‘Hunting in Wartime’ tells of Hoonah soldiers before, during and after Vietnam

2016 documentary remembers the young men who left and the battle-tested soldiers who returned

Content warning: the following article refers to an exhibit movie that some may find upsetting as it involves topics of war, racism, and scenes that depict violence.

“Hunting in Wartime” is a movie featured in the online exhibit, “Waging Peace in Vietnam: US Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed the War.” The online exhibit is part of a physical display at UAS Juneau until Dec. 15.

“It’s about the human cost of war and survivability in a community. It’s also how you go through something and survive it and come out the other side. And thank goodness a lot of these guys did,” director Smantha Farinella said in an interview about her film.

Hoonah, Alaska, a community on Chichagof Island, 30 miles west of Juneau, gave 28 of its sons to the Vietnam War, and 27 came back. The movie, made in 2016, documents their story. It brings to life the history  as it was in the 1960s and 70s when most of them served.

Most of them didn’t speak English when they started school. They grew up at a time where there were signs in some store windows that said, “No dogs or Indians allowed”. Their own language, Tlingit, didn’t even have a proper name, it was just called “Indian” by the whites who had settled on their ancestral lands. They were treated as less than second-class citizens by a country that wanted them to fight in a war they had no desire to be a part of. But, when their country called, they answered.

The documentary takes the viewer into the lives of the Tlingit Hoonah residents.

“When I grew up, I wanted to be a hunter and a fisherman and I could do both of them,” said Donald See, who took his elder brother’s place to go into the war. He said he was taught to hunt before learning how to cut down a tree. It is not a romantic retelling of reality, other former soldiers share similar stories and you know that these youth were sons of Hoonah and sons of the earth. There was a respect for people and a knowledge of their surroundings.

The hatred they got was from the whites. Hoonah vet Warren Shakely said they would tell him: “Do not come into this restaurant, do not use that outhouse. Go to your own place. I grew up with hatred”

With the exception of the young women, the entire 1966 graduating class in the town went to Vietnam. A contrast was flashed on the screen with Vietnam War propaganda showing clean cut soldiers neatly dressing wounds with Hoonah soldiers describing the atrocities they witnessed.

The documentary is graphic, both in descriptions and in photos. We know that it is not showing the worst of what the soldiers saw. But the movie also shows how the men came back and coped– or tried to cope with what they had seen, them as old men, with good memories of lives lived after the war, sobriety, businesses, college degrees, and grandchildren.

The names of the 28 soldiers who served are: Ken Austin, Victor Bean, Fred Bennet, George Bennet, Albert Dick, Everet Glover, Ron Greenwald, Royal Hill, Glen Johnson, Elmer Koenig, Roger Koenig, Dennis Lindoff, James Lindoff, George Lindoff, Harvey Lindoff Donald Marvin, George Mills, Gilbert Mills, Jr., Pat Mills, Tom Mills, Tony Mills, Donald See, Frank See, Jr., Warren Sheakley, Ozzie Sheakley, Mark White, Jake White, Jr., and Walter Williams.

Only Ronald Greenwald did not make it back. Greenwald was the sole surviving son of his parents and could not be drafted, and he went because serving was important to him. He served as a door gunner where the life expectancy was measured in weeks, not months, and he had 11 days left when he was assigned somewhere relatively safe. He died during the Tet Offensive on Feb. 12, 1968.

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