AMC will be showing classic American war films as part of its Memorial Day weekend “War Heroes” tribute and in between scenes, Silver Beach resident and former Marine Pat Devine will be telling viewers what the war experience was really like.
Devine, a Vietnam veteran and veterans’ affairs activist, sat down with veteran television journalist Tom Brokaw on Monday, April 25 to give his perspective on the combat experience.
The interview was filmed at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on the West Side Highway in Manhattan. Devine will be one of five combat veterans whose commentary will be juxtaposed into films such as ‘Apocalypse Now,’ ‘Patton’ and ‘Midway.’
The question of realism is at the heart of any war movie. Apocalypse Now will be the weekend’s main Vietnam movie. Devine saw it when it first came out in theaters in 1979.
“Maybe 25 percent of it was real,” Devine said. “All those movies, like ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ they touch upon what was happening, but it’s also a lot of dramatization.”
Devine, 63, and Brokaw, 71, talked a lot about the impact the war movies of their childhood had on them.Brokaw’s brother served as a Marine in Vietnam, and both agreed that those movies of the 40s and 50s glorified war to their generation.
“You thought you were John Wayne,” said Devine, who was 19 when he arrived in Vietnam in 1967, “until you got the first incoming round.”
Devine and Brokaw also talked about the experience of coming home from Vietnam and feeling alienated from society.
“Fortunately I came home to Throggs Neck, which was a very patriotic community,” Devine said.
Nevertheless, Devine had a difficult time adjusting to civilian life. He was still on active duty when he got back to the United States, so was sent to the Marine Corps Base in Quantico to train recruits.
When the 1968 riots broke out in Washington, D.C., Devine was sent to keep the peace. He began feeling like he was still in combat, even though he was back home.
“I just came back from Vietnam and here I was walking around the streets with a loaded M-14,” Devine said.
Devine believes Woodstock was one of the defining moments of his generation that helped him maintain perspective.
“What saved me was Woodstock,” he said. “It was just a party. Besides the music, the whole vibration was just peace. I didn’t get caught up in the peace demonstrations and stuff like that because I already did my time. Therefore, I was able to look at it differently.”
He was wounded in battle and drifted between about 20 jobs, unable to hold down a single one for an extended period.Devine didn’t realize at the time he was struggling with what’s now called post-traumatic stress disorder.
He is now the homeless chairman for the New York State American Legion, which referred the producers of the series tointerviewhim. Devine has an office in the Bronx VA Hospital and spends most of his time working with veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I make sure they don’t have to go through what we went through,” Devine said. “There was nobody there for us.”