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One in this series of documentaries presented by HBO. This Academy Award-nominated program is about veterans of the Vietnam War living in isolated wilderness areas in order to cut themselves off from the rest of society.

The documentary profiles several veterans and examines how they cope in their self-imposed exile. The first is Scott, a dog handler who served in Danang in 1967. He lives in the jungles of Hawaii and is wanted by the law for growing marijuana. He joined the marines when he was 17 and received special training to hunt down the Vietcong with attack dogs. He was traumatized by his extensive combat experience; he claims to have killed over a hundred men in combat, and was often one of the first soldiers sent in to a combat zone. He was discharged from the marines and sent home, classified as psychologically disabled. After his first marriage crumbled he re-married and lives his life constantly on the move, one step ahead of law enforcement. He demonstrates how he guards his stashes of marijuana with deadly booby traps he learned how to construct in Vietnam. Like many Vietnam veterans, Scott is constantly contemplating suicide.

In the forests of Washington State, another ex-marine named Bobby lives in a tent with his two dogs. He grew up in the Midwest as the child of a family involved with the military for generations, and so he was enthusiastic about signing up for Vietnam. He graduated in the top ten percentile of his boot camp when he was eighteen years old, and was shipped out during the height of several extremely violent offensives. While in Vietnam he contracted malaria and had to be sent home since he was allergic to the medication for it. Most of his friends were killed in the fighting, and when he went home he found many in his hometown protesting the war. Bobby soon became involved with drugs and started getting into fights. Feeling unable to fit in at home and terrified of disappointing his family, Bobby left and purchased a few acres of land in Washington, where he lives a solitary existence. He can find only brief pockets of comfort in his life now, and while he has difficulty with people he no longer wishes to be alone. He carries a loaded handgun with him at all times.

Just north of Bobby lives Fred, a former helicopter door gunner who resides by a creek in the shadow of a mountain. His campsite is virtually cut off from the outside world, and Fred talks about the natural beauty which surrounds him. He came from a west-coast blue collar family and dropped out of high school to join the military. Fred recounts the horrific actions he took in Vietnam, including gunning down unarmed civilians and helping to burn and level entire villages. He became disgusted with the military's obsession with body count, continuing to kill no matter who the target was. He recounts being ordered to shoot down a mother and her children, and after that no longer cared about his own life. Nowadays his priority consists only of survival. He is continually plagued by nightmares and self-loathing, and keeps no guns for fear of using them indiscriminately.

Another veteran, Carl lives with his wife and three children in a school bus and they are constantly on the move. He grew up as the child of a suburban middle-class family and talks about how it seemed natural to him to enter military service after high school. He recounts the scenes of battle he was involved in, and of his sense of sadness upon leaving his friends in Vietnam. Upon returning home he isolated himself from society, feeling that he was protecting them from his own anger. He has often contemplated suicide but remains alive for the sake of his family; he notes that watching his children grow up has been "painful, yet joyful." He keeps no weapons around him, but his wife is still afraid to leave him alone with the children. Carl often leaves for weeks at a time to be alone on his boat. Both he and his wife discuss the difficulties inherent in both Carl's presence as well as his absence.

Carl keeps a letter correspondence with another veteran named Marty, who lives on the opposite side of the country. Marty was a sergeant in the air cavalry division who now spends his days in the woods, hunting with his bow and arrows. The memories of Vietnam still haunt him; while he was stationed there he grew to like the Vietnamese and wanted them to like Americans as well. He was married for five years and had two children, but his wife left him, feeling it was too difficult to live in isolation with him; she wanted to give the children better opportunities. Marty feels that many Vietnam veterans who returned home wish that they hadn't.

Finally there is Dean from Spokane, Washington, who was with the signal company. He was often in trouble with the law as a teenager and chose military service as an alternative to a jail sentence. His memories of Vietnam were so intrusive into his life that he had to leave his wife for a time, and he ended up spending ten years in a trapper's cabin up in the mountains. Eventually he found himself joined by other Vietnam veterans in similar situations, all of them living off the land using the skills they had learned in the military. He is slowly beginning to reintegrate himself into the "mainstream," reuniting with his wife. Dean recalls his intense and gruesome experiences in Vietnam, including one instance where he and his unit had to pick up dismembered body parts in the aftermath of a horrific combat. He says that seemingly harmless sights and sounds can trigger intense and painful flashbacks for him, making life exceedingly difficult.


  • DATE: November 11, 1984 9:30 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 0:53:00
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: B:38296
  • GENRE: Public affairs/documentaries
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Public affairs/documentaries; Vietnam War; Veterans - Social conditions
  • SERIES RUN: HBO - TV series, 1983-2006


  • Malcolm Clarke … Executive Producer, Director, Writer
  • Japhet Asher … Producer, Writer
  • Brian Eno … Music by
  • Bob Gunton … Narrator
  • John Wilson … Interviewee
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