Back in the late 1980s, HBO approached director Bill Couturie with a novel idea: To create a Vietnam War movie showing events from the point of view of the men who fought in it. The means of turning this concept into a film came from co-writer Richard Dewhurst, who showed Couturie a copy of the book Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam, originally published in 1985. The book is an anthology of letters assembled by the New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission, to which the director offered the profits from the film in exchange for rights to the letters.
To create this documentary, Couturie made his way through more than 2 million feet of footage from the NBC News library and 8-millimeter "home movies" recorded in Vietnam. He also gained access to Defense Department footage, some of which had until then been classified. He then took the video segments and matched them with fine precision to the collection of letters, which are mostly read out loud by well-known actors who performed for free. In cases, the producers actually matched the soldier being shown on screen with the author of the letter being read.
To this combination of visual and narrative, Couturie added songs that were popular during the Vietnam War era. Veterans had told him that their only connections to home, while stranded in a distant land, were letters exchanged with friends and loved ones and music heard over the radio. The result is a powerful production that, to the degree that this is possible, puts you there with the Americans who fought in Vietnam. The viewer is immersed in firefights, out on search and destroy patrols, with the G.I.’s as they goof around at base camp and patronize local entertainment venues. The scenes and the sounds are played back with amazing clarity, adding considerably to the sense of presence.
After beginning to watch, you don't want to turn it off — the action and flow of events draw you in and there's a feeling of not wanting to miss what happens next. Considered by many to be the best movie ever about the Vietnam War, Dear America - Letters Home from Vietnam won two Emmy Awards in 1988, one for Outstanding Informational Special and one for Outstanding Individual Achievement Informational Programming.