Heroes de otra patria (Heroes of Another Country) (1998)
Director: Iván Dariel Ortiz.
Starring: Alba Raquel Barros, Jorge Castillo, Modesto Lacen, Adamari López, Jimmy Navarro, Domingo QuiZones.
In a mix of Spanish and English with English subtitles for the Spanish and Spanish subtitles for the English.
trouble for Puerto Rican families and their son when the sons are drafted to fight in the Vietnam War
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Some 48,000 Puerto Ricans served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
1950. Puerto Rico. Two military men in dress uniform stop their jeep in front a house in a residential area. The men deliver a military death notice to a woman of the house. She starts crying immediately.
1968. South Vietnam. A number of Puerto Rican soldiers are in one unit on the front lines. Carlos has just returned from a dangerous mission and he is exhausted. A black Puerto Rican named Esteben gets to go home tomorrow. Carlos gives him a letter to his mother so that Esteben will deliver it personally. The two soldiers think about their fellow Puerto Rican buddies who have already been killed in Vietnam. Their conversation has to end for the moment as the Lieutenant wants to speak with Carlos. Carlos and four other soldiers are going on another mission, this one involving even greater danger. Carlos tells the Lieutenant that he needs rest since he just finished a dangerous mission. The Lieutenant does not want to hear about it. All the men chosen for the mission are the most experienced soldiers in the unit. After the others are dismissed Carlos speaks to the Lieutenant in private. He tells the officer that if he dies, he dies in vain over a war he does not know anything about or care about. "It's not my war."
Carlos returns to his bunk and complains a lot about the mission and the war itself. Esteben is just a survivor and doesn't want to discuss the merits of the war or a particular mission. Alone in the barracks one of the white soldiers teases Carlos about his upcoming "suicide" mission. Carlos doesn't say anything, but when the other soldier starts to grab his rifle, Carlos pulls his bayonet on the fellow and holds it to his throat. The threatened guy backs down very quickly and gets out of there as fast as he can.
Esther, the sister of Carlos, comes home to her mother. Her mother can tell that something has happened to upset her daughter. She keeps demanding to know what it is until Esther finally relents and says the older man Don Francisco made a pass at her. Her mother wants to know why her daughter would even speak to that horrid man. Esther wanted to borrow some money from the guy. Mom tells Esther to be more careful. After all she lost a husband in the Korean War and she has not heard for a while from Carlos in Vietnam and she just can't afford to lose her daughter too. Esther comments that another three young men from the neighborhood received their draft notices. She then adds: "The guys who go to Vietnam, don't come back. Or they come back crazy."
Carlos is out on patrol with the other fellows. Sergeant Torres gives a fellow named John and a black soldier named Daily the assignment to take the point (i.e., to be out front of the rest of the men in the unit). They go ahead of the unit and very quickly they see a small group of Viet Cong soldiers all dressed in black walking on another path. Daily wants no part of the group and tells John to stay down. John is very scared, but he suddenly jumps up and starts chasing the enemy. He is like a crazy man. He shoots two of the enemy, but is shot in turn. Then one of the Viet Cong puts a rifle barrel to John's head and shoots him dead. By the time the little unit arrives, the Viet Cong are gone and they have a corpse on their hands.
Back in Puerto Rico Esther and her mother do some shopping. Her mother buys her some fabric in order to make Esther a beautiful dress for the upcoming dance.
A young girl passes over the path in front of the unit. They are all holding their weapons on her, but let her pass by without any interference. Not long after this, a firefight breaks out. Daily is killed almost immediately. Carlos tries to stop one of the soldiers from running and for his trouble gets shot near the chest. He is hurt badly enough that he has to be carried. Another one of the soldiers is killed in the fight. Sgt. Torres grabs Carlos and starts carrying him the five miles back to base camp.
Esther fills out an application form for college. She tells her mother that she wants to be a teacher. Even better news for mother; she wants to go to the Catholic University nearby.
Torres and Carlos are having a difficult time. They have to take frequent rest stops. On these breaks Carlos criticizes the war effort. But Torres does not want to hear that. He tells Carlos that he actually volunteered for the army and that he .likes it. Carlos can't believe his ears. A volunteer? Why? Torres tells him that they are fighting communism. But Carlos doesn't accept any of that rah-rah stuff. Torres finally has to stop him from talking about the war because every time he does, Torres gets a bad headache.
Esteben makes his way back home. His mother is extremely happy to see him. When he tells her that he has a letter from Carlos to his mother, she encourages him to go immediately and give the letter to her.
Torres is able to dodge a Viet Cong patrol.
Mother and Esther are behind in their rent for almost a year. The landlord threatens to evict them. But mom just tells the landlord that they will not be leaving until Carlos returns. Mother works on the dress for Esther, who tells mom that her date is going to be with Rafael, a local guy. Later, Esther goes over to see Rafael. She just wants to make sure that he will still be taking her to the dance. Of course, he says.
The Lieutenant decides to send another unit out to find the one led by Sgt. Torres. He wants them found even if they are all dead. In the jungle Torres takes another rest stop. A Vietnamese boy approaches the two men and uses some primitive sign language to tell them to get going quickly. The enemy is coming. Torres and Carlos move.
At the dance, Rafael tells Esther that he has received his draft notice. He definitely does not want to go to Vietnam, but that's probably where he will be sent. Esther starts crying. She lost her father in Korea, Carlos is fighting on the front lines in Vietnam and now her boyfriend is also likely to be headed to fight in the Vietnam War.
Torres is still buddy-carrying Carlos and Carlos is still giving Torres headaches by discussing the War.
Esteben goes to see Carlos's mother and sister. When he first arrives mother starts to panic. She thinks she is being notified that Carlos is dead. Esteben tries to tell her he is not there for that reason but he does not get through to mom until after Esther has become very afraid too. He is finally able to give them the letter from Carlos. They read it and then they cry.
The rescue patrol finds two of the dead soldiers' bodies and somehow conclude that they are all dead. They are ordered to return to base camp.
Torres talks to Carlos who is feeling very bad. He says: "You're right. I'm needed more at home than here." He then complains about his head hurting again. Torres and the rescue patrol suddenly run into one another. They are glad to see each other. Torres tells them that Carlos is resting on the ground a short ways in back of him. Two guys of the unit go to find Carlos. They find him alright, but he is dead. This is news to Torres and he finds it impossible to accept the notion that Carlos is dead. One of the men tells Torres that Carlos has been dead for three or four days already.
Back home, the Veterans Administration Hospital is a real mess. Torres is a mental patient there. And everyday he keeps asking about how Carlos is doing. The staff just tells him that Carlos is "fine".
Statistics reveal that the proportion of casualties among Puerto Rican soldiers was four times higher than among American soldiers. This movie is dedicated to all Puerto Ricans who fought in Vietnam and gave the best of themselves: their lives.
Pretty good movie. It was a short movie (only about a hour and seventeen minutes), but I did like the emphasis on the important sacrifices Puerto Ricans make in defense of the United States. Many people don't realize that Puerto Rico is part of the United States and their young men are subject to the US draft in wartime. There have been a lot of movies done about the Vietnam War and from many different perspectives. One or two more about the Puerto Rican experience can only help (and maybe even help heal some troubled Puerto Rican veterans). I liked the actress that played the part of Esther.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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