Monday, October 2, 2017

Leaving Vietnam: Building a New Life in Central Florida

Coinciding with WUCF TV’s September presentation of The Vietnam War, the new 17 hour documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, this retrospective exhibition at the Orange County Regional History Center (65 East Central Boulevard Orlando FL 32801) uses oral histories to explore the war’s impact on Central Florida. Learn about the parts local veterans played on the front lines and how the experience shaped them. Discover the roots of Central Florida’s Vietnamese community and its impact on leadership, local commerce, and Orlando’s food scene.

I attended and sketched the opening reception for the exhibit. Veterans and members of Orlando's Vietnamese community came out to see the exhibit in which their words and artifacts were assembled. As I sketched, a Vietnamese woman took a keen interest in my work. She wanted to know all about the ink I was using and my brush with the water in the handle. She said she needed a sketch done, so I gave her a card. A veteran in a wheel chair also stopped to chat. He was shooting video on his iPad. He is a documentary film maker and told me about the footage he shot on a parachuting mission.

I have become a binge watcher of the Ken Burns Vietnam series. Though I don't have a TV, the series can be viewed online. There ar some amazing audio tapes that point out the reservations, fears and frustrations of several presidents who couldn't see a way out of the war. Some of the footage brings back childhood memories of burning hutches and graphic violence that aired on TV at the time. On display in the exhibit were hand-made incendiary devices made from soda cans designed to blow off a soldiers hand. The text panels in the entire exhibit are bilingual, in English and Vietnamese. A letter home from Vietnam that had likely been unread for over 50 years, had one viewer in tears when she read it in the exhibit.

Active-duty and retired U.S. military personnel (including National Guard members) will receive a $2 discount from History Center general admission prices ($8) during this exhibit. Disabled veterans will be admitted at no charge. The exhibition runs through November 5.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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