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Return with Honor (1998)

 -  Documentary  -  11 June 1999 (USA)
8.1
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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 183 users  
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The story of U.S. fighter pilots shot down over North Vietnam who became POWs for up to 8 and a half years.

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Cast

Credited cast:
Everett Alvarez
Ron Bliss
Fred Cherry
George Day
Jeremiah Denton
Jerry Denton
Paul Galanti
...
Narrator
Douglas Hegdahl
Sam Johnson
Tom Madison
John McGrath
George McKnight
Kevin McManus
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The story of U.S. fighter pilots shot down over North Vietnam who became POWs for up to 8 and a half years.

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Documentary

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Release Date:

11 June 1999 (USA)  »

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Budget:

$1,000,000 (estimated)
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1.66 : 1
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Profiles in Courage
7 October 1999 | by (Houston) – See all my reviews

Men face the camera and recant their prisoner of war ordeal over thirty years ago yet their voice and mannerism do not betray any animosity nor cry for retribution. Instead there is humility and a surprising resilience and sanity you would hardly expect from men isolated and tortured by North Vietnamese soldiers, some for as long as eight years. The remarkable film, "Return With Honor", chronicles in no uncertain terms about the strength of the American character and the steadfastness to pride and dignity then and now, embodied in young cadets schooled at the Air Force Academy. It is a tale of young, determined airmen who leave their families behind to fight a war they hardly understood. Their missions are already known to the Viet Cong and they become easy prey to enemy fire. Those who survive are marched around unceremoniously as war propaganda. One black airman is singled out for dishonor so as to break the morale of fellow black soldiers fighting in South Vietnam while another pilot, highly publicized in the cover of ‘Time Magazine' is made to look utterly powerless. They are put in the tombs of the ‘Hanoi Hilton' where their spirits are broken by their own torture as well as the horrific screams of the fellow pilots. Imprisoned, they learn to fight back. They develop their own communication with a 5x5 alphabetic code and their leaders, Risner, Denton, and Stockdale stand steadfast in their code of honor. Upon realization that they will not go home soon, they develop a shield epitomized by ‘tough luck' - getting use to confinement. One man builds a house in his mind and repeatedly goes over the specifications while another memorizes all the squalor and humiliation that he will later painfully sketch out on canvas. They memorize all 260 names of fellow pilots so that they can keep track of each other. They defiantly tell the world about their predicament, one blinks out in Morse Code the word ‘torture' as he is publicly displayed, another has both his middle fingers extended even as he bows in submission, while another writes to his wife about the ‘darkness at noon', his cryptic warning of his plight. Repeated attempts to escape only land them back in confinement with more torture while, ironically, they later refuse early release because to do so would be to return without honor. Finally with the Paris Peace Accords, they are released. One man asked for a steak and 19 fried eggs and others cannot sleep on mattresses with clean sheets because they have had only concrete and wooden boards. Yet these men, robbed of productive years of their lives, are not embittered. One learns that a survivor of Auschwitz is greeting them and states he should be greeting her. They moved ahead with their lives - one (Pete Petersen) comes back as the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, another (John McCain) is a U.S. Senator, another (James Stockdale) becomes a Vice-Presidential Candidate. What makes "Return With Honor" a great film is that no one had to act their roles to give us a remarkable portrait of courageous Americans - by their mere retelling, they speak volumes about their steadfast character.


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