TV REVIEW : ‘A Soldier Returns’ on Channel 7

“Normal people would not spend their first vacation in 11 years going back to the place where they got blown up in 130-degree heat,” sayT. Collins.

True, but Collins isn’t all that normal. After losing an arm and leg to a hand grenade in 1967, the Vietnam vet survived and succeeded, becoming the head of the California Conservation Corps under former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. and later a vice president of an investment firm.

His recent visit to the site of his ‘60s ordeal is documented in “A Soldier Returns,” airing Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on Channel 7.


A KABC-TV Special Presentation, the half-hour has its faults: It starts in hackneyed fashion with a quick review of the war’s history and slow-motion news footage; it’s narrated by Rege Cordic in a slick, sonorous style more befitting an oil-company promo; it doesn’t give us much insight into Collins’ feelings about the politics of or necessity for the war. The program’s too short and superficial to be a significant addition to the long line of Vietnam documentaries, movies, et al.

And yet . . .

“A Soldier Returns” is worth tuning in simply because Collins is a remarkable man who takes a definitely remarkable “vacation” and doesn’t experience quite what he expected.

Despite getting around on an artificial leg and with an artificial right arm, Collins reflects on his service in Vietnam and the changes there since the war with calmness and even forgiveness (and amused amazement at his former enemies’ friendliness), as well as, of course, great sadness--grieving more, though, over others’ losses than his own.

As a result, “A Soldier Returns” is involving and moving much of the time--even if, at the end, there’s an annoyingly vague attempt to make some summary “statement,” as the narrator intones: “Now, during this time of national healing, perhaps we are finally beginning to understand"--without going on to say what we’re supposed to suddenly be understanding after so many years of reflection and debate.

Despite this and other annoyances, “A Soldier Returns” is a valuable footnote to the vast Vietnam television archives, and producer Richard Swanson says the program is meant to “spearhead a drive to collect . . . funds” for a California Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Sacramento.