I'm an optimist. I was raised to believe hard, smart work will lead to success. But, today I find that optimistic theory tested. I'm not dejected by the economy or the wars or politics; my concern is for a little girl whose name is Anna Britt Nolan.
Until about a year ago I was the senior producer of "War Stories With Oliver North." While, working with Ollie I developed a fascination with the Vietnam War. Of all the many parts to that war, the one I find most appalling is the place its veterans have in America's history. In my mind, many have never been thanked for doing what their country asked them too. Couple that with the common misconceptions of what the war in Vietnam was like and you have an injustice that — to put it bluntly — turns my stomach.
I tried to produce as many episodes on Vietnam as I could. It's a team effort and in the end we produced eight or so hours on the war. In the process of that work I met Keith Nolan, 9-year-old Anna Britt's father. He called her Britt.
You must be wondering what any of this has to do with my optimism and Keith's daughter. Last year Keith was diagnosed with lung cancer. There is no explanation or reason. He didn't smoke. The doctors said it was genetic. On Friday I received the sad news. Keith had died. Keith Nolan will never see his little girl go off to college or fall in love. And she will never see the look of joy and pride in his eyes when those glorious days come. It is a cruel and painful twist for a man who sacrificed his own comfort and well-being to help correct and clarify the legacy of the Vietnam War.
Keith is to the history of the Vietnam War as Vietnam is to hot and humid. He published his first magazine article on Vietnam as a teenager, his first book at nineteen. All told, he wrote 10 books on the war. It didn't make him rich or famous, but it did fill him with purpose. Needless to say he was a great and eager resource.
The first time we met, Keith explained that his publisher was eager for him to write books on "popular" wars. He told me that they loved his writing, but Vietnam simply didn't sell. "Why not write about the Civil War", they said. I asked too. What Keith said is seared into my consciousness. We were in the living room of his small house waiting for the camera crew to set up. He looked me in the eyes and said, "If I don't do it, who will?" He went on to reveal feelings very similar to my own: That the veterans of that war deserve better and he was unwavering.
Despite doubters and nay-sayers he was determined to right a wrong. He poured himself into research and wrote some of the most detailed and honest accounts of the war in Vietnam. The legendary historian Stephen Ambrose said this of Keith Nolan's book "Ripcord: Screaming Eagles Under Siege, Vietnam 1970":
"Indeed, I've never read a better account of a battle, and I've never been prouder of the American fighting man, nor more scornful of his political and high-ranking military leaders. To those who want to know what it was like to be a grunt in Vietnam, I recommend Ripcord without stint or reservation."
Like I said, Keith was good and in his 44 years he did more than most people do in a lifetime.
And to Britt, whatever may happen, you should always take comfort in the fact that you are the daughter of a man who helped so many brave men come home for good. Your father was a great man and I will remember him forever.
Anna Britt Nolan Trust
c/o First Bank
6211 Midriver Mall Drive
St. Charles, MO 63304