Vt. man shares haunting memories of Vietnam War in PBS series

HARTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) "I think about the ambush almost every day," Mike Heaney said.

In a soft-spoken tone from his Hartland living room, Heaney recounts one of the most horrific days of his life.

"I lost about 10 guys in about two minutes and they were the only guys I lost in my platoon the whole time I was over there," he said.

An intense firefight in Vietnam that left this first lieutenant with a gaping wound in his leg and an even bigger hole in his heart.

"I want to tell my men's story, stories, I want to tell my story," Heaney said. "People need to know those things. We don't talk about the cost of war enough."

That cost is being uncovered in a multipart PBS documentary called "The Vietnam War." It is co-directed by Lynn Novick and New Hampshire's Ken Burns, who recently appears on CBS's "Face the Nation" to discuss the piece.

"Good storytelling someone once told me is and then, and then, and then. And so you just start at the beginning," Burns said.

Dozens of soldiers on both sides of the conflict are interviewed for the 10-part series, including Heaney. It's an 18-hour history that is as much about humanity as it is war.

"It is said that you fight wars twice: once on the battlefield and once in memory. And if you've got your camera there and you are sensitive to it, you can sometimes see the conflict and it is not always between armies, it is within a particular person," Burns said.

Reporter Adam Sullivan: What is it like emotionally to watch this documentary?
Mike Heaney: Well, I go through a lot of emotions as you might imagine.

Heaney says while he will never fully find closure in what he witnessed 50 years ago, the documentary helps by talking about the things that often go unsaid.

"It is human life that is wasted. Blood is shed. These are people's sons and now daughters who are lost. They are not boots on the ground," Heaney said.

He received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his valor on the battlefield. But it's the stories, now being told, that give him great pride. He says the documentary benefits society as a whole.

"I think if they force themselves to look at things like this film and see all the sadness and loss that is involved," Heaney said, "they might start going in a different direction."