These Men Are Reenacting a War Many Others Want to Forget

Apr 09, 2015

As the sesquicentennial of the Civil War winds to an end, the hundreds of Americans who regularly reenact that conflict are likely to get plenty of attention. The reenactment at Appomattox is going on right now, in fact.

But the Civil War isn't the only American conflict that draws citizens, decades later, to replay its battles. In their new documentary In Country (in theaters April 10 and VOD April 28), filmmakers Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara follow a group of men who, for one weekend a year, recreate the Vietnam War.

They wear the uniforms. They carry the weapons. They even, as shown in the clip above, use the lingo that would have been heard on those battlefields (even when some of that language is offensive). The experience is so immersive that Attie and O'Hara had to dress as war correspondents in order to get approval to film the weekend.

But the time-travel aspect of war reenactment is, the filmmakers say, a little stranger when the war is still relatively fresh. As the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon approaches — the war concluded at the end of April, 1975 — Vietnam remains raw.

“When I heard it I couldn’t believe it," Attie recalls. "Why would someone want to recreate this war that was so divisive? Both Meghan and I were born after the war ended, but it still seemed like something that was fresh and controversial.”

Whereas Civil War and Revolutionary War reenactments are often family-friendly events, a Vietnam reenactment lacks the distance that neuters the violence. Attie says there was a joke in his high school that the school year would conveniently end before history class got to the Vietnam War, because nobody wanted to talk about it. It felt, he says, like a conflict that people didn't want to remember — even though the men in his new film are proof otherwise.

And their remembering is not just a matter of learning about the history, obsessing over details like how long the soldiers' hair would have been in one year versus another. It's also an exercise in empathy, the movie posits, as veterans in the group are able to revisit their real experiences or, in one particular case, impart their wisdom on a soon-to-be Marine along for the ride.

“It made me think, when does history become History with a capital H, and have the teeth taken out of it a little bit?" O'Hara says. "These men are trying to wrestle with it and it seems so soon.”

Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week's Toll, June 1969

LIFE magazine, June 27, 1969, featuring a portrait of U.S. Army specialist William C. Gearing, Jr., one of 242 American servicemen killed in a single week of fighting during the Vietnam War.
LIFE magazine, June 27, 1969, featuring a portrait of U.S. Army specialist William C. Gearing, Jr., one of 242 American servicemen killed in a single week of fighting during the Vietnam War.LIFE Magazine
LIFE magazine, June 27, 1969, featuring a portrait of U.S. Army specialist William C. Gearing, Jr., one of 242 American servicemen killed in a single week of fighting during the Vietnam War.
Joseph L. Rhodes, 22, Marines, L. Cpl., Memphis, Tenn.
Michael C. Volheim, 20, Army, SP4, Hayward, Calif.
Craig E. Yates, 18, Army, Pfc., Sparta, Mich.
Ramon L. Vazquez Nieves, 21, Army, Pfc., Puetro Nuevo, P.R.
Robert E. Layman, 20, Army, WO1, Poquonock, Conn.
Calvin R. Patrick, 18, Army, Pfc., Houston, Texas
Valentine Dwornik, 20, Army, SP4, Detroit, Mich.
Bruce Saunders, 21, Army, 2nd Lt., Queens, N.Y.
Robert J. Rosenow, 20, Army, Pfc., La Farge, Wis.
John C. Pape, 25, Army, Capt., Amityville, N.Y.
William L. Alexander, 19, Army, SP4, Flint, Mich.
Jose M. Galarza-Quinones, 21, Army, Pfc., Hato Rey, P.R.
Roy E. Clark, Army, Pfc., Culloden, W. Va.
James P. Hickey, 19, Marines, Pfc., West Quincy, Mass.
John L. Rosemond, 21, Army, Pfc., Dallas, Texas
Mario Lamelza, 21, Army, Pfc., Philadelphia, Pa.
David Tessmer, 20, Army, Pfc., Wausau, Wis.
Johnnie L. Brigman, 23, Army, Pvt., North, S.C.
Gary A. Wallace, 19, Army, Pfc., Louisville, Ky.
Cleveland Browning, 22, Army, Pfc., Miami, Fla.
Charles C. Fleek, 21, Army, Sgt., Petersburg, Ky.
James Patrick Francis, 22, Army, S/Sgt., Napa, Calif.
Joe E. Bragg, 20, Army, SP4, Versailles, Ky.
William C. Gearing Jr., 20, Army, SP5, Rochester, N.Y.
Gary D. Carter, 19, Marines, Cpl., Tyler, Texas
Matthew T. Lozano Jr., 21, Army, Pfc., San Antonio, Texas
Winston O. Smith, 24, Army, Pfc., Madisonville, Tenn.
Robert B. Read, 24, Army, Pfc., Hamden, Conn.
Mark J. Haverland Jr., 21, Army, Sgt., Poca, W. Va.
Ralph J. Mears Jr., 19, Army, SP4, Norfolk, Va.
Philip W. Strout, 21, Army, SP4, So. Portland, Maine
John A. Gillen, 25, Army, SP4, Broadville, Ill.
Edward O'Donovan, 19, Marine, Pfc., Chicago, Ill.
Michael D. Melton, 20, Army, SP4, Little Rock, Ark.
Melvin Green Jr., 31, Army, S/Sgt., Manhattan, Kan.
Gary C. Fassel, 20, Army, Pfc., Buffalo, N.Y.
John W. Kirchner, 19, Marines, Pfc., La Crosse, Wis.
Keith B. Janke, 26, Army, Sgt., Poplar, Wis.
William L. Anderson, 18, Army, Sgt., Templeton, Pa.
David L. Mills, 22, Army, SP4, Decatur, Ill.
Carl R. Martin, 26, Army, SP5, Rapid City, S. Dak.
Daniel L. Pucci, 22, Marines, Cpl., Berea, Ohio
Howe K. Clark Jr., 22, Army, S/Sgt., Rockdale, Texas
Thomas P. Jackson Jr., 23, Army, Pfc., Westbury, N.Y.
Clifford Haynes Jr., 19, Marines, Pfc., Carnegie, Pa.
Scott E. Saylor, 22, Army, SP4, King of Prussia, Pa.
David R. Mann, 20, Army, SP4, Earlville, Ill.
Henry R. Hausman Jr., 19, Army, Pfc., Hilliard, Ohio
Robert J. Randall, 19, Army, Pfc., Miami, Fla.
David F. Bukowski, 20, Army, SP4, West Islip, N.Y.
John M. Vollmerhausen Jr., 18, Army, Pfc., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
David A. Hargens, 19, Army, Pfc., Nickerson, Neb.
Matthew J. Baurle, 20, Marines, L. Cpl., Gloversville, N.Y.
Richard F. DuBois, 20, Marines, L. Cpl., New Orleans, La.
Duane C. Bowen, 20, Army, SP4, Ramona, Calif.
John N. McCarthy, 20, Army, SP4, Glen Cove, N.Y.
Andrew W. Rice Jr., 20, Navy, GMG3, Bedford, Pa.
Byrle B. Bailey, 19, Marines, Pfc., Omaha, Neb.
Charles P. Smith Jr., 20, Army, Pfc., Richmond, Va.
Robert H. Carter Jr., 35, Army, Lt. Col., Morganton, N.C.
Stephen L. McCarvel, 19, Army, Sgt., Great Falls, Mont.
Jackie D. Bass, 21, Army, Pfc., Cochran, Ga.
William A. Evans, 20, Army, Sgt., Milwaukee, Wis.
Richard L. Patterson, 25, Army, 2nd Lt., Harriman, Tenn.
Robert W. Getz, 19, Army, Pfc., Decatur, Ill.
James Boston Jr., 20, Army, Pfc., Gainesville, Fla.
Michael F. May, 22, Army, SP4, Vassar, Mich.
Freddie Lee Coffman, 20, Army, Pfc., Wardensville, W. Va.
Milton S. Johnson, 20, Army, Pfc., Savannah, Ga.
Ophrey A. Irvin, 25, Army, SP4, Chillicothe, Ohio
Thomas W. Myers, 26, Army, Pfc., Middlesex, N.J.
Gary A. Neavor, 25, Army, SP4, Davenport, Iowa
Clarance Taylor, 25, Army, Pfc., Greensville, Ala.
Thomas F. Barth, 18, Army, Pfc., Lakewood, Calif.
Ralph A. Vitch, 20, Army, SP4, Tampa, Fla.
Patrick M. Hagerty, 19, Army, SP4, Youngstown, Ohio
Albert J. Cartledge III, 23, Marines, Cpl., Dallas, Texas
James Drew, 20, Army, SP4, Kansas City, Mo.
Peter S. Borsay, 24, Army, Pfc., Salt Lake City, Utah
Robert C. Yates, 18, Army, Pfc., Hondo, Texas
Henry L. MacArthur, 18, Army, Pfc., Fuquay Varina, N.C.
Ronald E. Morgan, 22, Army, Pfc., San Diego, Calif.
Rudy A. Carnley, 23, Army, SP4, Lake Wales, Fla.
Barry L. Unfried, 20, Marines, Pfc., Oroville, Calif.
Gary R. Clodfelter, 20, Army, SP4, High Point, N.C.
Larry D. Muller, 18, Marines, Pfc., Ojai, Calif.
James A. Wright, 21, Army, SP4, Boring, Ore.
William W. Olsen, 22, Army, Sgt., Pocatello, Idaho
Robert F. Rose, 19, Army, SP4, Ashland, Ore.
Michael K.L. Dixon, 19, Army, Pfc., Hawthorne, Calif.
Edward T. Kiezkowski, 20, Army, SP4, Butler, Pa.
David J. Ewing, 20, Army, SP5, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Kenneth D. Pettigrew, 19, Army, Pfc., Redding, Calif.
Warren Nix, 26, Army, Pfc., Tuscon, Ariz.
Terry D. Clark, 18, Army, Pfc., Wallace, N.C.
Jimmy W. Phipps, 18, Marines, Pfc., Culver City, Calif.
Curtis Breedlove, 31, Army, 2nd Lt., Bryson City, N.C.
Forrest L. Smith, 27, Army, S/Sgt., Columbus, Ga.
Isaac Sapp, 21, Marines, Pfc., Williston, S.C.
David L. Tiffany, 19, Army, SP5, Riverside, Calif.
William W. Smith, 21, Army, Pfc., King City, Mo.
Calvin E. Cooper, 20, Marines, Pfc., Kingstree, S.C.
Gary R. Guest, 22, Marines, Cpl., Dorchester, Mass.
Thomas R. Bliss, 20, Marines, L. Cpl., York, Pa.
Clovis L. May, 24, Army, Sgt., Deming, N. Mex.
Dennis L. Babcock, 19, Army, Pfc., Pacific Grove, Calif.
Donald J. Deevers, 19, Army, Pfc., Hinton, Okla.
Douglas J. Sommer, 18, Army, Pfc., Kearns, Utah
Joe T. Conkle, 25, Army, 1st Lt., Hampton, Ga.
Elmer E. Fields, 20, Army, Pvt., Fairfax, Okla.
Jeffrey A. Richardson, 20, Army, Pfc., Red Lion, Pa.
Russel Evans, 20, Army, Pfc., Sylvania, Ga.
Emmett L. Davis, 18, Army, Pfc., Lakeland, Fla.
Charles A. Jones, 29, Army, Sfc., Modesto, Calif.
John H. Platt, 20, Army, Pfc., Early, Iowa
Chris R. Martinez, 21, Army, Cpl., Alameda, Calif.
James M. Leonard, 20, Army, Sgt., Edmond, Okla.
Michael M. Hatzell, 19, Army, Pfc., San Jose, Calif.
Thomas E. Hays, 20, Army, WO, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Iran C. Brown, 19, Marines, L. Cpl., Roanoke, Va.
Ralford J. Jackson, 20, Marines, Pfc., Tuba City, Ariz.
Timothy K.P. Foster, 18, Marines, Pvt., Honolulu, Hawaii
Virgil V. Hamilton, 20, Army, SP4, Brooksville, Fla.
Donny R. Lawson, 21, Marines, L. Cpl., Grandview, Wash.
Clarence Creaghead, 21, Army, SP4, Detroit, Mich.
Keith A. Kahlstorf, 20, Marines, Pfc., Britt, Iowa
Michael A. Powell, 19, Marines, L. Cpt., Atlanta, Ga.
Byron B. Bowden, 21, Army, SP4, Arcata, Calif.
Chris M. Pyle, 21, Navy, HM2, Hardesty, Okla.
Patrick M. Dixon, 23, Army, 1st Lt., Dixon, Ill.
Joseph C. Chisholm, 24, Army, SP4, Union Lake, Mich.
Robert A. Pitts, 21, Army, Pfc., Galveston, Texas
Albert O. Nelson Jr., 20, Marines, 2nd Lt., Alexandria, Va.
Gary McCollough, 20, Army, Pfc., Charlotte, N.C.
Charles D. Ervin, 18, Marines, Pfc., Lamont, Okla.
James Titmas III, 19, Army, Pfc., Glendale, Calif.
William J. Thornhill, 20, Army, Pvt., Baltimore, Md.
John M. Randall, 20, Army, SP4, Phoenix, Ariz.
Max Lisenby, 21, Marines, Cpl., Lawton, Okla.
Gail G. Sanderson, 19, Marines, Pvt., Anthon, Iowa
Robert P. Scibilia, 21, Army, SP4, Nashua, N.H.
William A. Seigle, 20, Army, Pfc., Sapulpa, Okla.
Gerald W. Posten, 20, Army, Pfc., Placerville, Calif.
Howard S. Hill, 22, Army, Sgt., Irwin, Pa.
David W. Kinney, 20, Army, Pfc., Charleston, W. Va.
Ernest C. Munoz, 36, Marines, S/Sgt., San Antonio, Texas
Cordell B. Rogers, 30, Army, Capt., Remsen, Iowa
Larry E. Boyer, 22, Marines, Cpl., Williamstown, W. Va.
Ronald A. Brown, 20, Army, Sgt., Huntington Park, Calif.
John Winters, 18, Marines, L. Cpl., Clark, N.J.
Floyd E. Barber, 23, Army, SP4, Franklin, Ohio
Marvin C. Briss, 20, Army, SP4, Binford, N. Dak.
Garey L. Grubbs, 20, Army, Pfc., Denver, Colo.
Merlin J. Laber, 21, Army, SP4, Sykeston, N. Dak.
John M. Hohman, 22, Army, CW2, Leominster, Mass.
Gordon D. Perry, 19, Marines, Pfc., Morgantown, W. Va.
James J. Wise, 20, Army, SP4, Detroit, Mich.
Robert T. Bensberg, 28, Army, Capt., Columbus, Ga.
Kenneth M. Seward, 22, Army, SP5, Greeley, Colo.
Edward Frowner, 20, Army, Sgt., Manila, Ala.
James S. Colombero, 24, Army, SP5, McCloud, Calif.
Donald P. Seburg Jr., 19, Army, Pfc., Jackson, Mich.
Milford E. Cobb, 33, Army, S/Sgt., Tempe, Ariz.
Ronald A. Yashack, 21, Army, Pfc., Diagonal, Iowa
Edison R. Phillips, 19, Army, Pfc., Plymouth, Pa.
Gary C. Towle, 26, Army, Pfc., Concord, N.H.
Douglas R. Matheson, 20, Army, Sgt., Columbiaville, Mich.
Santiago V. E. Quintana, 20, Army, Pfc., Santa Fe, N. Mex.
Charles A. Hilbert, 20, Army, Pfc., Parksville, Ky.
Robert L. Anderson, 21, Army, Cpl., Middletown, N.Y.
James Troy Ralph, 21, Army, SP4, Hobart, Ind.
Orville Hampton, 37, Army, S/Sgt., Lawton, Okla.
Cris Holliday, 20, Army, Pfc., Meridian, Miss.
Billy W. Pettis, 21, Army, Pfc., Castleberry, Ala.
William H. Darden, 20, Army, Pfc., Lanett, Ala.
Jan Rauschkolb, 22, Marines, Cpl., Denver, Colo.
Steven C. Owen, 22, Army, SP4, Long Beach, Calif.
John W. Abbott, 23, Marines, 1st Lt., South Bend, Ind.
William J. Peterson, 23, Army, 2nd Lt., Ephrata, Wash.
Wayne E. Garven, 21, Army, Pfc., Mt. Vernon, Ohio
William H. Beske Jr., 21, Army, Pfc., Lathrup Village, Mich.
Ralph H. Crowley, 20, Army, Sgt., Remus, Mich.
Yvon E. Girouard, 20, Marines, Pfc., Littleton, N.H.
Errol W. Perreira, 21, Army, Pfc., Hilo, Hawaii
Harold James Warmsley, 24, Army, SP4, Mansfield, La.
Allen M. Graff, 21, Army, Sgt., West Covina, Calif.
Robert Sigholtz Jr., 23, Army, Capt., Annandale, Va.
Edward F. Clennon, 23, Army, Pfc., Joliet, Ill.
Billy L. Thomas, 19, Army, SP4, Stinnett, Texas
Richard L. Brumfield, 21, Army, Sgt., Denham Springs, La.
Steven K. Sprinkle, 20, Army, SP4, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Steven E. Murray, 19, Army, SP4, Indianapolis, Ind.
Euan J. Parker, 22, Army, Pfc., Brigham City, Utah
Emerson Martin, 21, Marines, Pfc., Gallup, N. Mex.
James D. Johnson, 20, Marines, L. Cpl., Bedford, Texas
Kenneth D. Shoaps, 20, Army, Sgt., Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.
Joey L. Boles, 21, Army, Pfc., Winchester, Ky.
Bobby G. Newby, 21, Army, Pfc., Winchester, Ky.
Thomas B. Paynter, 21, Army, SP4, Seattle, Wash.
James F. Hilliard, 23, Army, Sgt., Kalamazoo, Mich.
Michael E. Gerber, 20, Army, SP4, Conway Springs, Kan.
Donald W. Ide, 25, Army, 1st Lt., Beirut, Lebanon
Gary M. Paul, 19, Marines, L. Cpl., Norway, Mich.
Gary W. Leighton, 19, Marines, Pfc., Washington, Pa.
Derrill L. Price Jr., 20, Army, SP4, El Dorado Springs, Mo.
Farrell J. Vice, 21, Army, SP4, Abbeville, La.
Scott E. Cochran, 18, Army, Pfc., Eugene, Ore.
Philip L. Gamble Jr., 26, Army, 2nd Lt., Newport, R.I.
James W. Clark, 21, Army, 1st Lt., Reno, Nev.
Terry V. Miller, 23, Army, Pfc., Ottumwa, Iowa
Herman L. Judy Jr., 23, Army, Pfc., Alexandria, Va.
James Herbert III, 20, Marines, Pfc., New Orleans, La.
Willie L. Kirkland, 20, Army, SP4, Avon Park, Fla.
Thomas A. Nebel, 20, Army, Pfc., Keota, Iowa
Jim J. Walters, 20, Marines, Pfc., Sioux City, Iowa
Dick E. Whitney, 22, Army, SP4, Newberg, Ore.
Robert L. Boese, 22, Army, Pfc., Marion, Kan.
Above: Twenty-five men, killed in one week in the late spring of 1969, who did not have their pictures in the June 27, 1969, issue of LIFE. Use the "full screen" option (at right) for a clearer view of each man's name, age, rank and hometown.
"Vietnam: One Week's Dead," LIFE magazine, June 27, 1969.
"Vietnam: One Week's Dead," LIFE magazine, June 27, 1969.
"Vietnam: One Week's Dead," LIFE magazine, June 27, 1969.
"Vietnam: One Week's Dead," LIFE magazine, June 27, 1969.
"Vietnam: One Week's Dead," LIFE magazine, June 27, 1969.
"Vietnam: One Week's Dead," LIFE magazine, June 27, 1969.
"Vietnam: One Week's Dead," LIFE magazine, June 27, 1969.
LIFE magazine, June 27, 1969, featuring a portrait of U.S. Army specialist William C. Gearing, Jr., one of 242 American

LIFE Magazine
1 of 227
TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.