At first, Nicholas Prevas Jr. was hesitant about talking to documentary filmmakers about his Vietnam War experience.
He’s 69 now, retired and living in Highland with his wife. They have two grown children and four granddaughters. His yearlong tour in Vietnam seemed such a long time ago.
“But the more I thought about it, I thought, ‘This is more than just my story,’” says Prevas, who served as a second lieutenant in the Army. “It’s about the infantry platoon I led. … It’s for the guys we lost. It’s their story too.”
Prevas is among 100 local veterans who recounted their war experiences for “Maryland Vietnam War Stories,” a three-part Maryland Public Television documentary airing from May 24 to 26. Each one-hour segment will air at 8 p.m. on Channel 22.
Inspired by a Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War, due to be released in 2017, and modeled after a similar project by a public television station in Wisconsin, the MPT broadcast will be followed by LZ Maryland, a commemorative event in June at the Maryland State Fairgrounds that is open to the public.
“The event will belatedly thank them for their service,” says Ken Day, the executive producer of the documentary. “Vietnam veterans were treated very poorly when they came home. People literally blamed the warriors for the war.”
About 130,000 Marylanders served in the military during the Vietnam War era, according to MPT.
Because many Vietnam veterans are now experiencing health effects from aging and exposure to Agent Orange, Day says, “We did feel a sense of urgency.”
Prevas was assigned to troop duty in the summer of 1969 and ordered to Vietnam, where he served in the 4th Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Regiment known as the “Old Guard.” By then, the U.S. was scaling back its commitment. But, Prevas says, “we still had the same area to cover. … We were disastrously short-handed.”
Some comrades were forced to patrol without a radio; claymore mines weren’t always disarmed properly; maps weren’t accurate; and patrols were longer, with fewer breaks.
“At my level, it was a harrowing experience,” says Prevas, who came home for Christmas in 1970 and went on to have a career in the Army Reserve and as a business analyst for the federal government.
Prevas still remembers being greeted by war protesters at a Seattle airport on his way home, and the general lack of interest about his war experience.
“No one was interested in hearing your story back then,” Prevas says. “I’m grateful for this. I think it will be educational.”
For more information on the documentary and the veterans involved, visit mpt.org/vietnam.