Tuesday evening, celebrities and veterans alike gathered at the Kennedy Center to view legendary documentarian Ken Burns’ newest masterpiece, “The Vietnam War.” This latest offering, sponsored with generous support from Bank of America, displays the southeastern Asian conflict in a comprehensive fashion, covering the war and societal tensions from numerous viewpoints both on the battlefield and back home.
Guests were treated to a sneak-peek screening that drew from throughout the series’ 18 hours. Chart-topping Denver-based band The Lumineers also took the stage to perform a song they wrote for the film.
The project was ten years in the making and will surely be a gigantic smash when the first installment premieres Sunday, September 17th at 8PM EST on PBS. The series will be aired on the network in 10 weekly installments.
Culminating the evening, Burns and co-director Lynn Novick took to the stage in a question-and-answer session along three notable Vietnam veterans — John McCain, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. The panel was moderated by ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz.
Arizona Senator McCain highlighted the importance of remembering the impact of the conflict in today’s global climate.
“It’s the right time, particularly since we are in such turmoil in the world today,” said Senator McCain. “These young men died because of inadequate or corrupt leadership. We must have leaders who can lead and be able to give them a path to victory so we will not sacrifice them, ever again, to a lost cause.”
McCain spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, after being shot down while flying navy ground-attack aircraft over Hanoi in October 1967.
Former defense secretary and senator from Nebraska, Hagel agreed on the importance of both the documentary and the lessons it teaches.
“Yes, it’s difficult to see this, but it’s important for our next set of leaders to understand the consequences of war and the consequences of decisions that we never get all right,” Hagel told the audience. What also came out of Vietnam was the first real questioning of our government, a questioning of our leaders and a demand for accountable government, honest leadership.”
Hagel received two Purple Hearts while an infantry squad leader in the War.
Former Secretary of State and Massachusetts senator Kerry pointed out the importance of diplomacy and honesty in crisis events.
“Knowing what we’re doing, being honest with our people, making war a last resort, exhausting diplomacy,” said Kerry. “These are all relevant to every choice we face.”
Kerry was awarded combat medals including the Silver Star Medial, Bronze Star Medal and three Purple Heart Medals for his service in the Naval Reserves serving four months in South Vietnam.
Longtime Ken Burns supporters Bank of America sponsored the film and premiere event. Burns gave a shout out to longtime friend Anne Finucane, Bank of America’s Vice Chairman.
ABOUT THE FILM
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s ten-part, 18-hour documentary series, THE VIETNAM WAR, tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history as it has never before been told on film. Visceral and immersive, the series explores the human dimensions of the war through revelatory testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides—Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam.
Ten years in the making, the series includes rarely seen and digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th Century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies, and secret audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. THE VIETNAM WAR features more than 100 iconic musical recordings from greatest artists of the era and haunting original music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as well as the Silk Road Ensemble featuring Yo-Yo Ma.