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Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (1987)

A documentary featuring letters written by U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines during the Viet Nam War to their families and friends back home. Archive footage of the war and news ... See full summary »


(as Bill Couturie)


(screenplay), (screenplay) (as Bill Couturie)

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Won 2 Primetime Emmys. Another 5 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mrs. Stocks (voice)
Elephant Grass (voice)
Great Sewer (voice)
Jack (voice)
Mike (voice) (unconfirmed)
Pfc. Raymond Griffiths (voice)
Johnny Boy (voice) (unconfirmed)
Fred Hirz ...


A documentary featuring letters written by U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines during the Viet Nam War to their families and friends back home. Archive footage of the war and news coverage thereof augment the first-person 'narrative' by men and women who were in the war, some of whom did not survive it. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


PG-13 | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

September 1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Dear America  »

Company Credits

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, ,  »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Mrs. Stocks: [In a letter to her KIA son, left at the Vietnam Memorial] Dear Bill, I came to this black wall again, to see and touch your name. William R. Stocks. And as I do, I wonder if anyone ever stops to realize that next to your name, on this black wall, is your mother's heart. A heart broken fifteen years ago today, when you lost your life in Vietnam. And as I look at your name, I think of how many, many times I used to wonder how scared and homesick you must have been, in that strange country called ...
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Featured in Siskel & Ebert: The Best Films of 1988 (1988) See more »


Written and Performed by Jimi Hendrix
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User Reviews

Once I Was
13 July 2006 | by (Van Buren, Arkansas) – See all my reviews

This is undoubtedly the best documentary about our involvement in Vietnam. Director, co-writer, co-producer Bill Couturié reteaches documentary hounds how it is done, following in the footsteps of such mighty mentors as Robert J. Flaherty. The only talking heads seen in "Letters Home...." are those from the era via old newsreels, TV broadcasts, Presidential addresses, Congressional comments, and such. "Letters Home...." also represents one of the best integrations of historical events with music from the period under study.

Couturie in being as objective as possible for anyone who lived through the Vietnam era, shows the horrors, political machinations, and atrocities of the war along side the bravery, patriotism, and sacrifice made by those young men and women who faced death on a daily basis. The unnecessary murder of students at Kent State by the Ohio National Guard is highlighted along side the letter from a grunt in Vietnam asking Americans to be as concerned about the thousands of their countrymen dying in the jungles of Southeast Asia as they are about the four who died in the Kent State massacre.

One sees first hand how a minor brush fire in a distant corner of the world becomes a conflagration that nearly destroys a great nation, how politicians such as the Texas anachronism Lydon B. Johnson and the paranoid Richard M. Nixon continue a conflict after it becomes apparent even to those fighting the war that victory has become an illusion. One thinks of those gallant Americans who continued to lay their lives on the line during the gradual retreat, knowing that the cause for which they were fighting was now fleeting.

The documentary consists of letters written home by America men and women serving in Vietnam. Tragically, most of the authors of the letters were casualties of the war. Many of the voices will be recognizable by the viewer because they are still actors and actresses who are currently making movies. Such dramatic readings add to the overall effect of this powerful film.

The heart of this documentary is paying tribute to American fighting forces who battled against all odds for their country and the freedom for which it stands. The ending is particularly moving with a letter from Mrs. Stocks left at the Vietnam Memorial, the Black Wall as she calls it, for her KIA son: "I would rather to have had you for twenty-one years and all the pain that goes with losing you, than never to have had you at all. -Mom."

Though the crux of the movie is dead serious, there is much humor strewn about to ease the effect of the brutal footage shown; otherwise, the documentary would have been much too morose to watch for nearly one and a half hours. One letter talks about the water tasting like p*ss; another from a wounded grunt tells his mother (can you believe?) that the bullet came too close to his pecker for comfort. There is also news footage of grunts clowning around in camp (one takes out his false teeth for the camera; another exhibits his less than adequate family jewels). The documentary begins with soldiers having fun surfing in the ocean as "Wipe Out" is played in the background. This is interrupted by Hughies peppering the ground with bullets. There is a respite from the horrendous shots of bodies floating in the Mekong as people cruise by nonchalantly in boats, with a Bob Hope show featuring beautiful young women and a rowdy audience of soldiers. One young man is asked by Bob Hope how he likes Miss India. Stumbling for an answer since he knows he's on camera, the nonplussed young man holds up his hand and says, "How!"

Too bad there is no soundtrack CD for "Letters Home...." Some of the best music from the Vietnam era, or from any era for that matter, is played to make the vintage film clips more meaningful, more relevant. Some of the standout tracks are: "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of the few Vietnam War protest rock songs of the day. "A Change is Gonna Come" by the legendary Sam Cooke, who was murdered at the height of his career by a jealous woman before the Vietnam War became a reality (his song is still prophetic for the war and for the Civil Rights Movement of the day, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" by the folk rock icon, Bob Dylan. "Are You Experienced" and "Five to One" by the equally legendary Jimi Hendrix, "Gimme Shelter" and "No Expectations" by the Stones, and the epitome of post-war re-evaluation, "Born in the U.S.A." by the Boss. Also included is the apocalyptic "Once I Was" by the neglected artist, Tim Buckley. The rest of the soundtrack is just as powerful and meaningful, with nary a clinker.

For those who lived through the tragedy of Vietnam, "Letters Home...." will bring back memories, both good and bad. To those who belong to a later generation of Americans, viewing "Letters Home...." will provide a better understanding of the Vietnam experience.

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