They were the men of "Charlie Company" -- Glenn Hindley, Gordy Lee, "Doc" Howe, "Killer" Gene Dunnock, Jorge Rivera.They weren't cleaver creations from some Mailersque typewriter, but breathing human beings from real American places, each of whom went reluctantly to fight in that far, green dream called Vietnam.
Eight years ago CBS News more or less randomly chose to report from Asia on these fragile heroes; tonight nearly a decade later, they're caught at home. The affecting one-hour documentary answers many questions, including why "Where are they now?" is still one of journalism's resonant questions.
There is no jungle of statistics to hack through here, no fog of government explanation though the show's last 10 or so minutes are given over to official and psychological views of the Vietnam vet). What the program mostly does is stick a microphone before eight former members of the First Air Cavalry Division, Company "C," and let them speak. CBS newsman Bruce Morton, the documentary's anchorman and chief reporter, travels across the country in search of their voices.
In a house trailer in Indiana, Morton finds Richard "Doc" Howe, the company medic. Doc Howe, the factory now and takes night classes in hairdressing. He thought about getting a job in a hospital, but there were too many bad memories. If Nam didn't bum him out, it hardly lit up his life. His wife, Johanna, says she still remembers how he'd get out of bed in the middle of the night, turn on all the lights and "just sit there" in the living room. It's better now, she says.
"Killer" Gene Dunnock is a roofer in the Virginia suburbs of Washington. He is 34 now, bone-thin, nervouslooking. His eyes seem to water when he speaks. "Not too many guys talk about it anymore, you know?" he shrugs. A moment later, he says: "A lot of my friends over there bought it . . . all the heroes are dead." Dunnock went to the Veterans Administration about medical aid when he got home; he says he got the run-around.
Gordy Lee lives in San Diego. He has put on weight and wears red polyester pants and chalk-white loafers. He has a family, too. They go out to fast-food joints a lot. On Monday nights, Lee lies on the living-room rug with a beer and watches football. Of the eight, he seems to have best made the adjustment to civilian life. But there are moments when he flashes bitterness.
The most moving portrait is of Jorge Rivera, who has lately left the slums of New York and gone to live outside Ponce, Puerto Rico. Rivera, who has never been able to find a job, is one of the war's casualties, "a wasted man," says Morton. Nobody quite knows what's wrong with him. The doctors vall it an "anxiety" condition. Sometimes he gets so nervous he thinks he could go crazy and kill people. "I've thought about blowing my own head off," he says tonelessly. Says Morton: "Vietnam made a kind of deal with Jorge Rivera. It gave him 13 ribbons and took away his freedom."
"Charlie Company at Home" is a microcosm of an experience still too much with us. It's not particularly bitter, and it's not particularly hopeful. It simply limns eight lives otu of 2 1/2 million in themssiest conflict since the Civil War. It is worth anybody's time.