Documentary premiere revisits the legend of China Beach


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China Beach still lights up the eyes of Vietnam veterans.

“Everyone wanted to be sent there because it had fantastic surfing,” said Donn Weaver, the special projects chairman for the Brevard Memorial Center and Museum on Merritt Island.

The Veterans Memorial Center is certain to help rekindle many memories of the legendary beach when it screens the Central and South Florida premiere showing of  “Back to China Beach,” a documentary that looks back at the history of China Beach and its role during the war. It showcases its present status as a world-class surfing destination.

“It is a very unique film that should attract veterans, film buffs and surfing enthusiasts,” Weaver said.

The 20-mile curve of sand known as My Khe, or China Beach, played a critical role in the Vietnam War. On March 8, 1965, 3,500 United States soldiers disembarked here, marking the first time American ground troops had stepped onto Vietnamese soil.

In his “Da Nang Diary” memoir, pilot Tom Yarborough noted that it was not unusual for Huey helicopters to swoop low above the sands of China Beach in the hope of catching nurses sunbathing topless. China Beach also was home to the China Beach Surf Club, started by Pensacola resident Larry Martin. The famed location was later popularized during the 1980s in a television drama.

The Vietnam-era destination for some well-deserved R&R has today gone upscale with high-rise hotels, golf courses, spas and private villas.

“I know of several Americans who fought in Vietnam who have gone back to China Beach recently,” Weaver said.

To catch up with or be introduced to the area, “Back to China Beach” offers the next best option to flying there. Producer Mike Cotton and two-time Emmy-winning director Dave Barnes interviewed more than 100 veterans for the documentary. The film will be shown at 3 p.m. Dec. 8 at Gray Hall in the Museum complex, which will be open for visitors. Refreshments will be served.

The producer and cast members will be on hand for a meet-and-greet and question-and-answer session.

Tickets, which cost $10, went on sale Nov. 15 at the Veterans  Memorial Center. Tickets also will be available at the door until it is sold out.

For Vietnam veterans, the film should bring back some fond, old memories. For Brevard’s surfing community, “Back to China Beach” could help to nurture new ones.

For more information, call 321-453-1776, extension 5.

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