More than 120 people capped off Veterans Day by attending the premiere of an oral-history production spotlighting five Deltona veterans.
They watched a video created by independent filmmaker Rocco Anastasio that tells the stories of five men who answered their country’s call to put themselves in harm’s way.
One of the five veterans served in the Navy in World War II, while three served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War, and one served in the Army in the Vietnam War. In Their Words debuted Nov. 11 at The Center at Deltona.
“Veterans — they have so many stories, and I want to capture their stories before they are gone,” Anastasio said.
Each story was recounted in the context of the world events that resulted in the wars.
William Shafer served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Trained as a radioman, he was shipped to the South Pacific Theater, arriving at Guadalcanal in 1942.
“We started island-hopping,” he said.
“I never saw combat at all,” Shafer added. His responsibility was “to keep all the electronic equipment working,” he said.
One of the men spotlighted in the film is Howard Hartley, who rose to the rank of sergeant and served as a medic at an aid station in Korea.
Hartley saw the horrors of war up close, such as a soldier who had “a 3-inch hole in the back of his head.”
Hartley expressed dismay over the Korean War’s inconclusive armistice. The war never officially ended, as no peace treaty was negotiated and signed. Korea remains divided along the 38th parallel, and hostilities sometimes erupt.
“We did not finish that war,” Hartley said.
Hartley died in August, but his story now lives on.
Two Deltonans of Puerto Rican heritage appeared in the film. Victor Ortiz and Narciso Villot served in the Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers. The unit saw intense combat in Korea.
Ortiz recalled going out on a patrol with 17 other soldiers, and encountering an enemy force numbering in the hundreds. Fourteen American soldiers were killed, and Ortiz and another GI had to jump into the icy Yalu River to avoid capture. Ortiz was rescued and flown to a field hospital.
Retired Army Chief Warrant Officer Phil Loranger shared his own story, speaking as an immigrant from France. Loranger entered the Army in 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War.
“The reason I enlisted was, I wasn’t doing very good in school,” he related in the film, adding basic training was quite strenuous. “You were not allowed to walk. You had to run everywhere.”
Loranger volunteered for duty in Vietnam.
“I was an American citizen two days before I went to Vietnam,” he said.
Loranger served in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971. By that time, he said, the idea of stopping communism was out, and the soldiers’ prime mission became survival.
“We were fighting to protect our brothers,” Loranger said.
Coming home from Vietnam was something of a shock, he remembered. The antiwar movement was stronger than he and his fellow soldiers had realized. Many soldiers did not want to wear their uniforms, often taking them off “and throwing them in the trash.”
“I was proud of my uniform,” Loranger said.
He remained in the Army and went on to serve in Operation Desert Storm. He was also working in the Pentagon when terrorists hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and crashed the jet into the building on Sept. 11, 2001.
His memories of the attack are still fresh and quite painful, he said.
Anastasio, who now lives in Deltona, said he would like to use his own documentary-production experience on future projects.
“I worked at PBS in Buffalo, New York. My plan is to try to do more similar productions,” he said.