For many decades, the Vietnam War has been seen as a forgotten war that occurred so long ago; yet, families and friends of Father Judge High School still remember and are reminded of the wounded and the hardships that affected their community.
It is known that Father Judge High School, a Catholic school in northeast Philadelphia, has the second-highest casualty rate for high schoolers that were in service during the Vietnam War.
Coming out in Nov. 13 at the Phillips Autograph Library, a documentary film called “Remember the 27 Crusaders: A Father Judge Story” retells the tale of small beginnings and hardships of the families that grew up with the 27 students that lost their lives in the Vietnam War.
“Its premise is that 27 grads were killed in the Vietnam War,” says Dr. Robert J. Kodosky, an associate professor and department chair of history at WCU. “The film focuses on how those losses continue to affect their significant others.”
From a historical angle, the documentary takes a different turn regarding the Vietnam War. According to Dr. Kodosky, “rather than learning from the past, the documentary is an opportunity to learn [how] the past and present connect.”
Part of the reason this documentary is coming out is due to the fact it has been 50 years since the Tet Offensive, a major military movement which changed the American attitude toward the Vietnam War.
Under the National Defense Authorization Act “‘the Secretary shall coordinate, support, and facilitate other programs […] in commemoration of the Vietnam War,’” according to vietnamwar50th.com. Along with the documentary coming to WCU, “27 Crusaders” will be shown on Nov. 9 at Father Judge High School, and it will also be shown on Nov. 14 at the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, Penn.
Despite its release dates, the “27 Crusaders” documentary has been making headway in being publicized in notable news castings, particularly on Fox News. In a video from Fox 29, Jim Kirlin, a Vietnam War veteran, states the film documentary, which is made by an independent company, is a “way to give back” to the Father Judge High School community. In an article written by Tommy Rowan in philly.com, Kirlin’s reason for the making of the document is that “‘[n]obody has really told the story of the 27.’”
With “Remember the 27 Crusaders” coming very soon to WCU, what would students learn from this documentary, and how would they benefit from this experience?
Joe Altimari, a Vietnam War veteran who graduated from Father Judge High School, worked as a helicopter crewman and states that he wants WCU students to know about “the pain the families went through.” Also, he wants student to know that Father Judge High School was a “close knit community that exemplified brotherhood.”
Regarding his own experience in Father Judge High School, Altimari implies that everyone within the community of northeastern Philadelphia “knew these guys,” including himself. Of his service in Vietnam, Altimari says, “I do not consider myself to be a ‘hero.’ I did my job, which was to take responsibility for my men and take them home.”
Altimari strongly disagrees with the notion that soldiers within his unit, as well as himself, should be considered “baby killers” or be comparable to “Rambo,” an action-packed film from 1982 starring Sylvester Stallone.
In his tour of Vietnam, Altimari recalled noticing an orphan boy that was about four or five years old. Instead of abandoning the orphan, Altimari and his division took him and found a place for him to live. It is unknown what happened to the orphan. As for the reference to “Rambo,” he says that after the war, most of his men within his division became businessmen.
After the Vietnam War, grief has been a constant for families that lost loved ones. “It was the futility of the war and the way we engaged,” says Altimari. Fifty years later, only rememrance and peace remain to help bind the wounds that ocurred from the war.
“If WCU students are interested, I encourage them to go to the Student Veteran Offices,” says Altimari. There, they can find ways to help out veterans in need and their families.
Essentially, the documentary “27 Crusaders” is a way to pay “tribute to the family members,” says Altimari. It is also a poignant reminder in history that war does terrible things to families.
Nicholas Bartelmo is a third-year student majoring in History. NB790429@wcupa.edu