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KPBS Film Documents The Vietnam War Through The Eyes Of San Diego Combat Pilots

Chuck Sweeney is pictured on the USS Hancock in the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam, in 1972.
Photographer Greg Marshall. Courtesy of American Dream Cinema
Chuck Sweeney is pictured on the USS Hancock in the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam, in 1972.
KPBS Film Documents The Vietnam War Through The Eyes Of San Diego Combat Pilots
KPBS Film Documents The Vietnam War Through The Eyes Of San Diego Combat Pilots GUESTS: Jeanne Scott, producer, "Distinguished Wings Over Vietnam" Chuck Sweeney, president/CEO, Distinguished Flying Cross Society

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The story of the Vietnam War will be told in depth the season. There is the new multi-part document airing next month. There is a premier on television of another documentary called "Distinguished Wings Over Vietnam”. It introduces us to four combat pilots who share their memories about the war over a campfire. It changed me completely. I am a different person. I cannot remember the person I was before Vietnam. I mean, it was that profound. My biggest fear was being shut down and taken as a POW. I do not think I could have survived that. I was involved in nothing but destruction. Joining me is Jeanne Scott, the co producer of the document. Welcome. Thank you for having us. Chuck Sweeney is here who is a pilot who served during the Vietnam War. He is president of the flying crosses society and he is featured in the documentary. Welcome to the program. Thank you. Did you try to find veteran pilots were that documentary who could tell about different aspects of Vietnam ? We try to find pilots from different branches of the service that blew different types of planes that we did not have to look far because Chuck had group people. We interviewed several and narrowed it down. What are the range of airplanes and missions that we hear about in the documentary? There is Air Force. There is the Navy and Army. Some blue helicopters. Some blue fighter jets and such. It covers a gamut. What operation did you take part in? I was flying thus talk which was air to ground bomber. Primarily, there were mission guns that we could use for supporting the troops. Did you know any of the guys in the documentary before you sat down to talk about the war? Yes. To them our members of the distinguished line cross society. One was a past president. I relieved him as president. The other is the Executive Vice President. You did not know them when you were in Vietnam ? Not in Vietnam. Did you find there was a similarity between your experiences? Some but there were some differences. The two in the helicopters were on the ground and even when they were flying, they were what I call up close. I was at higher altitude and was not face to face most of the time with a couple of exceptions. Most of the time, I did not see the people. That gives a different perspective. Plus, they were living on the ground in Vietnam and were more liable to attack and I was in the aircraft carrier. Why have them tell the stories? Because the storytelling experience often is a certain mood and atmosphere. Rather than do the standard in the studio we thought it would be nice to have them open op and feel comfortable and be with a different look. Which story in "Distinguished Wings Over Vietnam sticks with you ? The one story I would pick that sticks with me regarding the documentary is the one told by Greg McNeil. He was very angry. He is very angry. He ends up coming to a conclusion that he could save lives rather than harm them if possible. He turned around his thought process and said, that is what I am going to do. I will spend the rest of my time saving people. He started to say people during the Vietnam War ? Right. Rather when you would see when the enemy, the bad guys on the ground rather than him shoot him or what have you come he would go down and grab them and bring them back so he could interrogate them and sometimes that saved their lives, the enemy lives expect Chuck come and understand none of the vets were drafted. You all volunteered. Why did you volunteer? I volunteered for Vietnam. I had been flying for a number of years. When Vietnam came on, I wanted to be there. I wanted to be in the action and help defend this country, even though previously I was looking for submarines and that was defending the country. I just felt strongly that that was what I wanted to do. In the documentary, do you talk about your experiences coming home from Vietnam? Yes. Mine was not as bad as some of the others. I was stationed at that time up in Lemoore, California. They are very patriotic and conservative. I lived on base so it was a little bit different. Did not have to go through airports. I could fly in from the aircraft carrier directly to the base. Was there anything about your experience or any time during the Vietnam war when you began to question whether or not this whole enterprise was a good idea ? I did not question the enterprise. I questioned the politicians and the way the war was being run. Most of us, we felt we were fighting with two hands tied behind her back. Most of the time, one hand tied behind your back. Jean, as I mentioned, there seems to be retrospective interest in the Vietnam war right now. I talked with Ken Burns about his documentary, many that you talked with him had never discussed their experiences in the war before then. To the Vietnam that that you spoke with find it difficult to talk about the war ? I do not think so but early on they did. It took many years to come to terms with some things but by this time, part of the good thing is that the distinguished flying Cross society help them do, rider he and talk about their experiences. At one time, it was very difficult. Most of us felt the public despised us. Being called baby killers, etc. was pretty hard to take. People had the tendency, even when you would be working, you would not mention that you were a Vietnam vet. It took years before it turned around. Why do you think it has turned around? Why are they opening up now. The public has changed the Iraq war and Afghanistan -- now, thankfully the military and thank you for serving has come around. It has come to include the Vietnam vets. People have realized how terrible we were treated when we came back. The documentary "Distinguished Wings Over Vietnam” was funded by the Explorer program premieres on KPBS TV this Thursday night at 9:00. I have been speaking with Jeanne Scott and Chuck Sweeney who served during the Vietnam War. I want to thank you both. Thank you for having us.

More than 50 years after the Vietnam War, four combat pilots from San Diego are sharing their personal stories of Vietnam in the new KPBS documentary, “Distinguished Wings Over Vietnam.”

One of the veterans featured is Chuck Sweeney, president and CEO of the Distinguished Flying Cross Society.

“I volunteered for Vietnam. I had been flying for a number of years. But when Vietnam came, I wanted to be there. I wanted to be there in the action and help defend this country. I just felt very strongly that that’s what I wanted to do,” Sweeney said.


Sweeney, along with Greg Mac Neil, Lyle Lynn Bainbridge and Mike O’Neil, discusses his memories of the war, what he faced when he came home and how the war forever changed him.

The documentary, airs on KPBS television 9 p.m. Thursday. It was produced by San Diego filmmakers Jeanne and Devin Scott.

Sweeney and Jeanne Scott joined Midday Edition Monday to talk about the project.