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Released June 11, 2004

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG - An episode of a British television series focusing on the Vietnam War includes interviews with a University of Southern Mississippi history professor and a Vietnam veteran from Picayune.

Dr. Andrew Wiest, an expert in military history, and John Young, who served two and a half tours of duty with the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam, will be featured in "Vietnam's Bloody Secret," an episode of the Granada Television series "Battlefield Detectives." The episode is scheduled to air on the History Channel this fall.

Wiest teaches a course on the Vietnam War and has led an award-winning Southern Miss study abroad-program to Vietnam, which is facilitated by the Southern Miss Center for International and Continuing Education. Young has traveled with students on the study abroad-program and is a regular speaker in Wiest's Vietnam class, recounting his experiences as a soldier during the war.

Unlike other programs and documentaries about war, the "Battlefield Detective" series takes a unique perspective, Wiest said. "What they try to do is use 'modern-day detectives,' whether they be scientists or historians, and take them to the battlefield to scientifically test theories about what went on there," he said.

Specifically, the program examines Vietnamese reaction to American technological advantages in the war, including its air power and use of the chemical weapon Agent Orange. A complex system of underground tunnels served as protection for both civilians and soldiers for much of the war, including at Cu Chi, the site of one of the more famous tunnel systems, Wiest said.

"Sometimes you would have entire battalions living underground for about 10 years during the war," he said.

Experts also studied the weapons used by soldiers to determine which side had an advantage in the field, another aspect of the scientific approach used in the documentary. "They tested infantry weapons like our M-16 and the AK-47 used by the Vietcong and compared them for durability and accuracy."

The fabled Ho Chi Minh trail, used as a supply line by the North Vietnamese, was also examined, Wiest said. "We know a lot about it (the trail) from what we have read in books, and it's enshrined in history and myth, but they sent someone to see how it functioned, how it worked. That's the difference between this documentary and others."

Wiest was interviewed for the series episode last year at the Granada Television studios in Manchester, England, while he was leading a group of students in the British Studies program. In addition to being interviewed, he has also acted as a consultant, providing expert advice about battle sites in Vietnam, along with other information about the war.

Granada Television producers pursued an interview with Young after seeing him in a video of the Southern Miss Vietnam Studies program. "They saw him as someone that they had to have for their program," Wiest said.

Last December, Granada Television flew Young from Mississippi to England and taped interviews with him during his four-day visit.

"Veterans like John bring their insight into the war and then they (television producers) blend that with science," Wiest said. "He (Young) put the reality into it (the program). When they talk about search-and-destroy missions, he puts a face on the battles in this documentary."

Young has been involved in the Southern Miss Vietnam Studies program for seven years, and recently returned from his fifth trip to the country.

"I'm just proud to be a part of this program at Southern Miss," he said. "It's great to see it get this kind of publicity in this television series."

In his many trips back to Vietnam, Young said he has seen much progress in the land he left behind as a soldier, despite the absence of a democratic government.

"There has been serious improvements made to the infrastructure of Vietnam," he said, citing the construction of new roads and bridges, among other improvements. "Plus, everyone there is involved in some kind of business. Capitalism is rampant, but the government is still authoritarian."

The Southern Miss Vietnam Studies Program received the American Council of Higher Education Distinguished Credit Program Award last year.

"This (documentary featuring Wiest and Young) is testament to Dr. Wiest's internationally recognized stature as a scholar of military history, and particularly, the Vietnam War," said Susan Steen, director of the Southern Miss CICE. "The Vietnam Studies Program was created through collaboration with John Young and other veterans. Mr. Young has served as an invaluable resource for students and professors alike since the program's beginning. Through John Young's and Andrew Wiest's efforts, a new generation of students is coming to understand the war's impact on not only the United States and Vietnam, but the veterans themselves."


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June 21, 2004 12:44 PM