BILLINGS, Mont. -- Very powerful stories of 81 different Vietnam veterans are being told through an exhibit at the Western Heritage Center.
"We're giving the veterans the opportunity to speak for themselves. We're allowing their words to create a story and a realism for the Vietnam War and to slice through some of the complexity of that conflict and the political issues that were happening," says Community Historian Laura Hunley.
Through 79 individual interviews from the Billings Gazette, a diary of a Billings veteran, and letters written by a Hardin pilot who was killed in action, the Western Heritage Center encapsulates the sights and sounds of the Vietnam Conflict, at war and at home. According to the interviews, service men and women encountered very different experiences from 1965 to 1973 and from different areas of Southeast Asia.
"So how do we find common threads; how do we find a unifying theme and unifying thread that connects all those different experiences together. Every man had to experience basic training, every man had first impressions coming into vietnam, every man came under fire," she continues.
Lauren Hunley says the exhibit has made a great impact on veterans in Yellowstone County, and one veteran in particular was extremely moved by Vietnam Voices, "and I asked him, you know, how are you doing? Do you have any questions? And he goes 'well everything looks really great, I just need to go back and find that young man that I knew and tell him everything is going to be okay.' And I told him 'when you see him thank him for me' and I walked away and left him in the space."
Another veteran, Dave Wheeler, brought his son and grandson -- three generations of servicemen -- to the exhibit to share his experience fighting for his country.
"Were not sitting here and telling you what's important about the Vietnam War. We're not telling you what it was about. We're providing a space for the veterans to do that for themselves," Hunley continues.
The exhibit is open until the Western Heritage closes for the season on December 28th.