BILLINGS - Nearly 50 years after the end of the Vietnam war, an incredible story of healing hits the big screen at the Babcock Theatre in downtown Billings. It’s a hometown sneak peek featuring a father/son veteran duo from Billings and two Billings filmmakers.
"I thought I was doing the right thing at the right time. At that age it was exciting. It was a high. I’ve got to say that. It seemed surreal, like a movie you’d see through your own eyes,” said Jim Markel Sr., a Billings resident and Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.
Now, the world can watch Markel's war journey play out on the big screen as the documentary “Return” debuts in Billings.
“This movie is a lot about why dad doesn’t talk about the war, why grandpa doesn’t talk about the war,” said Director Pete Tolton.
Markel Sr. said returning to Vietnam all these years later helped him to deal with the trauma that has followed him all his life.
“One minute we’re in combat, the next minute we’re back home. It was just too much,” he said.
His son took the journey with him.
“It's very uncomfortable for him to talk about Vietnam, so by going there I’ll get to know a bit of his history. He’ll be able to just show me, which may be easier than talking about it,” said Markel's son, Jim Markel Jr., also a Marine Corps veteran.
The documentary takes the viewer full circle, as Markel Sr. returns to the very village in Vietnam where he served alongside south Vietnamese allies.
“I found one guy that was in my unit, and after all these years was still alive, recognized me, recognized my picture from 1969 and 1970 when I was there as a Green Beret. It was good getting back and meeting him again. I didn’t think it would be possible that somebody would be there and alive,” said Markel Sr.
A sight that’s helped him heal from PTSD, fully understand his role in the highly divisive war, and connect with his son on a new level.
“From the moment I stepped off the plane, I think I felt like I was back at home again, believe it or not. This really helps with PTSD. For those people who have it, they’ll know what I'm talking about,” said Markel Sr.
Stan Parker, a Billings resident who produced the documentary, said his friendship with the Markels inspired him to tell their story.
“Everyone has a story, right? We kind of forget that as we go about our daily lives and sometimes really formative experiences and traumatic formative experiences happened for people a long time ago in a faraway place,” Parker said.
It’s the return to that faraway pace that brings a singular story back, hitting close to home for many veterans.
Markel Sr. had been waiting 45 years to return to Vietnam.
The documentary has its hometown sneak peek at the Babcock Theatre in Billings on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m. The audience can expect a Q&A session with director/producer team Pete Tolton and Stan Parker following the showing of the film. Tickets are $15.
Click here to buy tickets and preview the documentary: Return | Art House Billings