“Radioman” Shows Veterans the Road Home Is Passable
Writings by a Humboldt County Vietnam veteran have inspired a play which not only is being produced locally but may be picked up for a much broader audience.
In 1968, Eureka native, Eric Hollenbeck was drafted and sent to Vietnam. He’s since returned and been at the Blue Ox Millworks for nearly five decades. However, the road home has not necessarily been smooth nor easily traveled.
In 1992, Hollenbeck wrote a series of poems cleansing his soul of some of the grief and memories that came flooding back that weekend. Those poems were published as “Uncle Sam’s Tour Guide to Southeast Asia.”
Then, through Hollenbeck’s coincidental friendship with producer Lester Grant, playwright James McManus became involved in 2015; and the theatrical production entitled “Radioman” has emerged from those poems and the stories of younger generations of returning veterans as well.
“Radioman” will be showcased at Del Arte Theatre in Blue Lake for two weeks in January. Hollenbeck says the January performances aren’t “Radioman’s” official premier because producers from larger cities will be at the local production to see the play and may opt to “pick it up.”
You Are Not Alone
Hollenbeck said from “Uncle Sam’s Tour Guide to Southeast Asia” through the writing and production of “Radioman,” he and his family have been on a long journey of recovery and homecoming. And Hollenbeck is clear about his mission, why it’s important, and why he hopes the play will be produced for a wider audience.
Hollenbeck said first and foremost he wants to tell “returning veterans ‘You are not alone. Many have traveled down this path before you, and many stand ready to help you with your journey home.’ ”
Secondly, Hollenbeck said he wants to inform family and friends of veterans so they can “understand this road the vet is on.”
“Trying to come back from that reality to this reality is a treacherous journey,” Hollenbeck emphasized. And he said that his wife, Viviana, and both his daughters have monologues in “Radioman” because the psychological wounds of war hurt them too.
War is Hell
When asked if he felt the Commander-in-Chiefs’ assignment of troops in Vietnam, and the many military actions since then, have been wise or ethical uses of the minds and bodies of United States military personnel, Hollenbeck said, “Now, you’ve asked the right question. That’s it right there.”
Referencing Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 18 hour documentary “The Vietnam War,” Hollenbeck said he couldn’t watch it because it never asked why the United States was involved in Vietnam. “That’s the only question in my mind.”
Hollenbeck said President Eisenhower warned us of the dangers of a standing military and the “military industrial complex” in his Farewell Address given in January 1961, just seven years before Hollenbeck would be drafted.
Then Hollenbeck quoted the last stanza of “Uncle Sam’s Tour Guide to Southeast Asia.”
And, as for the justness of any war,
One must never forget
War is as far from godliness
As we humans can get
Thus, pick this option carefully
With the weight of a heavy heart
For sanity is the casualty
The minute war does start.
The homepage at RadiomanThePlay.org describes the project’s evolution,
The Veterans Monologues Project
A Theatrical Production Built from the Writings and Stories of Veterans from Vietnam War to Today
While at a conference in Colorado in 1992 Eric Hollenbeck spent two days pacing back and forth along the streets with a small cassette recorder. As he paced, poems poured from him as he purged his memories of his time as a soldier in Vietnam. He served in the A Shau Valley in 1968 during some of the most intense fighting of the war. The poems took on the rhythm of his strides and became Uncle Sam’s Tour Guide to Southeast Asia.
With the inspired input of Lester Grant, of The Grant Collection, the concept of a play was born. Nationally known playwright James McManus was brought on board and met with and collected stories from many veterans in several cities. Jim traveled to Eureka to experience Eric, his wife Viviana, and the magical place they have created, Blue Ox Historic Village. Over pizza in the cook shack, Jim was welcomed by the veterans who were involved in the building of the Lincoln Hearse replica as they shared their personal take on war and life.
Radioman blends these stories which represent soldiers from the Vietnam War through to current military conflicts – across race, gender, rank and file. The stories from the jungles of Vietnam, the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, Blue Ox Historic Village and President Lincoln’s funeral procession and re-enactment, have love as a common theme. This is the love that allows the survivors and their families to make their journeys towards healing and redemption.
You can watch the Radioman trailer here.