Local veteran’s story to be told in documentary

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Local Vietnam War veteran, John Young, will appear in a National Geographic documentary “Brothers at War.” The documentary will be broadcasted on the National Geographic Channel on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

“Brothers at War,” was inspired by the book “Boys of ’67,” which was written by University of Southern Mississippi professor Dr. Andrew Wiest.

Young and Wiest became acquainted in 1997 when Weist approached the Veterans Affairs office in Biloxi about the possibility of local Vietnam veterans speaking to his Vietnam War history class.

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Dr. Leslie Root was the head of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder clinic at the time and suggested Wiest speak to Young, who was one of her patients.

Young said he was nervous at first and questioned Wiest’s motives, but once Wiest explained he wanted his students to hear directly from veterans about the war, he agreed.

What was originally supposed to be a 90-minute question and answer session, quickly grew to four hours, Young said.

After the four-hour lecture, Young said he approached Wiest about auditing the Vietnam War history course. Wiest told Young he couldn’t audit the class, but he would love for him to help teach.

“Just for me, it’s been the most positive thing because I get to deal with students who have a sincere interest in hearing about Vietnam,” Young said.

Since he started lecturing in Wiest’s classes, Young said he has had the opportunity to return to Vietnam five times. He said through study abroad classes, Young retraced his steps with students and shook hands and spoke with former members of the Vietcong.

Wiest said the 9th Infantry was a unique part of the Vietnam War. He said the 9th Infantry was the last division to be drafted, trained and sent to war together.

Wiest explained during Vietnam, soldiers were drafted individually, sent to training and then assigned to a division.

The 9th Infantry worked more as an infantry division would during World War II, Wiest said.

The division served from 1967-1968, which was one of the roughest periods of the war, Wiest said. When the soldiers came home, they were some of the first veterans to experience harassment and protests.

Wiest said Young would tell him, “other generations of American military went overseas, committed sins in the name of their county, but when their war was over they got a baptism when they came home.” That was not the case for Vietnam veterans.

Young said he knew Wiest always wanted to write a book on the 9th Infantry, but he was nervous when Wiest told him he was actually going to write the book.

“I knew I wanted it written extraordinarily well because it meant so much to me, but

I questioned his ability to write a book that was so heavily laden with emotion for me,” Young said.

When the book was published, Young was proud of the finished product.

“There is no way to tell you what that felt like,” Young said.

He said reading the book was difficult and brought back many “sharp memories.” He said some of those moments will never leave him and it’s still difficult to talk about the young men that didn’t come home.

“It’s painful, but quite satisfying to have an account of what we went through,” Young said.

Over the years, Wiest worked on many documentaries and served as a historical advisor on the documentary, “The Vietnam War in HD.” He said he previously worked with Lou Reda Productions, the producer of “Brothers at War,” who approached him about ideas for future documentaries.

Wiest said he gave them a few ideas, along with a copy of his book. Afterwards, the production company called him to say they were interested in filming a documentary, with “Boys of ‘67” as a starting point.

A private screening of “Brothers at War” was held last weekend in Washington D.C., which Young attended. The National World War II museum in New Orleans, La. will sponsor a premiere of the film tonight with a question and answer session featuring Wiest and Young following the film.

“Brothers at War” will premiere on the National Geographic Channel at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.