There’s a hat that Vin Tedesco sometimes wears when he’s out and about in State College.
It’s nothing fancy and doesn’t favor a beloved sports team or even pay homage to his Penn State heritage. The hat simply denotes his status as a Vietnam War veteran.
Reactions, if there are any, typically trend in the direction of gratitude — which in and of itself is different than it might have been 40 years ago, when Tedesco said that returning soldiers were advised to change out of their uniforms at the airport or were called names like “baby killer.”
“That, to me, is really the story of the Vietnam War— the way we treated our soldiers,” Tedesco said.
Courtesy of the magic of filmmaking — and an 80 percent scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall — some of that history will be revisited early this month.
That, to me, is really the story of the Vietnam War— the way we treated our soldiers.
The Traveling Wall will be open to the public from Oct. 5-8 at Penn State Innovation Park, bolstered by music from the Bellefonte Community Band and educational programming for local high school students.
“It’s not as massive as the real wall in Washington, but it’s very nice and very impressive,” Tedesco said.
The weekend’s programming will include a screening of WPSU’s new documentary “A Time to Heal.” Footage will begin rolling at 7 p.m. Oct. 7, opening with producer Lindsey Whissel Fenton’s trip to last year’s Veterans Day celebration in Bellefonte.
Additional interviews completed during the course of the film’s production became an emotional experience for those on both sides of the camera.
“Sometimes they would be crying. Sometimes I would be crying. It was hard for me,” Whissel Fenton said.
Almost as difficult was balancing the dual historical narratives at play — the war effort and the protesters back home.
Sometimes they would be crying. Sometimes I would be crying. It was hard for me.
Lindsey Whissel Fenton
In some ways, Whissel Fenton presented the perfect conduit for the audience. Young enough to have missed the war and the accompanying protests in their entirety, she was the closest the documentary could come to a blank slate.
“I really wanted her to do this, and she’s brave,” said Frank Christopher, the film’s co-producer.
Christopher, who spent his college years in opposition to the war, acknowledged that his own buttons could have been easily pushed.
Speaking to some of the veterans they interviewed for “A Time to Heal” didn’t necessarily change his mind — but they were still able to engage respectfully and with one another.
The hope is that the documentary can accomplish more or less the same thing.
“Part of what we do here is try and put things on record, put things on record so people can pass it on,” Christopher said.
Tedesco sat on the committee that helped bring The Traveling Wall to State College. His focus is on the veterans who continue to struggle with the aftereffects of the war.
A graduate of Penn State Army ROTC, Tedesco spent a year in Vietnam surrounded by men who had probably never planned on donning a uniform in their lifetime.
Regardless, he was never short on volunteers when it came to a mission that could potentially save the life of a brother in arms.
“What they wanted was to help their fellow Americans,” Tedesco said.