GLENOLDEN — An emotional new documentary will feature a 10-block radius of unending heartbreak that has rippled through generations. The film will aim to insure that no one forgets those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Only months after film director Shawn Swords released the acclaimed “Remembering the 27 Crusaders,” a riveting documentary telling the story of 27 alumni of Northeast Philadelphia’s Father Judge High School who were killed in the Vietnam War and the impact that their deaths had on their families and the community, he’s back in the director’s seat with many more stories to tell about the era. Swords is a man with a mission.
Working under the umbrella of his new company, American Veteran Productions, Swords will focus the as yet unnamed new film on the honorable combat soldiers from other schools in the Northeast with similarly high Vietnam War death rates.
The new documentary will include the stories of deceased Vietnam veteran alumni from Cardinal Dougherty, Thomas Edison, North Catholic and Father Judge high schools. The film also will also on the only Medal of Honor Recipient from Philadelphia, Michael Crescenz. The heroic Vietnam veteran, an alum of Cardinal Dougherty High School, which closed in 2010, was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions of seizing a machine gun and firing on enemy bunkers, being killed when he reached the third. Cardinal Dougherty, like Father Judge, also had 27 former students who lost their lives in Vietnam.
The film is a joint effort with the Glenolden-based Swords as director and producer, veteran/Father Judge alumnus Jim Kirlin of Philadelphia as producer, Roger Bruce of Philadelphia as cinematographer, Art Swanlund of Collingdale as post-production editor, Ralph Galati of Wallingford as content producer, Dr. Bob Kodosky, history professor at West Chester University as producer/consultant, and Dr. Gene Halus of the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge as producer/consultant.
Continuing the narrative threads presented in their prior film, the film team will examine the lives and situations of the men who went to these schools and why so many of them enlisted in the war and how their young deaths affected so many, even up to the current day.
“These weren’t arbitrary happenings that occurred,” Swords said in a recent interview, “Many factors attributed to the high volume of young men from this area who went into the service - patriotism, economics, racial issues and dropping out of high school. Our film takes a look below the surface.”
According to Swords, the film has four core narratives: Exploration of why the fatality rate from this area was so high; an exploration of the Northeast neighborhoods and environment; the commonality of the working class; and why it was so common to push boys toward the military, especially recruiting from the lower tracks in these high schools.
The film crew already began visiting homes and other locations to interview families of those killed in the war, as well as others with direct and indirect connections to the events that took place before and after the tragic war casualties. Although the filming will be done all over the tri-state area, all post-production work will be done in Delaware County.
After creating “27 Crusaders,” a film produced jointly by Irish American Films and Thistle Dew Productions with Swords as director, John Riccuitti and Kirlin as producers, the crew realized there were still many stories yet to be told. They had focused almost exclusively on Father Judge High School, because it had the greatest number of deceased from any private, existing high school. However, they soon discovered that the Vietnam War death rate was high in all the high schools in that one 10-mile radius of Northeast Philadelphia. Swords and Kirlin decided to continue the work of their initial film project and expand their focus, taking an in-depth look at the families, community and upbringings of all 144 students from this area’s schools who died in service to their country during the Vietnam era.
Like its predecessor, “Remembering the 27 Crusaders,” the new documentary’s emphasis will also be on the families and friends that the servicemen left behind, and the working class community of Northeast Philadelphia neighborhoods and the Catholic parishes that nurtured these young men.
“While filming '27 Crusaders,' we quickly realized we were just scraping the surface of the stories to be told,” Swords said. “There were a couple of narrative layers we didn’t get to explore as much as we could, so we decided to go back in and find out more.”
Swords, owner of Character Driven Productions and operator of Irish American Films, has recently formed American Veteran Productions, with the intention of showing films and TV content important to veterans on cable television, public television and in free public exhibitions. He has set up a Go Fund Me crowd funding endeavor to cover the start-up costs for American Veteran Productions, especially the legal and administrative fees for filings, incorporation and more.
Production for the new documentary began earlier this year, with American Veteran Productions eyeing a spring 2020 release for the project. According to Swords, the film is projected to be about 75 minutes in length and editing will be intense since there will likely be at least twice as much production material.
“Being based in Delaware County, our film crew needs local support for this project to be the best that it can be,” explained Swords. “We showed ‘27 Crusaders’ throughout the Tri-State area and heard over and over again how our film was universally cathartic for so many. Those involved with American Veteran Productions hope to continue creating awareness through projects like this, but continued community support is paramount.”
According to Swords, the new documentary is a collaborative effort among American Veteran Productions, authors, educators, and alumni groups of the four schools.
Swords and the crew are currently trying to get in touch with as many families of the deceased soldiers from all of these schools, as possible, so that they can include as many voices as possible in the large-scale project. The filmmakers also hope to secure archival material, photos and information of their lives and service in the 1960s and any material or photos that are representative of life in the neighborhoods of Northeast Philadelphia during that time period. Anyone who has information or needs more details, can contact producer Roger Bruce at 267-702-8896 or e-mail Shawn Swords at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on American Veteran Productions, check out the “American Veteran Productions” Facebook page or visit americanveteranproductions.org/.