Da Nang. Hu. Tet. My Lai. Viet Cong. Laos.

As a little boy growing up in Salina in the 1960’s, I always watched, along with my family, the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. The strange names from a far-off place, the sounds of gunfire and choppers in the black and white news reports, and the talk of casualties and destruction formed an ominous and ever-present backdrop to my childhood.

Children were much more aware of current events during those times, and my friends felt the unseen presence of the Vietnam War as well. A son of a neighborhood family was killed in battle. Families of U.S. Air Force personnel serving overseas took up residence at the former Schilling Air Force Base. Many of my friends wore POW-MIA bracelets – and in some cases, the name inscribed on the bracelet was that of their father.

When I was in elementary school, I asked my father what we were fighting about in Vietnam. He was hoping to avoid the issue with a short answer, but my mother would have none of it. I came away from that conversation as confused as when it started. Understanding Vietnam – what happened and why – has been and continues to be difficult for a great many Americans, including me.

Now, as we observe 50 years since those events which so traumatized and polarized our country, master filmmaker Ken Burns and director Lynn Novick are releasing a long-awaited 10 part, 18 hour documentary series, “The Vietnam War.” The series will premiere on PBS stations on Sept. 17.

Ten years in the making, “The Vietnam War” is rich with archival film footage, interviews with participants, and what should be a fascinating soundtrack. “I thought I knew a lot about it,” Burns said about his latest subject in a magazine interview. “And so I went in with the kind of arrogance that people with superficial knowledge always have. Lynn and I have spent ten years shedding our feeble preconceptions.”

If you are unable to view the series on PBS, a DVD set will arrive at the library later this month. And we currently have the outstanding companion book on our new book shelves. To place your name on a reserve list for the DVD, simply email us at library@macpl.org or call us at 620-245-2570.

Also, throughout this month, we are featuring both fiction and non-fiction books about Vietnam in a special display. I hope you’ll peruse them and perhaps check out a couple. As we try to understand, looking back to that time isn’t always easy, but now is a good time to do it.