It wasn’t on the printed program, but the lights were dimmed and we were treated to a four minute film flaunting the Vietnam War’s most anachronistic theme, MIAs, the fallen soldiers left behind whose remains are missing. Entitled, Not Forgotten, the film tells the story of a woman whose Marine husband was among the MIAs. In a brief opening scene a young Asian boy, his ball cap on backwards, floats on a dugout in a watery setting. He snags a wedding ring strung on a set of dog tags and shows them to his father, who wears a conical hat (hint: we’re in Vietnam). “They’re from your grandfather’s war, they belonged to an American Marine,” he tells the boy with the self-assurance of a crime scene investigator. The action shifts to the interior of a comfortable home somewhere in the heartland, where, through one lace curtained window a POW/MIA flag is seen flapping proudly against the dwelling’s exterior siding. A bereavement team, one black man, one white, has come to return these sacred objects, which allows the widow “to find the closure she’s been seeking for more than forty years.”
One feels deep sympathy for such a victim, of course, even as the actress who portrays her is scripted to add her own wedding ring to the dog tag chain, then stare wistfully toward a distant past that fades into a final flashback. We are transported back to where the missing husband as a young Marine faces the camera under the canopy of an ersatz jungle, and tenderly cradles the same dog tag chain in his hands. Then, kissing the ring, he turns abruptly and hurries off to his unhappy fate. Why this actor was not directed to actually look like a combat marine of the war or its time is this clip’s most absurd and glaring flaw. Dressed in jungle fatigues strung with web gear, the actor sports a millennial goatee and has a full and wavy head of hair. But forget the film’s wink-if-you-get-it clumsy symbolism, the hocus-pocus forensics of the Asian man in the conical hat, the locations that look like glades of south Florida ferns far from the bamboo boarded rice paddies of South East Asia, the hirsute, whiskered marine whose image would surely disturb any jarhead purist who ever spouted semper fi, the film is a minor propaganda gem, and Governor LePage wants to tell the Pentagon exactly where it should be distributed.
“I want to show that film to every grade school student in the state,” LePage boomed as he stepped to the microphone. And I immediately shuddered thinking how this web of manipulation might ensnare my own rebel nine-year-old granddaughter trapped in her third grade classroom. I’ve put aside a history box to give her when she shows the first signs of maturity, so she’ll have a shot at sorting out the complexities of how her grandfather saw his war. As for her classmates, who can predict how a given individual will process indoctrination into the myth of the nation’s righteous trail of blood. Obviously the commemorators could give a shit about what these kids know or think about Vietnam; it’s all about the next war, that’s the one a patriotic scoundrel like LePage is always cheering for.