It has been 50 years since the start of the Vietnam War, but for Rik Carlson, it seems like yesterday.
Now, a film about the Vietnam War highlighting this strong local connection is being shown at the Charlotte Grange at 7 p.m. Friday, May 24.
“My Father’s Vietnam” is a documentary about three soldiers in Vietnam. Only one of the three returned home. One of the two killed was Loring M. Bailey Jr., Carlson’s brother-in-law.
Filmmaker Soren Sorensen’s father Peter Sorensen was the one of the three friends who made it back to the United States alive.
Carlson manages The Little Garden Market on Ferry Road in Charlotte. He said that as Soren Sorensen grew up, he realized that his father didn’t talk about his time in Vietnam. However, on a trip to Washington and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Sorensen saw his father tear up when he recognized two names.
One was Bailey and the other was their friend Glenn Rickard. Eventually, the Sorensens sat down and talked.
“‘My Father’s Vietnam’ is about his father Peter Sorensen and his relationship with two other fellow soldiers and one was my brother-in-law,” said Bailey.
The Charlotte Library is co-sponsoring this film showing with the Charlotte Grange.
“Interviews with the filmmaker’s Vietnam Veteran father, and the friends and family members of two men he served with who were killed there, give voice to individuals who continue to silently carry the psychological burdens of a war that ended over 40 years ago,” a notice for the film reads. “‘My Father’s Vietnam’ carries with it the potential to encourage audiences to broach the subjects of service and sacrifice with the veterans in their lives.”
Dealing with the draft
Carlson was close to his brother-in-law. He was and still is deeply affected by the death of Bailey’s, whose friends called him ‘Ring.’ The nickname was not just a shortened version of Loring.
“His hair was a little long, which was adventurous for that time,” Carlson said. “We called him Ring for Ringo.”
Ring Bailey graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1976. He was an avid writer and won awards for his writing. He continued taking graduate classes in English while working as a technical writer for the electric boat division of General Dynamics Corporation.
Bailey was a keen automobile enthusiast, a passion he shared with Carlson, whose sister Maris, he was dating at the time. Carlson said they bought a couple of sports cars that needed work – a Austin-Healey “Bugeyed Sprite” for Bailey and a Fiat 1600 Roadster for Carlson – and they would work on their cars together.
“We were good friends right out of the gate,” Carlson said.
But it was the Vietnam era and once he was out of college, Bailey faced the draft.
“Ninety percent of the male population of my graduating class in college was in basic training within two weeks of commencement.” said Carlson, who went to Hartford College.
Carlson didn’t pass his physical. Rather than be drafted, Bailey enlisted in the Army in the spring of 1968. That fall, he married Carlson’s sister Maris. He was sent to Vietnam in the spring of 1969.
A Christmas present for the ages
For Bailey’s first Christmas in Vietnam, Carlson sent him a small metal model of a De Tomaso Mangusta, an Italian sports car.
Bailey was an avid letter writer and wrote many letters to his wife, his family and his friends.
From one of his letters that Christmas: “Huddled under my poncho trying to preserve the condition of my stationary, all thought of quality gone, writing while monitoring my trusty two-way radio, looking out at the little plastic Christmas tree that one of our machine gunners received in the mail and planted before his draped poncho. Put the little metal car (a detomaso Mangusta) that I carry in my pocket beneath the plastic tree and, lo and behold, we’ll have toys under the tree come tomorrow morning.”
On March 15, 1970, Bailey stepped on a landmine and was killed.
When his effects were returned to his family, they were all contained in a small box. Inside the box were Ring Bailey’s books, sunglasses, dog tags and the De Tomaso Mangusta toy sports car.
The recipients of Bailey’s letters compiled them into a book, “Calm Frenzy: One Man’s Vietnam War,” which was published in 2015.
In 2016, Sorensen released “My Father’s Vietnam.”
“A year and a half ago, I got a call from someone who’d seen the film,” said Carlson. The call was from Jerry Query who’s on the radio team for the Indianapolis 500.
The Indianapolis 500 runs over the Memorial Day weekend every year, and Querry invited Carlson and his family to be his guests for the race. Last year, Rik and his son David Carlson traveled to Indianapolis for the race, where the memory of Loring M. Bailey Jr. was honored.
And Carlson got a photo of Mario Andretti, the famous Italian-American racecar driver, holding the De Tomaso Mangusta toy car that he’d given Bailey for his Christmas present in 1969.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Carlson is living proof that the effects of that terrible war linger with family members of those lost, and “My Father’s Vietnam” is proof of the torment felt by those who survived.