Inspired by an oral history project documenting the experiences of Air Force Academy graduates who were prisoners of war in Vietnam, this moving, unsensational documentary relies largely on the memories of former POWs themselves. Largely sidestepping
the era's bitterly divisive politics to focus on their experiences, it chronicles America's entry into the Vietnam War through the eyes of mostly youthful air force pilots who rushed to gain combat experience and were captured in its first skirmishes: Some were held for nearly a decade. Directors
Frieda Lee Mock and Terry Sanders combine archival footage (including material from Vietnamese sources never before seen in the US), vintage photographs, stark drawings and interviews with a series of soft-spoken, dignified men in their 50s and 60s, who recall their experiences forthrightly and
with harrowing precision. The broad outlines of the story, and even some of the details, are familiar, but to hear them from the mouths of survivors gives them unshakable resonance. One former flier speaks of the shock of capture that transformed cocky pilots the "peacocks of the services"
into humiliated objects of scorn. Others describe the awful routine of life in Hoa Lo prison, the notorious Hanoi Hilton where most of the POWs were held, boredom mixed with torture and psychological terror; isolation so complete that they learned a man had landed on the moon from a stamp
on a letter from home; the daily routines and surreptitious communication with other prisoners that helped them remain sane. There are heroic attempts to communicate with home (blinking the word "torture" in Morse code before a Vietnamese TV camera) and show surprising compassion for those who
buckled: Under such dire circumstances, sums up one veteran, "you all do your best, and your best is all you can do."
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- Released: 1999
- Rating: NR
- Review: Inspired by an oral history project documenting the experiences of Air Force Academy graduates who were prisoners of war in Vietnam, this moving, unsensational documentary relies largely on the memories of former POWs themselves. Largely sidestepping the… (more)