‘The Final 19’ is an honest documentary film about Sgt. Daniel Hefel. One of the final 19 prisoners of war to come home from Vietnam.
The film details how he was enlisted into the army and how he came to be a POW for a total of 1143 days.
Daniel is the main focus of this film as he details things himself in an interview format. But the film also has a narrator voice-over who helps fill in some of the gaps in the story as the interviewees give varying perspectives and accounts of Daniel’s before and after his captivity.
To the United States Army, Sgt Hefel and the rest of his unit had vanished and were presumed dead. He broke his back and was left for dead. But for over three years he fought to survive with the hope of gaining his freedom back someday.
From the documentary, we learn how his family and loved ones back home handled the situation. For some of them, they admit that at a point they had given up hope of him still being alive and ever returning. Others kept hope alive and prayed that he would someday be found and returned home.
But even as their lives went on, the possibility of them never get to see or hear from him ever again seemed like the most obvious certainty.
The film has a lot of archive footage that does great and situates whatever Dan might be narrating. The footage may not be exactly accurate or factual but they help you visualize the experience that he shares. Some of the archive footage is placed so timely that you would almost believe that they are actual footage of whatever he is talking about.
Daniel’s wife is also featured in the documentary. She shares how she and Daniel first met. She describes him as normal and couldn’t have immediately guessed that he had been a prisoner of war. They got married and have lived their lives together since.
It is beautiful to know that after all that he went through in captivity, he has no hate or resentment toward the people of Vietnam. His son talks about that as well in the documentary.
He comes across as a free-spirited happy man that is grateful for the second chance at life that he got after surviving that long in captivity. And he doesn’t take this second chance for granted. He is even able to smile and be humorous about his time in the Vietnamese prison camps.
The film acknowledges that it is not always easy for veterans and retired army persons to be re-assimilated into normal society. Even as war heroes society sometimes treats them unfairly without taking into the sacrifices they have made for their country and how it might be affecting them.
This documentary would certainly be enjoyed by anyone who experienced the effects of the Vietnam war either directly or through a close family relation. Of course, it might trigger some bad memories for some people, but it generally is a reminder of the people that survived and the families that have to continue to mourn their loss. Either way, whatever emotion that this film illicit in you would be a genuine one evoked by a genuine story that needed to be shared.
I would rate this documentary film 3 out of 5 stars. The story it details is emotionally moving and motivational as well.
In the end, this documentary film reminds us to cherish our loved ones and hold them close.
“The Final 19” is available via Amazon, Vudu, Cable On Demand, and more if you are interested in seeing it as well.