Thursday, March 5, 2009

Forgotten Heroes: Setting the Record Straight about Vietnam Veterans

In a refreshing departure from the usual Hollywood fare, Jack Marino’s film presents a positive portrayal of the most maligned members of our military.

It may not have the big name actors, the lavish on-location sets or the fêted Hollywood directors, but Jack Marino’s film Forgotten Heroes possesses something money can’t buy—a willingness to paint an accurate picture of Vietnam veterans. Disgusted by liberal Tinsel Town producers with an agenda, not to mention access to nearly unfathomable amounts of money, Marino set out to create an alternative to military-bashing films like Platoon that preached an anti-American message to an American audience forking over hard-earned money for two hours of theatrical entertainment. Long enamored of World War II-era films, Marino endeavored to create a Green Beret-style tribute “to the generation that answered President Kennedy’s call to defend freedom anytime and anywhere.”

The result is an engaging drama that follows the mission of an eclectic squadron of Marines as they attempt to rescue a Russian General who has defected to the United States. Representing the ethnic and racial diversity of America, this group of heroes includes a blond-haired surfer boy from Venice Beach, a young Latino from Los Angeles, a wise-cracking Italian-American from Brooklyn, and a stocky cowboy from Oklahoma. In keeping with the film’s tagline, “it was a time that turned boys into men and men into heroes,” when we first meet our core characters, they appear to behave more like frat boys than American soldiers, playing drinking games and fantasizing about girls on the beach.

However, we get the first glimpse of real brotherhood upon the arrival of new recruit Ramon, fresh out of boot camp and unaccustomed to the haunting “smell of the Nam.” Young Ramon has never been in combat, but gets his first taste of the grim reality of war when a fellow soldier named De Luca—hours away from flying home with honor—is blown up by a grenade planted by the his Vietnamese shoe-shine boy. Devastated by the loss of their friend, the squad nonetheless rises to the occasion when the dreaded word “Cambodia” turns out to be the site for the critical mission they’ve been assigned. When Ramon admits to a fear of being shot at, his self-appointed mentor, Leo Rossetti assists him in working through his apprehensions in one of the films simultaneously lighthearted and ominous scenes.

Veteran movie actor William Smith turns in a compelling performance as Russian defector General Zelenkov, a man who loves his country but not its oppressive government—a point of view rarely presented on screen by communist-lovin’ Hollywood. An honorable man, Zelenkov prevents his American rescuers from instantly killing young, militant Lieutenant Colonel Viktor Brazinski, an act of decency that puts all of their lives in jeopardy. Once awake, Brazinski calls in the Russian forces, leaving the Marines and the General no choice but to abort their helicopter rescue at the original pick-up zone and embark upon a treacherous jungle journey through enemy territory, to a secondary pick-up zone.

Along the way, the men transition into heroes, as they encounter an endless onslaught of horrific circumstances. In one scene, Ramon finds himself the sole protector of a Vietnamese woman and her daughter after Joe “Cowboy” Geer is shot to death by the communists he bravely fends off in order to give them a chance to escape. In another, Nick Govostos, American son of Greek immigrants, is called upon to make a gut-wrenching decision most of us will never have to confront in our lifetimes, when fellow soldier Darryl Huckins is brutally skinned alive.

Through it all, the men come to appreciate valor, courage, brotherhood and the price of freedom as they develop an understanding and respect for the man whose rescue comes with the highest of costs. Those who are fortunate enough to make it home in the end, have nothing but affection for their fallen heroes and the country that sent its young men into harm’s way for the cause of freedom. No wonder the power-brokers of Hollywood rejected this film!

Fortunately it is available as a DVD at A true patriot, Jack Marino is donating $5.00 to The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Fund for every copy purchased. Please support this wonderful film and our forgotten heroes!

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