`Honor' moving

September 24, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

"There's no such thing as a bad day when there's a doorknob on the inside of the door."

-- Navy Lt. Paul Galanti

Anyone who fails to be moved by the courage, bravery and resilience on display in "Return With Honor," a documentary look at what American POWs had to endure during their North Vietnamese captivity, must not have a pulse.

Argue as you wish about the Vietnam conflict, about whether the United States should have been there in the first place, whether it was a war we really wanted to win, whether the students who demonstrated against it were traitors or idealists. To its credit, "Return With Honor" keeps all such arguments at arm's length.

Instead, the film, directed simply and without flash by Freida Lee Mock and Terry Sanders, listens in as pilots who found themselves behind enemy lines tell their own stories, of spending up to seven years in brutal prisons, being beaten and tortured and placed in solitary confinement. The stories are harrowing, but the men tell them without a trace of bitterness or regret (though not without emotion).

The humanity they maintained, and the peace they continue to find within themselves, is the real story behind "Return With Honor."

It would be nice to know more about how these men have fared in the years since their release in 1973, particularly where they are today (one of them, John McCain, is a U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate; another, Pete Peterson, is U.S. ambassador to Vietnam).

But the story of these remarkable men and the eloquence they display (describing the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" prison, Air Force Lt. Ron Bliss says, "You could hear the screams of 50 years. It was a hard place") make "Return With Honor" too powerful a film ever to forget.

`Return With Honor'

Produced and directed by Freida Lee Mock and Terry Sanders

Released by Ocean Releasing

Not rated (some language, graphic descriptions of torture)

Running time 102 minutes

Sun score****

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