Healing the Wounds of the Vietnam War

Two perspectives on the 20th-century conflict look back, five decades after the fighting stopped, to discuss what was lost and what is remembered today

Collage of older and younger photos of Col. Robert Certain
Retired Col. Robert Certain returned to the site of the Hanoi Hilton 50 years after he was freed from the infamous prisoner of war camp. Photographs by Yen Duong, Illustration by Emily Lankiewicz

Every Veterans Day, Jeremy Redmon thinks about his father, an Air Force veteran who survived more than 300 combat missions over Southeast Asia but later died by suicide when his son was 14. This year, Redmon traveled to Hanoi with a group of former prisoners of war, many of whom had flown the same missions as his dad. They were back in Vietnam to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their 1973 release, and Redmon asked them questions he was never able to ask his own father—about how they’d healed from the war and gone on to live rewarding lives.

On the latest episode of the Smithsonian podcast “There’s More to That,” guest host Jennie Rothenberg Gritz speaks with Redmon about the complexities of the Vietnam War, as well as his own experiences as a reporter in Iraq. He shared audio recordings from inside his father’s cockpit and explained the drama and terror of those moments. Then, Vietnamese American author Mai Elliott discusses her family’s experiences in both North and South Vietnam, and how her feelings about the conflict changed throughout the 1960s.

A transcript is below. To subscribe to “There’s More to That” and to listen to past episodes on J. Robert Oppenheimerthe OceanGate Titan disaster, Killers of the Flower Moon and more, find us on Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz: Hi, I'm Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, and I'm filling in for Chris Klimek. Just a heads-up that today's episode mentions suicide and the brutal consequences of war. Take care while listening.

I recently edited a story for Smithsonian magazine by Jeremy Redmon that took us back 50 years to the Vietnam War. The United States fought in Vietnam for more than a decade, trying to keep Communist forces in the north from taking over the southern part of the country.

The war was devastating. Death tolls were high, and the U.S.'s involvement in the conflict remains controversial. This year marks 50 years since President Richard Nixon pulled American troops out of Vietnam, leaving South Vietnam to fall to the North Vietnamese military. Now, with half a century gone, there are still amends to be made.

[Clip from President Joe Biden’s speech in Hanoi, Vietnam, on September 10, 2023]

President Joe Biden: Now, turning to the important visit here in Vietnam …

Rothenberg Gritz: President Biden recently traveled to Vietnam to speak on how the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Vietnam has changed and improved over the years.

Biden: This trip has been a historic moment. Today, we can trace a 50-year arc of progress in the relationship between our nations, from conflict to normalization.

Rothenberg Gritz: But geopolitical relationships are one thing. And personal reconciliation is another.

Jeremy Redmon: So my father served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He served in more than 300 combat missions over Southeast Asia during the war.

Rothenberg Gritz: Jeremy is a journalist who's covered conflict all over the world, but more recently he embarked on a different kind of reporting project. He traveled to the Vietnamese city of Hanoi with a group of U.S. veterans who had served at the same time as his father. He wanted to understand how these men had managed to live with their trauma and even learn from it, because he didn't get the opportunity to do this with his own father.

Redmon: His aim was to become a full colonel, but he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and took his own life when I was 14. So, a lot of the story is very personal to me, to learn about my father and the war he served in and the people he served alongside.

Rothenberg Gritz: While reporting on this story, Jeremy met another person who spent much of her adult life thinking about the aftermath of the war and how the turmoil shaped her family.

Mai Elliott: Vietnam has a long tradition of fighting to get rid of more powerful countries have come to take it over.

Rothenberg Gritz: Mai Elliott is a writer who was born in Vietnam to a family that faced generations of upheaval in their home country. Over centuries, Vietnam had been colonized by China, then France. Vietnam's internal struggle split Mai's relatives apart. In 1960, Mai left home to attend college in America. And by the time she returned three years later, things had gotten a lot worse. There had been a brutal military coup, and the United States had officially entered the conflict.

Elliott: I arrived back in Vietnam at the time when things were unraveling.

Rothenberg Gritz: All these years later, Mai says that many people in her life would rather not discuss what happened. That's part of why she's made writing and talking about the war a big part of her professional life.

Elliott: I think that the war left a lot of scars psychologically. But if you talk to them now, you don't hear it. When I went back to research my book in 1993, I had to really prod them to talk about that period of time. They had enough. They just wanted to forget it and move on.

Rothenberg Gritz: From Smithsonian magazine and PRX Productions, this is “There's More to That,” the show where we investigate the past to better understand the present. On this episode, on the occasion of Veterans Day and the 50th anniversary of the American POWs coming home, we'll meet two people from two families forever changed by the war in Vietnam. I'm Jennie Rothenberg Gritz. Let's begin.

[Clip from Donald Lee Redmon’s personal recordings]

Donald Lee Redmon's recording: Visual SAM, 7 o'clock.

Rothenberg Gritz: Jeremy Redmon moved around a lot as a young kid, because his father was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. The Vietnam War was among his father's first deployments.

Redmon: A big part of what's driven a lot of my reporting and curiosity is he never really talked about it. My thinking is, and I have no proof that he was ever diagnosed with some type of combat stress, but I have to believe it affected him and may have played a role in him taking his own life. He was never shot down, never held captive. I wonder if he didn't feel like he had the right to talk about it.

Donald Lee Redmon's recording: Turn left. Turn left.

Say again?

Turn it to the left.

Redmon: Part of my reporting to learn more about him and who he was, and, thereby, who I am, is to try to track down people who knew him. So I've been steadily going through tracking down people who served in his crew.

Rothenberg Gritz: By connecting with some of these people who served with his father during Vietnam, Jeremy was able to get his hands on a copy of this recording of his father from inside a B-52 bomber plane called Rose-1.

Donald Lee Redmon's recording: Your vector. They're way low. Keep clear up there, over. SAM, 6:30. SAM, 6:30.

Redmon: It's actually my father who recorded these recordings. And they're on cassette tapes somehow. I don't know how he did it. And I listened to it, and my heart kind leapt out of my chest when I heard my father's voice on it.

Donald Lee Redmon's recording: Stay on the right turn. Guard. Your vector. 2-4-0. Over. OK, no problem.

Redmon: He's really steady. While these surface-to-air missiles are coming up at them from North Vietnam.

Donald Lee Redmon's recording: You can start your turn now. Visual SAM. 12 o’clock.

Redmon: My father's job on the B-52 was as an electronic warfare officer. And what that basically means is his job is to try to keep their plane from getting hit. So he had these devices that could track these surface-to-air missiles. The signals that the North Vietnamese were sending at the missiles to direct them toward the B-52 called uplinks. And then what they call target-tracking radar, which is the signals the North Vietnamese were using to lock on to the B-52s to track them. So I can hear my father on this radio traffic saying:

Donald Lee Redmon's recording: 7 o’clock, 7 o’clock. Multiple uplinks.

Redmon: And I can hear him say “uplink,” which is the worst word you can hear, because that means that there is a missile coming at them, and the North Vietnamese are directing it at their B-52.

Donald Lee Redmon's recording: SAM, 3 o’clock. Low. White one. That's a strike.

Redmon: It was pretty powerful to hear my father's voice on these recordings. And it helped me understand what he endured, what he experienced.

Rothenberg Gritz: This recording was from December 18, 1972. The mission was called Operation Linebacker II.

Redmon: The mission then-President Richard Nixon ordered to try to force the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table and free the POWs. There were hundreds of Americans being held at the time. And they were bombing over Hanoi to a large extent, trying to destroy their infrastructure to wage war. Bomb supply lines, et cetera. The bombing campaign stretched for 11 days.

Rothenberg Gritz: Jeremy was able to get in touch with several of the men that flew during Operation Linebacker II. 

Redmon: And part of their trip was to revisit the Hanoi Hilton, where a number of them were held.

Rothenberg Gritz: The Hỏa Lò Prison, ironically nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton, was notorious for the extreme torture that went on inside. The veterans were planning to return there exactly 50 years to the day from their release. None of them had been back since.

Redmon: I knew that this was a story I wanted to tell, but it'd also be a way that I could learn about who my father was.

Rothenberg Gritz: Could you briefly just tell us about the Hanoi Hilton? What was that prison?

Redmon: The French who had colonized Vietnam built it. And it was a way for them to imprison Vietnamese dissidents, what became essentially a prison camp for American POWs. When the POWs went and visited, and I was shadowing them, a lot of what they remember is gone. But there are these exhibits including real artifacts from when it was used to detain Vietnamese dissidents. There are some artifacts of, say, the prison uniforms the Americans wore. There's photographs of John McCain. There's some of the dishes they used while they were prisoners. And there’s placards retelling the history.

Rothenberg Gritz: One of the POWs Jeremy traveled with was retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Robert Certain, who was detained and interrogated in the prison.

Redmon: And it was striking to see Robert find his name and say, "There I am." That was really powerful. His wife actually had more of an emotional response to it. He'd certainly gone through years of therapy and processing his trauma. But Robbie, his wife, had really only heard stories about it. She'd never seen it for herself. And she told me while we were there, she had such a terrible headache from the trauma she was witnessing and the anger and sadness she felt being there.

Rothenberg Gritz: Jeremy watched as some of the service members posed for pictures in front of the place they were once held captive. Then there were more photos taken on the return journey out of Hanoi.

Redmon: Toasting champagne to their freedom, but also to the service members who never returned home from Vietnam.

Rothenberg Gritz: You talked about how so much of why you went on this trip was to understand your father better. Was there anything specific or any moment you can recall where something clicked for you in a different way than before? When you thought, “Oh, this is what my father went through?”

Redmon: There was a moment when Yen, the photographer, was driving her moped. We're racing through and zigzagging through traffic, which can be a little harrowing. And that's why I was teasing her about it. I'm holding on to the back of the seat with both hands. And she's driving; I’m trying not to fall off. And it occurred to me that at any several points that I was directly below where my father was flying during the Vietnam War. And if there was a metaphor I could use … that maybe there was some beam of light between him and me, connecting us at those moments. I wish my father was there on that trip with me to see what I was seeing; to see these POWs and their perseverance.

Rothenberg Gritz: One of the really moving parts of the piece is that these men, especially Robert Certain, seemed to take kind of a fatherly attitude toward you. That they understood what you'd been through with your father. Can you talk a bit about what that was like for you?

Redmon: Yeah, that's a good description for it. I felt they were paternal in a good way with me. I'm a lot younger than them. They're in their 70s and 80s. And I was very upfront with them about my personal connections to the story. I told them about my father. When I met Robert Certain at his home in San Antonio, I showed him a picture of my father and his flight suit. I showed him my father's DD214, which is his military separation record. It showed where he was and his service and the commendations he received. I wanted to be upfront with him about that I had a personal connection to this story and that was part of what was driving me.

And I think they understood. They were very supportive and kind. And I think one of the moments that exemplifies that the most is deep into the interviews with Robert Certain at his home. We were sitting in his living room. He reached out to shake my hand. And I was so focused on my job as a journalist interviewing him, I didn't know what he was doing. But I should have known because I've been through this sort of ceremony before as an embedded journalist where they will reach out to shake your hand. And inside of his palm was a challenge coin that he had custom-made and designed.

Rothenberg Gritz: A challenge coin. Can you just explain a bit what that is?

Redmon: Yeah, it's a medallion that's like a sign of comradery or friendship. And so when he shook my hand, in his palm was this gift that he was giving me. That to me signified just sort of the support and the paternal approach that they had with me, which I really appreciated.

Rothenberg Gritz: Do you find on Veterans Day that you're thinking about your father, especially in talking about him with people?

Redmon: Yeah. On Veterans Day in past, I would certainly think about my father. Early on, it was pretty painful. I'm more comfortable talking about it now. I believe it's actually important for me to talk about it. Talking about it helps reduce stigma. Not talking about it actually does more harm, in that it keeps people in isolation and alienated. So yeah, probably this Veterans Day, I will be talking about it more.

Rothenberg Gritz: When Jeremy was writing this story, he reached out to Mai Elliott, who you heard at the top of the episode. Mai was born in Saigon in 1941 toward the end of France's 150-year colonial occupation of Vietnam—or French Indochina, as it was called at the time. Her book The Sacred Willow, which told the story of four generations of her family, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Redmon: She was in Ken Burns' series about the Vietnam War, which is really fantastic. And I was like, “I’ve got to talk to her.” So I reached out to her. She was key, absolutely key in my reporting, to include what I thought was crucial to reflect the views of the North Vietnamese people who experienced the war and Operation Linebacker II. And she wrote about a number of her cousins who survived it, including one who she put me in touch with. And we spoke at length about what it was like those days on the ground during this bombing campaign.

Elliott: One of my father's older brothers had a piece of land which he farmed in the region under Communism. So that's why I had nephews and cousins and so on who were in North Vietnam during the war.

Rothenberg Gritz: I was able to speak directly with Mai Elliott about what her family endured during those 11 days of bombing by the U.S. military.

Elliott: Now, B-52s could rain bombs. I don't know how many bombs they could rain down, but a fleet of them were raining bombs down. So it was very terrifying. It wasn't just a sporadic bombing. It was sustained bombing for days. And nobody knew when it was going to end.

Rothenberg Gritz: There are a number of stories from your family that you wrote about in your book, but one of them that really sticks with me was about a little boy who was a cousin of yours.

Elliott: Yes. So these bombs, from what relatives told me, were enormous. The explosion was so strong. The power of the explosion could asphyxiate you if you're close enough. So my relatives told me that this boy was hiding in the stairwell of his family house, which he shared with several other families because Hanoi was very … Hanoi was just very crowded. And people just crammed together in a house.

But anyway, in those days, North Vietnam was very poor. And having a bicycle was like having a Cadillac in the United States at the time. So he took his bicycle, his most prized possession, with him to hide under the stairwell. But unfortunately, he was living near a power plant, which was a target of the B-52s. So when the bombs exploded, according to my relatives, he suffocated to death and they found him still standing, holding on to his bicycle.

Rothenberg Gritz: Now, something Jeremy explored a bit with your relatives and others is just: How does the family heal from that? I mean, overall—the generations, even. How have the Vietnamese people been able to move on when those stories were so common, especially in Hanoi?

Elliott: Yeah, well, people were glad that the war was over. They just wanted to put it all behind them and move on. The country was facing a huge job of reconstruction. Their minds were really focused on how to rebuild their lives. And Vietnam was still struggling. It was very poor. Just trying to stay alive in those days after the end of the war was pretty tough. And then the United States ended its embargo. Foreign investments began to pour in. The economy revived. There were opportunities just to make your life better. So people just wanted to move on. They wanted to take advantage of these opportunities and look ahead, making sure their children had a good education and a good future. Things like that.

Rothenberg Gritz: Mai says that reconciliation is more complicated for the people of Vietnam because of the many years of deep division within the country. One hundred and fifty years of French colonization followed by two decades of civil war split families apart.

Elliott: Because in Vietnam, the Vietnam War was also a war between Vietnamese. It was not just the Americans against the Communists; it was Vietnamese against Vietnamese. Communist versus non-Communist. So it was more complicated because it was an internal war.

Rothenberg Gritz: Mai saw these divisions within her own family growing up. When she was still young, her sister and brother-in-law joined the Communist fighters in an effort to get rid of the French. When Mai was a teenager in 1960, she decided to leave the country and enroll in college in the United States.

Elliott: I just became enamored with American culture. And didn't know much about the United States, but I just found it a fascinating country. Although my peers and my teachers at the French school were all yearning to go to France to continue their education, I became determined to get to the United States to study and get to know the country I admired so much. And, luckily, I got a scholarship from the USAID commission and went to Georgetown in Washington, D.C., where I got my bachelor's degree.

Rothenberg Gritz: So when you actually got to Washington, D.C., did it live up to what you were hoping it would be?

Elliott: Well, it did and did not. What was shocking to me was the fact that the United States was still segregated. All I had to do was go across the bridge into Virginia and I could see segregation firsthand. So that was disconcerting. But the rest was just wonderful, because for the first time, I had freedom. I had a place of my own, even though I was sharing it with roommates. But it was just exhilarating. And it was a time also Kennedy had been elected. And at that time, there was just this feeling of optimism and feeling of a sense of mission for the United States to help poor countries. I used to stand outside Kennedy's Georgetown townhouse, hoping to get a glimpse of him. I was sharing in that euphoria that a lot of Americans were feeling at the time. So it was very exciting.

Rothenberg Gritz: Did you feel like your background let you see certain things that some of your classmates, or even your professors, couldn't see about global politics?

Elliott: Well, the only thing was that they were not familiar with Asia, especially Vietnam. And most people I encountered didn't know where Vietnam was, which was surprising to me, because the United States was getting more and more involved in Vietnam at that point. And yet, most people were not really aware of where it was.

Rothenberg Gritz: That's amazing to think about now, because obviously it became very important in American history.

Elliott: Yes.

Rothenberg Gritz: Mai returned to Vietnam in 1963.

Elliott: Not long after I returned to the country, I didn't have a job. I had a degree from Georgetown in international relations. I majored in international relations because I wanted to become a diplomat. But at that point, my husband and I were in the process of getting married. And there was a lot of antagonism to women marrying foreigners.

Rothenberg Gritz: Mai's husband, David Elliott, is American.

Elliott: It's part of our tradition, because the country was occupied so often by foreigners. So women who went out with foreign men or married them were not welcomed in society. I knew that I would not be accepted into the foreign ministry and sent overseas. So I was just casting around for a job.

Rothenberg Gritz: The job she ended up finding was very unexpected. She was hired to interview Vietnamese prisoners of war for the Rand Corporation. Rand is a research group and think tank, mostly funded by the U.S. government.

Elliott: I was hired mainly because I was bilingual. I could go interview the Vietnamese prisoners and defectors. And I could write up my interviews and translate them and so on. And I was analytical with a degree from the United States.

The project was called the Viet Cong Motivation and Morale. And it originated in the Defense Department. Some people said it was Robert McNamara who asked the question, “Who are the Viet Cong? And why are they fighting so hard?”

Rothenberg Gritz: Robert McNamara was the secretary of defense from 1961 to 1968.

Elliott: And that led to the Defense Department hiring Rand to find answers to this question, “Who are these Viet Cong? Why are they fighting so hard?” Because McNamara was intrigued. The United States had been in Vietnam for several years now, funding the war efforts, sending advisors and so on. And these insurgents were not giving up. Actually, they were getting stronger. They were threatening to cut the country in half because they were attacking and winning so many battles. So, anyway, that was the genesis of the project, to try to find answers to this question.

Rothenberg Gritz: Did you find any answers that helped at least give some insight into that?

Elliott: So when I started, all I knew was that the Communists were people we didn't want to win because they would persecute or even kill people like us. I was extremely opposed to Communism. And my impression was that they were fanatics. They were not well educated. Mostly peasants who didn't know what they were doing. They were hoodwinked by the Communist propaganda. That was my perception.

But when I started interviewing the Viet Cong who were either captured or had defected, I learned that the picture I had in my mind was not right, because these people who joined, they did so out of grievances—and there were a lot of grievances. Shelling and bombing of their villages, killing their relatives, a sense of injustice, being oppressed, a sense that they wanted a government who would bring justice and economic equality to the poor. They were not ignorant people. They joined for a specific purpose and for specific reasons. That opened my eyes, but it also worried me, because I knew that the insurgency had deep roots in the countryside because of these issues of the government had not addressed.

Rothenberg Gritz: During that time, Mai also had a memorable visit to a hospital where she got an even better sense of what the war was doing to people.

Elliott: So what happened to me was that Martha Gellhorn, one of Hemingway's wives—

Rothenberg Gritz: Yeah, a great foreign correspondent.

Elliott: Yes, she came to Vietnam to do a piece on the war. But, you know her, she didn't want to focus on the fighting or anything. She wanted to see what the war was doing to people.

For some reason, she came down to the Mekong Delta where my husband and I were living at the time. And she wanted somebody to help her go to the hospitals to see what war is doing to people. So I went with her. And I went to the hospital with her, and I was shocked. [That was the] first time I saw what war was really doing to people. And I think that was really the catalyst that made me begin to change my mind about the wisdom of prolonging the war.

Rothenberg Gritz: Do you feel like anything really changed in foreign policy as a result of the Vietnam War that was really significant?

Elliott: I think for a long time the United States was very reluctant to enter into a foreign conflict without knowing what the stakes were on the ground. Because, in Vietnam, it made the wrong decision. I think it intervened in a war between two groups of Vietnamese who wanted different outcomes, a different government, a different society for their country. And it looked at it purely as a war between communist bloc and the free world at the time. So it kind of misjudged the situation.

And I think the end of the draft in the U.S. had to do with Vietnam, because the draft was so unpopular. Young people were being drafted and sent to fight in a foreign conflict a long way away for very dubious reasons. Toward the end, it was very futile.

Rothenberg Gritz: Mai and her husband left for Taiwan in 1967, but they returned to Saigon for a holiday a year later. During that trip, they got caught up in one of the most infamous episodes of the Vietnam War.

Elliott: We decided to go back to Vietnam for Tết, the Lunar New Year. And we were caught in the Tết Offensive in 1968. It was the first time that the Viet Cong penetrated deep into Saigon. Because before they had set off bombs and so on in Saigon, but it was the first time that the units actually got into Saigon and even attacked the U.S. Embassy in downtown Saigon.

And there were rumors that assassination squads were going around killing officials who worked for the government. So my parents were very scared. They thought the Viet Cong were roaming our neighborhood looking for people to assassinate. So they closed the doors and windows. And it was a scary time when new people were getting maimed and killed. I have seen it firsthand, because Saigon could be very insulated. Amazingly enough, a lot of people in Saigon never saw much of the war. If anything, the Tết Offensive was the closest they ever came—and the bombings. Occasional bombings in the street. Or, later on, rockets. But they never personally experienced the war.

Rothenberg Gritz: Mai says that the legacy of the end of the war is still very complicated when it comes to Vietnamese Americans. The United States admitted around 300,000 Southeast Asian refugees who formed new communities in places like Orange County, California, close to where Mai lives today. Many of the people who fled had fought for South Vietnam against the Communist forces in the North.

Elliott: There's still a sense of antagonism. There were Vietnamese veterans’ organizations that are very strongly anti-Communist. And they would still be fighting the war. They can't accept that their side was defeated. And every year on April 30, the day when the North took over the South, the end of the war, even now, every year on April 30, there's a celebration of what they call the “day of national anger.”

So April 30 is celebrated in Vietnam as the day of the end of the war. They used to call it Liberation Day, but I think they've softened it. I don't know what they call it now. But in enclaves of Orange County or Houston, it's a day of mourning—a day of anger that we lost. So it lingers. It's very complicated.

When my book came out, it was not welcomed in Orange County. I try to be objective, talking about the good and the bad of all sides in the war. But because I was not 100 percent anti-Communist, my book was not welcomed. But the younger generation looks at my book differently. They're more accepting of what happened. And they could see my views.

Rothenberg Gritz: I think young people in general, if left to their own devices, do want to understand the world and understand history.

Elliott: So this was interesting, because before Ken Burns released his documentary on the Vietnam War, he made a tour of different parts of the country to promote his upcoming film. So I was part of some of that tour. So in Pasadena one time, he was showing clips from his documentary to a group of Vietnamese Americans, like community leaders and so on. And there were many … I can't remember the exact number, but maybe 20 young Vietnamese Americans there. And afterward they came up to me and we talked. But what attracted them was that they wanted to know more about what happened. Their parents don't want to talk about it. Some of them told me, “My parents don't want to talk about it. They never talk about it.” So they were grateful to have a chance to learn more about what happened, what their parents might have gone through. And so they were much more open to learning what actually happened.

I think it's the generation of the war, the ones who were still bitter. The generation of refugees. They’re still clinging to that antagonism and that anger. But the younger ones are more accepting. At least the ones that I've spoken to, they're much more open to accepting what happened. Or at least to learn what happened.

Rothenberg Gritz: If you or anyone you know is exhibiting thoughts of suicide, reach out to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. You can also text “Hello” to 741741. You'll find this information in our show notes, along with a link to Jeremy Redmon's article about his reporting in Vietnam.

Listeners of the show will know that we end each week with a dinner party fact. This is a conversation starter from the pages of Smithsonian to have on hand the next time you need to get people talking at a group gathering. This week's fact is timed for Thanksgiving.

Brian Wolly: My name is Brian Wolly, and I'm the digital editorial director for Smithsonian. This week's dinner party fact is a fact about, well, dinner. Even though the first Thanksgiving meal happened 400 years ago, when the menu was not turkey and mashed potatoes but wild foul beans and chestnut, the label—Thanksgiving—wasn't used for another two centuries.

In a new video we produced for the site, I learned that it was the 19th-century Boston clergyman Alexander Young who named that 1621 meal the “First Thanksgiving” in his footnote annotation of a letter written by a pilgrim and Plymouth. And with that, a new tradition was born.

Rothenberg Gritz: “There's More to That” is a production of Smithsonian magazine and PRX Productions. From the magazine, our team is me, Chris Klimek, Debra Rosenberg and Brian Wolly. From PRX, our team is Jessica Miller, Genevieve Sponsler, Adriana Rozas Rivera, Ry Dorsey and Edwin Ochoa. The executive producer of PRX Productions is Jocelyn Gonzales. Our episode artwork is by Emily Lankiewicz. Fact-checking by Stephanie Abramson. Our music is from APM Music.

I'm Jennie Rothenberg Gritz. Chris will be back next episode.

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