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'The Goal Is To Put An Individual Face To These Combat Pilots': Dr. Michael Hankins On Smithsonian Channel Special '100 Missions: Surviving Vietnam'

(CBS Local)-- It's been almost 50 years since the Vietnam War ended and it is still one of the most fascinating times in our nation's history to examine. While many studied the war in school or have family members who served overseas, one of the overlooked groups of people in the narrative about the war are the U.S. Air Force pilots.

A new special from the Smithsonian Channel called "100 Missions: Surviving Vietnam" airs on Monday, November 9 at 8 p.m. EST/PST and it follows a special group of U.S. Air Force fighter pilots who put their lives on the line for the country. Dr. Michael Hankins, who is a curator of U.S. Air Force history, is one of the people interviewed in the special and he believes the stories of these pilots will resonate deeply with the audience.

Photo Credit: Smithsonian Channel

"This lets us see Vietnam in a way that's a little bit different than we are used to thinking about it," said Dr. Hankins, in an interview with CBS Local's DJ Sixsmith. "When we say Vietnam War, you probably think about the iconic images from that war. Those are really important, but what we are doing with this special is we are taking you specifically into the combat fighter pilot role and letting you get into the cockpit and meet some of these individuals. You will hear their individual stories and these are guys that are in the air doing one of the most dangerous jobs you could do during the war. It's just a way that we are not normally thinking about what Vietnam is."


The Smithsonian Channel special explores the culture of fighter pilots during the war, dives into the daunting task of bombing runs and highlights the mandate from the U.S. Air Force for its pilots to fly 100 missions before they could go home for good.

"The goal of this whole special is to put an individual face on a lot of these combat pilots in a lot of different ways because they are very different people," said Dr. Hankins. "They're not all painted with the same brush. Some of these pilots are there for all kinds of different reasons. They've all signed up to risk the ultimate sacrifice and many of them give the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Some of them are scared and trying to put up that bravery, so they can get through it. Some of them are really excited to be there and they love the idea of being in combat. Some people just love flying and some are fighting for a cause they believe in. I think when people look at this broad array of personalities, they're going to see themselves in some way or another at a time when America is kind of in a divided place right now and it was at a very divided place back then. I think the differences in all of these individuals can speak to some of that."

Watch "100 Missions: Surviving Vietnam" and watch all of DJ Sixsmith's interviews from "The Sit-Down" series here.

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