Vietnam POWs ...
Return with Honor
Review by Ross Anthony

Generally, documentaries don't carry well in the movie theater (that goes for the one's I've produced as well). However, "Return with Honor" is an exception. Its spirit is more than enough to scale a 70 foot screen.

Beginning with what in hindsight sounds like pipe-dreams, "The clouds open up like fields of cotton ... it's really beautiful," top-gun pilots talk about the joy of flying ... and then the painful reality of being shot down into enemy territory.

"I was taught to escape and evade under a variety of conditions and terrain, and then after I was shot down and ejected to the ground I was able to escape and evade for all of five seconds before I was surrounded by what seemed like a hundred guns." This paraphrase sums up the "capture" segment of "Return with Honor."

From there the POWs (now 25 years later) recount their experiences in "Heartbreak Hotel" and other prisons deep in Northern Vietnam. In a terribly candid manner and then occasionally moved to tears (or humor), these survivors sit as relaxed as old friends and tell in detail the tragic hardships and bone bending tortures that just needed to be endured. Even at their breaking points, they seem somehow to crawl away with chins up.

The interviews are shot on film and mixed with occasion recreations. Most of the field footage is real -- including images of the prisoners under captivity (from the archives of North Vietnam).

"We weren't allowed to talk, but we had to communicate, so we worked out a tap code. We coughed in code, we raked leaves in code, we swept the floor in code."

Some may see "Return with Honor" as an Air Force propaganda film, and though it may tip in that direction, the genuine testimonials of these "Heroes" transcend political opinion. The filmmakers create a work that progresses with a very sincere intensity resulting in a rare mix of drama and fact. It has all the soul of the Rambo movies, without the acting. Truly inspirational.

Testimonials of Lt. jg. Everett Alvarez, Lt. Cmdr. Bob Shumaker, Lt. Cmdr. John McCain, Cmdr. Jeremiah Denton, Cmdr. James Stockdale, Lt. Col. Robinson Risner, Capt. Douglas Peterson, Maj. Red Cherry, Capt. George McKnight, Maj. Sam Johnson, Lt. Paul Galanti, Lt. Ron Bliss, Lt. Tom McNish, Lt. Cmdr. Richard Stratton, Seaman Douglas Hegdahl, Col. Tom Madison, Lt. Ed Mechenbeir, Lt. Kevin McManus, Lt. John McGrath, Maj. George Day, Sybil Stockdale, Henry Etta Madison, Alice Stratton, Phyliss Galanti, Marlene McGrath, Lorraine Shumaker.

Written/Produced/Directed by: Freida Lee Mock, Terry Sanders with Christine Z. Wiser at An American Film Foundation. Released by Ocean.


[Interview with Terry Sanders and Freida Lee Mock]

Copyright © 1999 Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 07:55:33 PDT