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Special presentation of Vietnam film to be held at Mattituck-Laurel Library

The Mattituck-Laurel Library will host a special presentation of the film “Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam” — a documentary that takes a deeper look into the letters that were sent from battle during the Vietnam War, from numerous U.S. soldiers to friends and loved ones who were waiting back home for their safe return.

The film will be introduced by Vietnam veteran Robert Santos, one of the veterans instrumental in the construction of the New York City Vietnam Veterans Memorial which led to the production of the book “Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam,” and the film.

“What’s really powerful about the movie is that it uses archival film footage,” Mr. Santos said. “The purpose of the memorial, book and film is to communicate the message of the veterans forever. If there was nothing to label them as being from Vietnam, they could have been from any war. It’s a message that is universal about every war and about how powerful human beings are.”

The library will present the film at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22.

Mr. Santos is the former Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Co-Chairman of the Design Committee for the New York City Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which Mayor Ed Koch established in 1982. A national design competition was launched, and winning designers and the committee envisioned the memorial wall engraved with actual letters from soldiers in Vietnam. The quest for letters was announced in a New York Times article, and with the overwhelming amount of letters from soldiers that were received, a book of about 130 letters was created called “Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam,” published in 1985. Several years later, the book inspired a movie of the same name, which received two Emmy Awards in 1988.

“These letters were never planned on being read,” Mr. Santos said. “Our goal was to represent veterans; some lived, some didn’t, but all of them sacrificed and had an experience universal to war.”

Jerry Matovcik, reference librarian at Mattituck-Laurel Library, said that after the library celebrated “National Vietnam War Veterans Day” in March by honoring two local Vietnam veterans, Ron Breuer and John Ribeiro, the library had planned to show the film, but was unable due to the weather.

In what Mr. Matovcik called a “very happy coincidence,” he received a call from Mr. Santos, who recently moved to Mattituck. Mr. Santos told him the story of the memorial and his involvement, and proceeded to donate to the library “Everything We Had: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Thirty Three American Soldiers Who Fought It,” as well as a first edition of the book, “Dear America, Letters Home from Vietnam” on which the film is based.

“It’s a very moving film,” Mr. Matovcik said. “I originally picked it to show because Ken Burns already had ‘The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick,’ out, and I was wondering if there would be another Vietnam film, so I looked through our library system and saw this particular one. I borrowed it from another library and when I watched it, it was extremely moving, because they’re reading from the actual letters of these young men. In the sound track you hear voices of the soldiers, in the words that they wrote home. That was very moving.”

Mr. Matovcik said that the library wants to invite anyone from the community to attend the film to commemorate those who served and the 58,000 servicemen and servicewomen who gave their lives.

“Everyone is welcome to the viewing,” he said, “We would be very happy if all veterans could come, especially veterans from the Vietnam War.”

Photo caption: Vietnam veteran Robert Santos, left, and Mattituck-Laurel Library director Jeff Walden. (Courtesy photo)