Inside the Vietnam Era Cyclorama.

Vietnam Era Museum & Educational Center

Field review by the editors.

Holmdel, New Jersey

There's nothing funny about the Vietnam War -- yet.

Statues at the Memorial.

Vietnam is a national nightmare that's still fresh in a lot of minds (though more recent national nightmares may threaten to sideline it). The was in southeast Asia is a flash point for a lot of old political animosities. That, plus the fact that we lost, makes 'Nam-themed attractions a tough sell for the vacation entertainment industry.

So it's not surprising that America's first museum exclusively devoted to the Vietnam War proceeds as cautiously as a gruntthrough a VC rice paddy. The museum is one huge circular room that chronicles the war's roots and phases, mostly in news photos and text descriptions. Video monitors juxtapose war footage with imagery back home (such as old TV commercials for cigarettes), and a central theater runs continuous documentary accounts of the war. The museum strives to tell the story from the perspective of individuals who "experienced the war firsthand." The inner ring features a procession of actual letters to and from the front lines. Along the outer railing are flip books of snapshots donated by vets and their families. All nicely arranged - did wemention it was designed by the same folks who did DC's Holocaust Museum?

During our visit, the gift shop featured tie-dyed T-shirts, "Make Love, Not War" bumper stickers, and smiley face jewelry. We noted this was not your typical military museum fare (like the basket of training grenades for sale at MD's Ordnance Museum), but have since heard from the museum that this goofy stuff has been removed. Typical.

The Vietnam Era Educational Center sits next to the NJ Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, visible from the Garden State Parkway as a squat cylinder of unfinished concrete. The Memorial has the now-standard black wall inscribed with the names of soldiers -- here all New Jerseyans -- who died in Vietnam. A larger-than-life sculpture of three soldiers -- a tasteful mix of races and genders -- dominates the sunken inner courtyard. Though this is a soldier's eye view of the conflict, you can almost hear the whisper of Nixon-era politicians: "Hey, if all America's soldiers were eight feet tall, we would have won that friggin' war...."

Vietnam Era Museum & Educational Center

Address:
1 Memorial Lane, Holmdel, NJ
Directions:
Garden State Pkwy exit 116. On the grounds of the Arts Center, just south of the amphitheater on a little side road, Memorial Lane.
Hours:
Tu-Sa 10 am - 4 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
732-335-0033
Admission:
Adults $5.
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November 21, 2018

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