Big & Rich reach back to Vietnam for song and documentary film
July 3, 2006
By BRAD SCHMITT
“Big” Kenny Alphin, left, and his Big & Rich partner, John Rich, perform “8th of November” at the Academy of Country Music awards show last month. Active-duty soldiers saluted in the background as veterans of several wars walked onto stage during the performance. (MARK J. TERRILL/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Country duo Big & Rich isn’t really known for being tenuous.
So when the two started talking about a video for their Vietnam veteran song “8th of November,” no one was surprised when “Big” Kenny Alphin and John Rich wanted to make it in Vietnam.
Their record label and others in the duo’s camp thought it would be too risky and too expensive to send a full crew to Vietnam to tell the story of the song, career soldier Niles Harris’ tale of his platoon being ambushed by Vietcong Nov. 8, 1965.
But Alphin and Rich couldn’t shake the idea of taking Harris — a buddy they met in 2002 in South Dakota — back to Vietnam to the place where Harris and his comrades were outnumbered 30-1.
So they did. And they brought former TV host and Christian singer Gary Chapman and a couple of others along to take video of the trip.
The resulting documentary, “The 8th of November: A True Story of Pain & Honor,” will be shown for the first time on television at 8 p.m. Saturday on cable channel GAC (Great American Country). The film made its public debut with viewings at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum earlier this month during the CMA Music Festival.
The movie is part Harris’ story of returning to the battlefield, part documentary of the battle itself and part Big & Rich promotional piece.
In the film, Harris brings along the boots he wore Nov. 8, 1965, and he buries them with a quick toast and a quick remembrance of fallen comrades in the jungle where he lost so many.
Chapman also found and interviewed the Vietcong commander responsible for the attack and the Vietcong spy who led soldiers to the unsuspecting Americans.
Harris chose not to attend those interviews.
“He wanted to go honor his fallen comrades,” Chapman said. “He didn’t want to go create an act of international reconciliation. He did not choose to meet the commander who ambushed him.”
The film isn’t all heavy. Big & Rich go shopping, drinking, singing and goofing around in various parts of the documentary. In one of the odder moments, the former Vietcong spy puts on a Big & Rich T-shirt and grins for the camera. •