Documentary – The Final 19

Heading to streaming platforms and on demand from 5th February, Steve Taylor-Bryant watched the Vietnam POW documentary The Final 19...

Name: Daniel Henry Hefel
Rank/Branch: E4/US Army
Unit: HHC, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division
Home City of Record: Guttenberg IA
Date of Loss: 05 February 1970
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 163045N 1072824E (YD494093)
Status (1973): Returned POW
Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1H

This is the true story of Sgt. Daniel Hefel who was one of the final 19 prisoners of war to come home from Vietnam. A small-town kid that enlisted, he was an infantry grunt in the 101st Airborne unit. When they veered into the A Shau Valley without alerting the base camp, and crashed into the mountainside, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) captured Hefel and his co-pilot.

Sgt. Hefel spent a total of 1143 days in captivity.

I am in awe of veterans. My father served, my grandparents all served, I was unfortunately (or fortunately depending on the point of view) not allowed into the service but the bravery and stories of veterans never fail to hit home with me. Documentaries and books created by, and for, the veterans are always more honest and less glamourous than the movies. I think it’s the personal, very human stories of those in service, and of the families and friends left behind, that give the viewer a deeper connection to the life you are learning about. The Final 19 is a documentary that gives you the emotional connection and then some.

Dan Hefel’s honesty in his recounting of events that led to his life, his bravery in sharing every little detail, whether that was his fears, his physical injuries, or the mental side of things, is the biggest take from this film. Not every veteran of war wants to share their story. Some are so scarred by events that they clam up, some just want to move on, so to share your story with people so things may be learned, or people may understand you better, to allow friends and family to share their side of something so tragic, so an audience can spend some time learning about war without any glorification, is rare. As a P.O.W Dan Hefel has a story so personal and frighteningly real he could be excused from never telling it but by the end of The Final 19 I was so glad he had.

It's not a film for faint of heart though. Whilst it is not visually graphic, the descriptions of war, of terrible injuries and of life being held at the mercy of your enemy, are not shied away from in the film. From life in a small farming community, to basic training, to the hellish landscape of war, to the survival of a horrific helicopter crash in the jungle, to over 1100 days in captivity, Hefel speaks openly and honestly and you cannot help but be inspired by the man. He left all his negativity and hatred in that prison in Vietnam and made a conscious decision to come home and enjoy freedom, to be a positive force for his family who had, as you’ll learn watching the film, been through quite a lot themselves.

The Final 19 is a stunning story told honestly, and interspersed with interviews with friends, family, journalists and military personnel, mixed with archive footage of Vietnam, and backed by a soundtrack of specially written songs performed by Medicinal Purposes that evoke the time period. Between the interviews, as the songs are playing and a jungle battle is on your screen, you could be watching Tour of Duty, or Platoon, but then Hefel speaks, and war becomes oh so real again. The Final 19 is an emotional watch, but a fascinating insight into one man's tragic war experience that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

THE FINAL 19 will be available on FEBRUARY 5th via Amazon, Vudu, Cable On Demand, and more.

Image - Buffalo8

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