June 29, 1966.
I wasn't even 1-year-old.
I was a newborn, a child born with spina bifida fighting for survival. I didn't know it at the time, but somehow my birth and significant disability kept my 21-year-old father out of the Vietnam War. So, while I was spending months in an Indianapolis hospital fighting for survival young men about the same age as my father were fighting for their own survival thousands of miles away.
My Father's Brothers recounts one specific battle from the Vietnam War, a battle that unfolded on June 29, 1966 when A Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne found themselves suddenly greatly outnumbered by the Vietcong.
They were fighting for their survival.
Of course, the mere fact that we have this documentary serves as evidence that there were those who survived despite the tremendous odds against them. One of the survivors was Captain Jack T. Kelley, Sr., father of My Father's Brothers co-writer and director Shawn Kelley. For years, the younger Kelley had some knowledge of his father's involvement in the war but it was one of those life experiences that was simply never discussed.
Finally, as an adult, Shawn Kelley began asking questions. His father agreed to answer and the foundation for this engaging and vital documentary was born.
Weaving together archival footage, news footage, and interviews with remaining survivors, Kelley has crafted a documentary that is both historically accurate and emotionally resonant. The film is as much about the camaraderie of these survivors as it is the actual battle. Some of these men had volunteered to serve; others were drafted. Regardless, that day left the kind of impact that doesn't actually go away even if you manage to live the rest of your life.
It's there. It's always there.
The soldiers were outnumbered 10-1. The attack was brutal and relentless and the triple-canopy jungle was so dense and muddy that rescue was impossible. They had to fight if they wanted to survive. One paratrooper would end up receiving the Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty during this battle. All the survivors interviewed here wear the experience in their eyes and within their physicality as they talk about it. While it meant different things to different young men, the powerful impact was universally felt.
My Father's Brothers proved to be wildly popular on the film festival circuit and picked up quite a few prizes along the way. It's a revealing film even for those who think to themselves they've seen everything there is to see about the Vietnam War.
No, you haven't.
There are always more stories to be told.
While it's arguable that a good majority of My Father's Brothers is your standard issue talking heads doc, it's a well-produced and deeply engaging doc that will linger in your heart and mind long after the closing credits have rolled. Relatively slight at 73 minutes, Kelley doesn't waste a single moment of My Father's Brothers and the end result is a feature doc that deserves to be seen.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic