Jul 03 2018
MANDAN, N.D. – Ahead of the Fourth of July, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today released the latest episode of her podcast, ‘The Hotdish,’ about honoring the sacrifice and service of Vietnam veterans and the importance of telling their stories. In this episode, Heitkamp interviews documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and Vietnam veteran Dan Stenvold, Mayor of Park River, North Dakota, and the President of North Dakota Vietnam Veterans of America.
Burns’s recent documentary series, The Vietnam War, honored veterans of the Vietnam era by telling their stories and helping future generations better understand the war – from the geopolitical context of the conflict to the powerful stories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their nation.
“The independence we won so many years ago has been maintained and strengthened by generation after generation of Americans who’ve served in our Armed Forces – often giving the ultimate sacrifice – and we owe them every gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy today,” Heitkamp said.
“If we don’t know where we’ve been – that’s called our past – we can’t possibly know where we are and, more importantly, where we may be going,” Burns said. “There’s so many lessons from the Vietnam War. Not the least the personal ones, but the larger political ones that remind us – particularly in these fractious days – how important it is to be there in the middle, and to try to gather everybody together under one roof. As the historian Arthur Schlesinger said, we suffer today from too much Pluribus and not enough Unum. We have to remember to be about the one, and to forget the kind of tribal instincts that betray that sense of the possibility of the United States.”
Burns continued, “This is what I do every day in my way as a filmmaker. Which is to say, look. We’re in this together. How do we go forward, how do we find realistic solutions, what do we learn from this, what do we take away? Let’s just say – this happened. How do we figure out how not to make those mistakes again? …If you look closely enough at what was going on in the Vietnam period, with all its divisions, with all its misunderstandings, we are given the recipe of how to stitch ourselves back together – or the recipe of how we continue toward further disunion.”
Dan Stenvold, who served three tours with U.S. Army artillery units in the war, recounts his experience in Vietnam and his work ever since to bring attention to the needs of veterans in North Dakota and across the country.
“In Vietnam, I had to grow up in a hurry. As an 18 year old in a combat zone, it’s certainly a lot different than attending your first quarter of college,” Stenvold said.
When he returned from his second tour of duty, Stenvold was met with protests and discarded his uniform in favor of civilian clothes due to the public backlash. “I was really proud of my service back then, and I still am. Our society was just really messed up at that time, I think,” he said.
Stenvold has dedicated his life to bettering the lives of all veterans, serving as President of North Dakota Vietnam Veterans of America. He has fought to bring awareness to the lasting impact of Agent Orange and to the tragically high rates of death by suicide among veterans. “Right now, one of our biggest problems – and we don’t know how to fix it – there’s 22 deaths by veterans every day. That’s totally unacceptable,” Stenvold said.
“The cost of any war is not fully counted until every veteran of that war gets the services that they’re entitled to,” Heitkamp said. “And that is the ongoing cost. Agent Orange is the ongoing cost of our freedom and the people who fought in Vietnam. We’re losing our veterans in record numbers to death by suicide. If we’re going to really honor their service as a society, we have to help share their sacrifice by working to understand their challenges as they transition back to civilian life.”
In 2015, Heitkamp gave a series of speeches on the floor of the U.S. Senate to honor the North Dakota servicemembers who gave their lives during the Vietnam War. Heitkamp shared the stories of more than 160 North Dakotans who did not return home. Click here to see their photos and hear their stories.
About The Hotdish:
Heitkamp kicked off her podcast last February with an episode on her efforts to combat human trafficking, interviewing anti-human trafficking leader Cindy McCain and North Dakota journalist Kevin Wallevand. Since then, Heitkamp’s podcast has covered a wide range of topics, including negotiations for the next Farm Bill, the role of moderates in Congress, U.S.-Russia relations, health care, her bipartisan bill that would promote carbon capture, the role of refugees and immigrants in our communities, the threat posed by North Korea, and tackling the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, tax reform, an update on her effort to combat human trafficking, the importance of smart trade policies and NAFTA, and Capitol Hill interns.