Last March, KUED aired the first episode of Utah Vietnam War Stories, a powerful documentary tribute to the men and women of Utah who served during the Vietnam conflict. The second gripping segment, Turning Point, will debut September 10th at 7:00 p.m. on KUED. Built upon dozens of interviews with soldiers, sailors, airmen and medical personnel, Turning Point is a compelling oral history of the pivotal months in Vietnam during and immediately after the Tet Offensive of 1968. The film features interviews with Vernal’s own Dennis Stevens.
Stevens remembers getting back from basic training and seeing friends who had returned from Vietnam. “I kept saying, ‘Hey, I'm going over there probably in January.’ And they just said, ‘Just keep your wits about ya.’ They wouldn't tell me anything.”
He woke up the morning after his first day in Vietnam soaked in blood. “And I thought, in all the excitement I'd been shot, because there was a lot of adrenaline and stuff,” he recalls. “Well, nobody told me about leeches.” The more experienced men in his infantry unit taught him how to tie his fatigues so that the leeches couldn’t get to his skin underneath.
Stevens soon settled into life in the jungle, got used to eating rations canned in the days of World War II, learned to live in the heat and humidity, and forgot what it was like to use indoor plumbing. Most of the time, he says, his job as a foot soldier was boring. “And when a firefight happened…it was a release, actually, it was a relief.” After the constant stress of not knowing when an attack would come, “we could do something. The wait was over.”
After a solid year of being a grunt with only three days of vacation, Stevens returned to “the World” and did his best to plug himself back into his ordinary life. He went to the University of Utah, settled down and started a family, and blocked out his experiences in Vietnam. He felt normal. In fact, most of the people Stevens knew didn’t know he had served in Vietnam, including his own children.
“My son was 15 years old, a sophomore in high school…and he came to me and he said, ‘Dad, I have a history class and we're studying the Vietnam War,’ and he asked me if I knew anybody that had been there. And I said, ‘Well, yeah, me.’…He was pretty shocked.”
Later in life, Stevens started working at the vet center. “For the first time I had a support group around me that understood. It was a safe place for me to say, ‘Yeah, I'm a Vietnam vet.’” Although counseling at the vet center brought back painful memories, it was good to finally deal with it.
He no longer hides his history in Vietnam. “There's been some challenges because of my service but I don't have any regrets at all of serving,” he says.
The second episode of a projected three-part documentary series, Utah Vietnam War Stories: Turning Point provides a sense of the wide scope of human experience that took place during the Vietnam War. Additional episodes of Utah Vietnam War Stories will debut in early 2013.
Utah Vietnam War Stories is made possible by The Katherine W. Dumke and Ezekiel R. Dumke, Jr. Foundation, The George S. and Delores Doré Eccles Foundation and the contributing members of KUED.
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