(Continuing the films I saw at the Annapolis Film Festival last week)
There was a time, just a few years ago, when director Danny Diaz didn’t even know what a PT boat was. After learning of a PT boat veteran and his story, Diaz grew fascinated with the history of the 531 PT boats and the 63,000 Americans who served on them during World War II. He knew he wanted to tell their story, but also knew he would be racing against the clock. At the time of filming The Lost Reunions, only 10% of those solders were still living and only four of the boats still intact. Of the 12 PT boat veterans appearing in this documentary, nearly half of them are no longer with us.
PT (Patrol Torpedo) boats were small, fast ships carrying torpedoes, designed to strike against larger enemy ships. When one of the veterans was asked about their missions, he responded: “Seek out the enemy and destroy them.” It was that simple.
The veterans from these ships began holding reunions in the 1960s. In the film, we see footage from the reunions themselves, interviews from 12 of the surviving soldiers, and some incredible video footage and stills that haven’t seen the light of day for decades.
Diaz has taken these veterans’ stories, combined with this newly-discovered footage (from a storage unit owned by one of the veterans) to give us an important, lasting portrait of a largely forgotten group of Americans who are almost gone. Taken by themselves, both the interviews and the archival footage are amazing. Together, they’re priceless.
Many of these soldiers had no idea just how much of a David and Goliath story they were living. Almost none of them understood what they were up against. “This was not a great crusade,” one veteran says. “It was something you had to do. We were too scared to be scared.”
Some veterans tell their tales with humor, some with tragic loss, all with passion. When you’re listening to veteran Sam Goddess, looking into those ice-blue eyes, you feel as if he’s telling you what happened yesterday, not 60+ years ago.
The film suffers only from a few instances of not being able to clearly understand what the veterans are saying (probably due to the low audio levels at the theater) and a somewhat awkward ending. I use the word “somewhat” only because the ending is heartfelt and unscripted, coming from one of the PT soldiers interviewed and not from the director.
The Lost Reunions is an absolutely gripping documentary that deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. In his post-screening comments, Diaz mentioned that the film will be shown on PBS in the near future. Let's hope it finds a wide audience there and eventually on DVD. Find out more about the film, including a trailer, here.