The Vietnam War ended in 1975, but for many soldiers, returning home was the beginning of another battle. “Radioman” is a play that explores that battle. Based on the experiences of Eric Hollenbeck and other combat veterans, the play depicts the struggle of transitioning between combat zones and the comforts of a civilian home.
Hollenbeck said that from the early stages, the play has touched the people who come into contact with it. During a read-through in Los Angeles, one of the actors cried all the way through the reading, he said. After the read-through was over, she shared something with Hollenbeck that confirmed his play had achieved what he hoped for.
“She said, ‘This play has to happen and it has to happen worldwide,’” Hollenbeck said. “Then she said, ‘My husband is a returning Marine combat veteran, and now I know the dark places he goes to sometimes that I can’t follow.’”
For Hollenbeck, the play is an important way to show the world what it is like to be a combat veteran. But also, it’s a message to fellow combat veterans that “they are not alone,” Hollenbeck said.
Hollenbeck was drafted in 1967 and served in Vietnam with Company A, Second Battalion, 327th Infantry of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
“68 guys covered an area about from Eureka to Loleta in the jungle,” he said. “Our job was to break camp … come off the hilltop, walk through the jungle into an ambush, take as little casualties as possible, get the casualties out of there, then do the same thing the next day.”
For a long time, Hollenbeck struggled with the fact that their mission appeared to position him and his comrades as expendable cannon fodder. But 50 years later, he has finally realized the true purpose of their job — which was to disrupt the North Vietnamese Army to prevent them from mounting a “Tet 2,” similar to the Tet Offensive. An indicator of the intensity of combat is how decorated his company is. The most bronze stars awarded to a company in Vietnam is four, which took the entire course of the war to earn. Hollenbeck’s company earned three in a span of 11 months.
The play, written by Jim McManus, evolved from Hollenbeck’s process of reconciling with this history. By utilizing this method and incorporating stories of other combat vets, Hollenbeck says the play is “Hemingway real.”
“He was considered one of the best American writers because he never wrote about anything he didn’t do first,” Hollenbeck said. “This play … [is] Hemingway real. It’s from guys and gals who have walked a mile in their shoes.”
His wife, Viviana Hollenbeck, said despite the predispositions invoked by the theme of the play, it is full of humor and love throughout.
“There’s love between the nurse and the patient, soldiers and their parents, the comradeship of soldiers working and living together, love of country, and love of life,” she said. “This is the beginning of something that is going to go in a very powerful way.”
Viviana Hollenbeck said the play has gained international interest, with major players across the country expressing interest, ranging from companies in New York, Denver and Southern California. Representatives from the companies will be at the showcase of the play, which will take place at the Dell’Arte Theatre in Blue Lake on Jan. 10.
Co-producer Michael Fields, who is also the artistic director at Dell’Arte, said the timing of the play is uncanny.
“‘Radioman’ is essential for this time,” he said. “This needs to be done; there is an imperative behind it that it happened, and it’s happening now.”
Roman Sanchez, co-producer and assistant executive director at Dell’Arte, called the play timeless.
“This piece is pretty stellar,” he said. “It can play almost anywhere and be just as relevant and just as poignant.”
In an effort to make the play accessible to veterans, the Hollenbecks have made it possible to sponsor a veteran by purchasing a ticket. People can also honor a veteran, which will list their name, branch of service and years served on the program, the play’s website and a redwood display.
More information about the play, as well as ticket purchases, can be found at https://www.radiomantheplay.org/.
Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.