‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Detailed How One Episode Reflected Vietnam Veterans’ Issues Upon Return

by Jon D. B.

In 2017, NBC celebrated its 90th Anniversary on with an extensive 3-hour special. Many stars who’ve shared in the network’s long-running success – such as ‘Little House on the Prairie’s Melissa Gilbert – spoke to their time with NBC.

Just before the special hit the air that February, the actress behind Laura Ingalls Wilder spoke to Parade in-depth on the beloved show.

Within, she reveals many fascinating tidbits from her ‘Prairie’ tenure. Quickly, it becomes clear that history itself was as large a factor behind the camera for Gilbert as it was in front of.

Early in the interview, she takes the time to show appreciation for how many difficult, topical themes ‘Little House on the Prairie’ tackled between 1974 and 1983, and how much that meant to her then – and still does today.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge our history,” Melissa Gilbert, 56, began. “Our cultural history is as much a part of our history as our political history, or any other sort of history that we have. It shows who we were at specific times in our development as a people. Not just a nation but as a world.”

And as the actress states, ‘Little House on the Prairie’ was an “enormous” part of cultural history.

Not just a cultural reflection of what the time was like from ’73 to  ’83, but who we were before then by telling the stories of these pioneers and what their lives were like,” she continues. “We had better teeth and were cleaner than what the reality was [she jokes], but the stories we were telling were very reflective of the time that we were living in. [Series star/executive producer] Michael Landon weaved in very topical stuff.”

‘Little House on the Prairie’ Advocated for Military Veterans

Indeed, the show’s political under/overtones set the stage for many ‘Prairie’ alum to become political activists – Gilbert included. The show was – through the masterful hand of Landon – a perfect vehicle for “learning from the past” – a sort of extended lens to ponder the present by examining the past. If anything, ‘Prairie’ was a staunch lesson in how regularly history repeats itself.

“We had an episode where we had a Civil War veteran come home addicted to morphine. In the end, he committed suicide,” Gilbert adds for Parade. “That was when the soldiers were still coming back from Vietnam. And we realized that there may have been an issue with them. A lot of them were coming back addicted to heroin and other drugs.”

It was a learning process for the entire country all at once, she recalls. “We, as a country, were pretty innocent about drugs,” Gilberts says, “and we’re just becoming aware of the fact that all of these things were addictive and dangerous.”

In addition to bringing veterans’ issues to millions of public viewers, ‘Little House on the Prairie’ also tackled “human rights” and “people of different colors,” Gilbert states. While ‘Prairie’s issues came in post-Civil-War era America, it was a 1970’s audience watching. Yet every issue remained “a very hot topic in the ’70s and remains one today,” she continues.

“Not only were we a reflection of so many ideas and ideals but also of a very turbulent time in our country.”

For this reason and many others, the time certainly feels right for a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ reboot.