The Vietnam War Documentary Series Overview


The Vietnam War is a 10-part American television documentary series about the Vietnam War written by Geoffrey C. Ward and directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

The first episode premiered on PBS on 17 September 2017. The script is by Geoffrey Ward, and the series is narrated by Peter Coyote. This series is one of the few PBS series to carry a TV-MA rating.


A comprehensive history of the United States’ involvement in the bitterly divisive armed conflict in Southeast Asia.


The series cost around $30 million and took more than 10 years to make. It was produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, who had previously collaborated on The War (2007), Baseball: The Tenth Inning (2010), and Prohibition (2011). The production companies were WETA-TV in Washington, D.C., and Burns’ Florentine Films. It was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The series features interviews with 79 witnesses, including many Americans who fought in the war or opposed it as Anti-war protesters, as well as Vietnamese combatants and civilians from both the North and the South.

Burns deliberately avoided “historians or other expert talking heads” and “onscreen interviews with polarising boldfaced names like John Kerry, John McCain, Henry Kissinger and Jane Fonda.” Instead, interviews were intended to provide a ground-up view of the War from the perspective of everyday people who lived through it. The third episode features an interview with retired UPI reporter Joseph L. Galloway, who was awarded a Bronze Star with “V” device for assisting with the wounded in the Battle of Ia Drang. Others interviewed include Vincent Okamoto, and Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, a popular collection of linked short stories about the war.

The researchers for the film also accessed more than 24,000 photographs and examined 1,500 hours of archival footage. Within the series’ 17-and-a-quarter-hours, there are scenes covering 25 battles, ten of which are detailed scenes documenting and describing the action from multiple perspectives.


  • Everett Alvarez, American navy pilot and POW from 1964 to 1973.
  • Nguyen Nguyet Anh, North Vietnamese Army truck driver.
  • Nancy Biberman, American anti-war activist.
  • Anne Harrison Bowman, American military family member.
  • Philip Brady, American military and NBC News correspondent.
  • Nguyen Thoi Bung, National Liberation Front officer.
  • Philip Caputo, US Marine Second Lieutenant and journalist.
  • Rion Causey, 101st Airborne Division medic.
  • Tran Ngoc Chau, ARVN Colonel and province chief of Kien Hoa, among other high-ranking roles.
  • Le Van Cho, North Vietnamese Army.
  • Max Cleland, First Cavalry officer.
  • Le Quan Cong, Veteran of anti-French guerilla campaigns and National Liberation Front.
  • Carol Crocker, Military family member.
  • Jean-Marie Crocker, Military family member.
  • Cao Xuan Dai, North Vietnamese Army.
  • Bui Diem, South Vietnamese ambassador to the US, among other high-ranking roles.
  • Huy Duc, Journalist.
  • Bill Ehrhart, US Marine.
  • Duong Van Mai Elliott, Viet Cong researcher, author.
  • Ron Ferrizzi, 1st Cavalry Division Helicopter Crew Chief.
  • Joan A. Furey, Staff nurse at the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku.
  • Joseph Galloway, Reporter for UPI.
  • Robert Gard, Military aide to Robert McNamara, retired three-star US Army general.
  • Leslie Gelb, Defence Department analyst.
  • James Gillam, Army Sergeant.
  • Phil Gioia, Army officer.
  • Donald Gregg, CIA.
  • Roger Harris, US Marine in I Corps.
  • Matt Harrison, US Military.
  • Victoria Harrison, Military family member.
  • Mike Heaney, Platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry (Airmobile) Division.
  • Stuart Herrington, Army intelligence officer.
  • Nguyen Thi Hoa, Nation Liberation Front.
  • Jan Howard, Country singer and military family member.
  • Le Cong Huan, Viet Minh and National Liberation Front officer.
  • Tran Ngoc “Harry” Hue, ARVN Lieutenant Colonel.
  • Samuel Hynes, WWII veteran, Swarthmore College and Northwestern University English professor during the war.
  • Le Minh Khue, Ho Chi Minh Trail repair worker, North Vietnamese Army journalist.
  • Hal Kushner, Army flight surgeon, POW.
  • Ho Huu Lan, North Vietnamese Army officer.
  • John Laurence, CBS News correspondent.
  • Pham Luc, Propaganda poster painter.
  • Karl Marlantes, Third Marine Division, author.
  • Craig McNamara, anti-war demonstrator, son of Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara.
  • Merrill McPeak, Fighter pilot, Air Force Chief of Staff.
  • John Musgrave, Third Marine Division.
  • John Negroponte, foreign service officer in Vietnam, aide to Henry Kissinger during peace talks.
  • Nguyen Ngoc, Viet Minh, military journalist, and political officer in the North Vietnamese Army.
  • Dong Si Nguyen, North Vietnamese Army commander charged with maintaining the Ho Chi Minh trail.
  • Bao Ninh, North Vietnamese Army, author.
  • Tim O’Brien, infantryman, author.
  • Vincent Okamoto, 25th Infantry Division officer.
  • Eva Jefferson Paterson, anti-war activist.
  • Rufus Phillips, Army officer, CIA officer, USAID official and State Department consultant.
  • Juan Ramirez, Marine.
  • Robert Rheault, Special Forces Colonel and commander of the Fifth Special Forces Group.
  • James Scanlon, South Vietnamese Army advisor.
  • Neil Sheehan, reporter.
  • Wayne Smith, combat medic.
  • Frank Snepp, CIA analyst and interrogator.
  • Nguyen Thanh Son, 174th NVA Regiment.
  • Lewis Sorley, Tank battalion executive officer.
  • Nguyen Tai, North Vietnamese spy, counterespionage officer in Saigon.
  • Lo Khac Tam, North Vietnamese Army leader.
  • Pham Duy Tat, ARVN Army General.
  • Tran Cong Thang, North Vietnamese Army combat engineer.
  • Lam Quang Thi, ARVN Lieutenant General.
  • Tran Ngoc Toan, South Vietnamese marines.
  • Jack Todd, Army deserter, author of “Desertion: In the Time of Vietnam”.
  • Nguyen Van Tong, National Liberation Front 9th Division officer.
  • Phan Quang Tue, Worker in the Office of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Saigon.
  • Nguyen Thanh Tung, Viet Minh and National Liberation Front.
  • Nick Ut, Associated Press photographer.
  • Juan Valdez, US Marine.
  • Thomas J. Vallely, US Marine corporal, founder of the Vietnam Programme at the Harvard Kennedy School.
  • George Wickes, Office of Strategic Services.
  • James Willbanks, ARVN advisor, career officer.
  • Samuel V. Wilson, General, headed of the USAID pacification programme.
  • Bill Zimmerman, Anti-war activist.

Home Media

The Vietnam War was released on Blu-ray and DVD on 19 September 2017. Extras include a 45-minute preview programme, two segments on the lives of two of the series’ participants, and deleted scenes. The series is also available for digital download, and can also be seen on Kanopy.


Accompanying the series is a 640-page companion book, The Vietnam War: An Intimate History by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns. Containing an introduction by Burns and Novick, it was published by Burns’ long-time publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, and released on 05 September 2017.



Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, current members of the band Nine Inch Nails, were tasked to score the series, and provide both original music and a compilation soundtrack of popular songs.

Soundtrack Album

The PBS website describes the series as featuring “more than 120 iconic popular songs that define the era”, including songs by then contemporary artists. Of these, 38 songs were selected for the series’ soundtrack album, which was released on 15 September 2017.

The Vietnam War Series

  • Episode 01: Deja Vu (1858-1961).
  • Episode 02: Riding the Tiger (1961-1963).
  • Episode 03: The River Styx (January 1964 – December 1965) (PBS version).
    • Hell Come To Earth (January 1964 – December 1965) (BBC version).
  • Episode 04: Resolve (January 1966 – June 1967) (PBS version).
    • Doubt (January 1966 – June 1967) (BBC version).
  • Episode 05: This Is What We Do (July 1967 – December 1967).
  • Episode 06: Things Fall Apart (January 1968 – July 1968).
  • Episode 07: Veneer of Civilisation (June 1968 – May 1969) (PBS version).
    • Chasing Ghosts (June 1968 – May 1969) (BBC version).
  • Episode 08: The History of the World (April 1969 – May 1970) (PBS version).
    • A Sea of Fire (April 1969 – May 1970) (BBC version).
  • Episode 09: A Disrepectful Loyalty (May 1970 – March 1973) (PBS version).
    • Fratricide (May 1970 – March 1973) (BBC version).
  • Episode 10: The Weight of Memory (March 1973 – Onward).

Production & Filming Details

  • Narrator(s): Peter Coyote.
  • Director(s): Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
  • Producer(s): Sarah Botstein, Lynn Novick, and Ken Burns.
  • Writer(s): Geoffrey C. Ward.
  • Music:
  • Cinematography: Buddy Squires.
  • Editor(s): Tricia Reidy, Paul Barnes, Erik Ewers, and Craig Mellish.
  • Production: Florentine Films, WETA, and National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • Distributor(s): PBS.
  • Release Date: 17 September 2017 to 28 September 2017.
  • Running Time: 1035 minutes (17 and 1/4 hours) total running time: 82-109 minutes per episode (PBS, with adverts) and 55 minutes episode (BBC, no adverts).
  • Rating: TV-MA.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English and Vietnamese.

Video Link


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