War stories are, at once, both universal and deeply personal. While the weight carried forges a common bond between veterans, that weight, too, forces a gulf between them and those who were not there.
For the younger Jim Markel, Vietnam was only the place where the letters came from.
For his father, Jim Markel Sr., Vietnam was where, as an 18-year-old, he spent his days in a helicopter tearing across the mountainous jungles trading fire with opposing forces; where later, as a Green Beret, he was embedded high in the mountains, arming and training groups of farming tribes known as the Montagnards, who became America’s unlikely, forgotten allies in a painful war on communism.
The Special Forces felt a particular affinity towards the Montagnards and formed close bonds of brotherhood with those they would eventually be ordered to abandon.
In subsequent years, the elder Markel’s attempts at rekindling the adrenaline high of life on the edge would always fall short. He left his many stories untold, and wrestled with a creeping cloud of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that would take him decades to finally call by name.
Now, with recognition of a new challenge, a growing desire to share his past with his son, a burning curiosity to see what happened to the Montagnards he lived with, and a willingness to welcome a camera along his journey, he returns to the Central Highlands where he spent his formative years.
The story to come carries with it the promise of a captivating adventure tale, an introduction to a culture in decline, a testimony on living with PTSD, a reflection on the reason for war, and a story of a father and son on a hopeful, if heavy, journey.
The intent is that the film will bear witness to the weighty work of re-opening the past. The road is a tough one to walk, but by sharing this journey of reckoning and reflection, the documentary aims to foster empathy and understanding for military families with similar struggles.
Moments of personal discovery will intersperse with breathtaking images of Vietnamese landscapes, cultures, and the characters the pair encounters along their path.