Movie Review: Scramble the Seawolves

Growing up I knew that my father had served in Vietnam, but I didn’t know very much about it beyond that. He rarely spoke of the experience and we never really asked, assuming he preferred not to bring it up. A few years ago though, images that included him appeared in Ken Burns’ documentary series The Vietnam War, and it seemed like perhaps we had assumed incorrectly. When he gave myself and my siblings copies of another documentary titled Scramble the Seawolves, which focused on his specific unit it became clear that we would finally get to learn more of what his time overseas had been like.

With respectful narration by Mike Rowe, the film intersperses archival footage with interviews of surviving members of the squadron to tell the story of the once little-known band of Navy soldiers. The Helicopter Attack (LIGHT) Squadron, aka HA(L)-3, was formed in 1967 in the Republic of Vietnam to provide aerial assistance to Navy vessels making their way through the Mekong Delta, where they were frequently attacked by Viet Cong units. Entirely comprised of soldiers who had volunteered for the duty, they had to get by using hand-me-down choppers and scrounging for parts from nearby Army bases. Some of the encounters these men experienced were so incredible, and knowledge of the existence of HA(L)-3 so minimal, that for years many of them weren’t even believed by their peers.

Hearing these stories retold by those who were there makes for compelling, informative, and often harrowing viewing. While they can look back and laugh at some of the more absurd situations they had to deal with, it clearly pains them to recount the many darker moments, but it’s important that they did and that it was recorded here. Sections dealing with the poor reception they received upon returning home to America and with the ongoing struggle some have with PTSD serve as reminders of the ongoing cost of war, that often continues to take its toll long after leaving the battlefield. This traditionally structured documentary eschews the avant-garde tricks and stylings that have popped up recently in the genre, opting to simply tell us the story of this lesser-known squadron and the great heroism of its members, making sure that their sacrifices are recorded for posterity. ★★★★

not rated. contains violent images, language, and thematic material.

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★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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