According to the United States Department of Defense Web site, more than 900 American soldiers have died since the war in Iraq began last year.
Add to that the thousands more who have suffered injuries, and the lengthy U.S.-led occupation that’s now a stark reality rather than op-ed-page conjecture, and those casualty numbers seem only destined to increase.
Not since the war in Vietnam have so many American soldiers lost their lives in a single campaign. That sobering detail, along with other striking Vietnam similarities — an elusive insurgency, divided public opinion at home and, perhaps most importantly, returning young veterans bearing fresh physical and emotional scars — makes a critical look back at Vietnam especially pertinent today.
Filmmaker Margaret Lauzon understands that on a blood level.
Like many of today’s 20- and 30-somethings, Lauzon is the child of a Vietnam vet. Her father, Ron Lauzon, a retired Marine, invited his daughter to join him last year at Camp Lejeune, just outside Jacksonville, for a reunion of his 3rd Force Recon group.
Margaret first called Camp Lejeune home as a young Army brat of 3; last year, she brought along her camera and a one-man film crew to help capture some of the experience as an adult.
She hoped that filming some of the men’s stories would result in a testament to their time as soldiers, and to their lives today — lives Lauzon doesn’t hesitate to call “enlightened” when compared to their long-past days immersed in steady combat.
And she claims that broadcasting the results of her probe was never a goal.
“[It] was originally intended to be a gift to the men of the 3rd Force Recon and their families,” Lauzon recently remarked to Xpress. For these Marines — gray, balding, but still sturdy and confident — the reunions, she notes, have become an experience akin to group therapy.
“It is important for me to stress that this project was never meant to be screened,” she adds.
But after working on the project for some months, Lauzon decided her film easily lent itself to viewing by a wider audience.
Our Father’s Eyes is a superb short documentary that blends rich interviews from last year’s Camp Lejune reunion with original 8 mm footage shot in Vietnam with the 3rd Recon. The film’s provoking, oddly perfect musical score is made up of mostly instrumental work from The Royal We and The Great Slide, among other acts. (True to her commitment to the Asheville music scene — Lauzon last year organized the first-ever professional filming of the annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam — she used only local musicians for the soundtrack.)
The public screening Aug. 8 at the Grey Eagle will raise money to take the film project to the next level of production and distribution.
“Everything that has built to the [public screening] has been a natural progression,” insists Lauzon.
Likewise, the music impressively fits the film’s trajectory, fading nicely into the background during the interviews and stepping confidently forward during the well-constructed montages using the in-country 8 mm footage.
The soundtrack becomes the lazy river carrying the viewer steadily downstream past banks littered with carnage, nostalgia and heartbreak.
“I was shot for this country,” declares one burly vet in the film, sporting the same buzz cut he did 40 years ago. “And [I] wasn’t old enough to drink beer or vote. Now that’s enough to make you feel good.”
[Stuart Gaines is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
Our Father’s Eyes will be screened at The Grey Eagle (185 Clingman Ave.; 232-5800) at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 8. Live music from The Great Slide and The Royal We will follow. Suggested donation is $8.