“Why does it have to take another country to recognize our Veterans?” shouted a man from the back of the Odeon Theatre. The sizeable audience had begun heading for the exits after seeing We Went to War, the American premiere of a film about the lives of three Vietnam veterans from Menard, Texas.
This lone protestor was obviously referring to the company that produced the documentary film, Tarian Films, as being from the United Kingdom. He wasn’t trying to besmirch the filmmakers or the film; rather, he was upset that American filmmakers aren’t doing enough to document the personal stories of American Vietnam War veterans.
The man’s spontaneous, emotional outburst was obviously triggered by what he perceived as America’s lack of empathy for Vietnam veterans. Others in attendance may have been thinking the same thing but chose instead to exit in silence. The audience had been exceptionally silent during the viewing of the film, too, with only whimpers, sniffles, and the clearing of throats breaking the quiet.
Once outside, however, much of the audience lingered in the hot and humid afternoon, openly discussing the film. Veterans spoke to each other as family members stood nearby inquisitively listening to the stories being shared, most of which were eerily similar. Some of the conversations included at least one name of a fallen friend or war buddy.
We Went to War is a compelling and powerful commentary essentially about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, one of many social consequences of war. David, Dennis, and Lamar, the three protagonists in the film, recount their personal stories of the war’s impact upon their lives after leaving Vietnam over forty years ago. Lamar’s story was presented in the film by his wife and daughter, since he had recently died from a military service-connected disability.
The film is a sequel to I Was A Soldier, a documentary made in 1972 about the same three veterans’ recent return from the Vietnam War. Each thought the war was over for him personally. In We Went to War, filmmakers Michael Grigsby and Rebekah Tolley present the “rest of the story,” the trials and tribulations attributed to these veterans’ combat service.
The timing couldn’t be better for the release of this documentary and the subject matter is on target. As more soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan, attention to the needs of Vietnam veterans and their families seems to be waning, and the collective memories of their service is slowly disappearing into the abyss of America’s discourse.
Just saying “welcome home” or “thank you for your service” isn’t enough and seem like token greetings. Perhaps that lone protestor at the Odeon Theatre was asking the right question. With this documentary film, however, Grigsby and Tolley seem to have hit a nerve and renewed the conversation.