Documentary featuring UD Law professor honored by Library of Congress
By Tim Walker
Echoes of War is a documentary which chronicles University of Dayton law professor and Vietnam War veteran Tom Hagel’s return to Vietnam with his brother, Chuck, a former U.S. Senator from Nebraska. The film was recently honored by becoming one of the first acquisitions of the Library of Congress’s Vietnam Veterans Collections Campaign. The documentary, which was produced in 1999 by Nebraska Educational Telecommunications, features the Hagel brothers returning to the two sites in Vietnam where they nearly gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and will be included in the Library’s American Folklife Center’s Veterans History Project.
The two brothers served side by side in the same Army squad in Vietnam — the only American siblings who are known to have done so. Each was severely wounded in separate incidents — in all, Tom was wounded three times during his tour of duty, and Chuck was wounded twice. Each brother at one point saved the other’s life, and each left the service highly decorated. In 1999, when the two returned to Vietnam, a film crew went along to document their visit.
“At the time, my brother was a U.S. Senator,” said Tom Hagel by phone recently. “For a couple of years, he had talked to me about the possibility of going back … I wasn’t too enthused about it, but on this occasion, we were invited to participate in the opening of the first United States Embassy since the end of the war. Of course, when they came into Saigon they took over the U.S. Embassy there, and as this was the inauguration ceremony for the first new one since the end of the war, I thought that it was a good idea. A Nebraska affiliate of PBS sent along a film crew to make a short documentary about it.
“What they did,” he continued, “was they worked out an itinerary where we went to two of the various sites where we were wounded and so we walked through that and made our observations. We went back to the fire support base where we lived during that period of time, and then interspersed in there, within a studio they set up in Saigon, we had a dialogue with a reporter asking us questions and giving our observations on things.
“Frankly, I grew up with this idea that every generation had their war; and OK, this is our turn,” said Hagel in Echoes of War. “I think that’s why so many people, certainly from the Midwest, and us, went into it with the idea of it’s our duty. Our father did it, and his generation, the generation before that. We went into it, at least I did, unquestioningly.”
Dr. James Billington, of the Library of Congress, praised the Hagel brothers for their service and promoted the new campaign. Billington described the overall Veterans History Project as the most extensive oral history project in American history and noted that it already has collected over 78,000 interviews.
Professor Hagel’s brother, Senator Chuck Hagel actually co-sponsored the legislation that created the project in 2000 to collect, preserve and make accessible to the public the personal accounts of America’s war veterans, so that future generations may hear directly from them and better understand the realities of war.
Tom Hagel’s dedication to service didn’t end with his return from Vietnam.
After graduation from the University of Nebraska law school, he became a public defender in Lincoln, Neb. He also represented indigent clients at civil mental health commitment hearings. In addition to being a popular professor at the University of Dayton’s School of Law, he serves as an acting judge for the Dayton Municipal Court and he also works with the American Bar Association committee to train trial advocates.
One of the activities on Professor Hagel’s admittedly full plate is his work representing Disabled American Veterans, both as a commander of the Dayton chapter of that organization and as a commissioner on the Montgomery County Veteran’s Service Commission, a county resource of which he wishes more of the public was aware.
“Every county in Ohio has a Veteran’s Service Commission,” he said. “It’s mandated by legislation and it’s funded by property taxes. What it does is provides a host of services, including financial assistance for emergency situations for veterans and their families, clothing vouchers, food vouchers, rent assistance — all this for emergency situations. Plus, we have service officers that provide all sorts of assistance in terms of getting veterans benefits they’re entitled to through the VA and other organizations. It’s a wonderful, wonderful organization, and we keep trying to educate the public that we’re out there and we’re in the process of doing a better job. It’s a fantastic organization for veterans.”
Information on how to submit materials to the Veterans History Project can be found at www.loc.gov/vets. More information on the Montgomery County Veteran’s Service Commission and the services they provide can be found by calling (937) 225-4801.
Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.