Press Release

Back to Regret to Inform

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 20, 1999

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War Widows from the U.S. and Vietnam Join Forces for Five City Tour to Mark 25th Anniversary of the End of the War


Widows Featured in Academy Award-Nominated Film Regret to Inform Call for Peace in the New Millennium, Announce Creation of International War Widows' Memorial and Network for Peace


WHO:     Barbara Sonneborn, Director, Regret to Inform, Berkeley, CA
Nguyen Thi My Hien, MD, Director, Thanh Xuan Peace Village, Hanoi
Xuan Ngoc Nguyen, Southern Vietnam and Portland, OR
Norma Banks, Vallejo, CA
Lula Bia, Navajo Nation, Window Rock, AZ
WHERE:     San Francisco (Jan 5, 10)
Los Angeles (Jan 17, 18)
New York (Jan 12, 13, 14, 21)
Washington, DC (Jan 19, 20)
Seattle (Jan 11)


SAN FRANCISCO, CA — War widows from all sides of the American-Vietnam war are coming together for an unprecedented five city U.S. tour this January, almost 25 years after the last U.S. troops were airlifted out of Vietnam. They will share stories that highlight the long-lasting legacy of war, and call on other widows of war to join them in campaigning for peace in the new millennium.

"You tend to think that after the bombs have stopped dropping, the war is over," said Barbara Sonneborn, of Berkeley, Calif., who is leading the tour. "But in reality, the end of a war is just the start. Our hope is that by telling our stories and building a network of widows of war from around the world, none of our grandchildren will experience the horror of war and bereavement. Our real enemy is war, not each other, and that's why we're calling on our governments to have the courage to seek another way."

On her 24th birthday, Sonneborn awoke to find the U.S. Army knocking on her door. The news rocked the foundation of her world: her husband and childhood sweetheart, Jeff, had been killed in action in Vietnam. Twenty years later, Sonneborn, an artist and photographer, felt moved to travel to the country where her husband died and learn more about the war that had taken so many lives.

What began as a personal journey to trace her husband's steps through the war-torn jungle of Vietnam evolved into a powerful testimony to the shared experience of widows on all sides of the American-Vietnam War. The result was the Academy Award-nominated film Regret to Inform, a gripping and beautiful documentary that will air nationally on PBS's forum for independent non-fiction filmmakers, Point of View (POV) on January 24th, 2000.

But for Sonneborn and the other women, the film was just the start. The experience of meeting each other and of telling their stories after so many years was so profound, they say, that they felt propelled to reach out to other war widows and build new, international connections that they hope will become a powerful force for peace.

"War is going on all over the world, even if Americans are removed from it," says Dr. Nguyen Thi My Hien, a widow and a pediatrician from northern Vietnam. Hien sees the ongoing effects of the war every day in Hanoi, where she works with handicapped children, some of whom who suffer birth defects as a result of the spraying of Agent Orange. "As we approach this "season of remembrance", says Hien, "my message to widows of war in Vietnam and across the world is that we must do all in our power to let the world have peace."

"As much as I want to bury the war, I think the truth needs to be told," says Norma Banks, an African American mother-of-two from Vallejo, California, who lost her husband to Agent Orange-related cancer in 1989. "The effects of this war will go on for generations and it will take that long for our scars to heal. Our men fought the war, and they were the soldiers. But the widows, we are the warriors and we have a new battle to fight, making sure this never happens again."

"Talking to other widows, I saw we are the same," says Xuan Ngoc Nguyen, who lost her South Vietnamese home and her first husband and was forced into prostitution during the war. "We both lost a loved one. We are not enemies, war is our enemy. The best gift I received is to be able to talk to widows in the North, woman to woman." Nguyen now lives in Portland, OR.

As the first step in their new campaign, the widows are building an interactive, on-line International Widows of War Memorial where war widows from around the world will register their names, share their stories and launch a campaign for international understanding and peace. As they travel the U.S. this January, the women will reach out to other widows of war and encourage them to contribute to the Memorial by registering at www.warwidows.org or calling 1-877-END-WARS. The Memorial will launch on April 30, 2000, the actual anniversary of the end of the war.

Sonneborn will travel to New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, DC with Xuan Ngoc Nguyen, Norma Banks, Nguyen Thi My Hien, Lula Bia, a widow, teacher, mother and member of the Navajo Nation from Window Rock, Ariz., and Janet Cole, Executive Producer of Regret to Inform. On the tour, the widows will be honored at museums and libraries and will meet with students, community groups, veterans and reporters.

Other events and activities that will take place during the "Season of Remembrance" (January - April 2000) include a Television Race Initiative facilitators' guide to Regret to Inform which is being distributed to local community groups by over 180 PBS affiliated stations in conjunction with the January 24th POV broadcast of Regret to Inform; a series of American Library Association events in libraries around the country; and a National Asian American Telecommunication Association website called "Letters from the Heart." On April 30, communities in both countries will commemorate the official withdrawal of the U.S. troops.

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