as a supplement to Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War,” which aired Sept. 17-28, 2017, on national PBS.
“We did the same for Burns’ World War II miniseries, “The War,” in 2007, telling the stories of Las Cruces-area WWII veterans,” said Glen Cerny, KRWG general manager, who also conducted the majority of the interviews for “Our Stories.”
“Our Stories” has been in the works for the past three years, when KRWG first received word that the Burns documentary was also in production. Work on “Our Stories” moved into high gear around March 2017, when Cerny and KRWG’s other three other staff members started arranging interviews.
“Once we decided we were going to do this series, we just believed that it was important once again that we document and capture some of our local stories,” Cerny said.
The project’s earliest break came after Cerny and his crew were put in contact with the Military Officers Association of America and through this organization, found contact information for New Mexicans involved in the Vietnam War.
The series tells 15 veterans’ Vietnam War stories. Five of the interviews are from Alamogordo. Las Cruces veterans make up another six of the interviews, with another two from Silver City, as well as one from Lordsburg and another from Vado.
In total Cerny and his team filmed more than 15 hours of interviews, finishing in late August, and since then have been editing the footage together into a little less than three-hour-long miniseries.
“The editing has definitely been the hardest part,” Cerny said.
But their job of making a compelling documentary series on the Vietnam War was made easier due to Cerny’s connection to the University of Wisconsin’s PBS affiliate WPT, video archives, which includes hours of Vietnam War footage.
“It’s not a talking-heads show,” said Joe Widmer, a KRWG videographer and editor who recorded some of the miniseries’ interviews. “We needed footage to illustrate what the people we interviewed were talking about.”
Another stroke of luck was Las Cruces veteran Bob Worthington agreeing to be interviewed. Worthington himself filmed a brief ceasefire between the North and South Vietnamese combatants in order to rescue a wounded infant.
Cerny visited Silver City and Alamogordo prior to the series’ premiere.
“In Silver City, two of the three families didn’t know what their fathers had done,” Cerny said. “The reaction and appreciation was overwhelming. This series is an attempt for us to say thank you to the veterans.”
Cerny and his team were not mandated by national PBS to do the miniseries focusing on New Mexican Vietnam veterans. They undertook the project because it falls under KRWG’s mission to conserve and convey history. The editors and videographers also had varying degrees of personal attachment.
“When the veterans were talking to us, you could visibly see the weight lifting off their shoulders,” Cerny said. “They’re so relieved to finally be able to tell their stories.”
“My three elder siblings were in the Vietnam Conflict and one of my siblings ended up succumbing to Agent Orange in 2005,” said Ralph Escandon, another KRWG videographer and editor.
“My dad and all four of his older brothers all served in Vietnam and all came back thankfully,” said Christian Valle, the fourth member of the “Our Stories” team.
Escandon said he hopes when New Mexico veterans see the series, they will feel that their stories have been told and can feel a sense of relief.