Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’: Black US Vietnam veterans talk importance of highlighting their plight

"We're second-class citizens"

African American Vietnam veterans have discussed feeling neglected by the US after running to its defence, with parts of their war experiences reflected by Spike Lee’s new film Da 5 Bloods.

Several veterans told The Guardian that the US government gave them little support in the wake of the war’s end, as well as throughout their lives as ex-servicemen.

Da 5 Bloods, Lee’s first film since his Oscar-winning BlacKkKlansman (2018), which was loosely based on the true story of a black policeman who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, arrives on Netflix on June 12. Lee’s forthcoming film depicts the journey of four African American former soldiers who return to Vietnam in search of their fallen squad leader and promised buried treasure.

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Dedan Kimathi Ji Jaga, 72, who returned to the US after his service in 1968 (the war ended in 1975), said the government “summarily released me back to the streets with no aid”. Upon his return home Ji Jaga painted his walls black, covered his windows and sat in darkness all day as a way to manage his severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The plight of African American service members who served in Vietnam, where they are now, why they are the way they are, this should be brought to light,” said Richard D Kingsberry, a veteran in Charlotte, North Carolina, who began his service in 1972 in the navy. “A lot of African American service members never got cared for properly after they returned, and that is a life-altering impact.”

Spike Lee Oscars
Spike Lee backstage at the 2020 Oscars (Credit: Richard Harbaugh – Handout/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)

As The Guardian reports further, some retired service members said they were anxious for Lee’s exploration. One powerful moment in the film, the publication writes, shows a group of African American soldiers listening to the radio in the Vietnamese jungle as they learn of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Larry Doggette, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran who lives in Virginia, said: “We as blacks, ever since the civil war, have always run to America’s defence, and then when we get back, we’re second-class citizens. We still are today”.

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Ji Jaga, who now lives in Richmond, California, added that officials concluded that he showed signs of mental instability but that it could not be classified and did not merit benefits.

Later, he took part in a PTSD study with other veterans and saw two of his white friends receive VA compensation. He still was not approved for benefits: “I don’t think this country has the consciousness to do what’s right for its citizens of colour, much less its veterans of colour. We were asking for entitlements that we had earned,” he said.

Da 5 Bloods is released on June 12.

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