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Film Explores Battle War Veterans Face in Civilian Society

In the movie “The Last Patrol,” filmmaker Sebastian Junger travels with two war veterans and a photographer who has worked in war zones. The four men walk 640 kilometers from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The film shows how difficult it is for former soldiers to return to civilian life.

“Until you hear the snap of a bullet go by your head, there is nothing like it.”

Although war is dangerous, many former soldiers say they miss the fighting. Sebastian Junger understands their feelings. He filmed an attack during a visit to the Korengal area of Afghanistan six years ago.

“You’re just there at an outpost getting shot at with those guys.”

He says that kind of closeness is difficult to find when soldiers return to the United States.

“I feel like this society invented loneliness.”

Dave Roels is a war veteran. He fought in Korengal.

“It’s comforting to live in a group, and when that’s gone, it can be a very difficult adjustment to make.”

Mr. Roels does not yet know what to do as a civilian. Brendan O’ Byrne also served in the armed forces, as an army sergeant. He, too, is still looking for purpose in civilian life. Sebastian Junger says Mr. O’Byrne was a good soldier and leader.

“And then he comes home to the United States and he’s a mess -- drank way too much, very self-destructive. But when we started doing ‘The Last Patrol,’ all of a sudden, I would see the old Brendan that I remembered from Afghanistan.”

The filmmaker says Americans can help war veterans get used to civilian life only if they understand what soldiers miss about combat. If people fail to understand the closeness war brings, he says, society will not be able to provide a place where veterans can feel at ease.

But what exactly is home? And how can war veterans feel good about returning to the United States? That is one of the reasons Mr. Junger and the three men went on their long walk. The movie shows them sleeping and cooking in the woods, bathing in rivers and dealing with changing weather conditions.

“(The) thing about (a) railroad line is, it goes straight through farms, woods, ghettoes, suburbs, inner city, industry -- it goes straight through the middle of everything. And on the way we were asking Americans that we met, how America was doing. ‘How do you think America is doing? What’s the thing you like best about this country? What do you like worst about it?’ And we just did this 400-mile assessment of where my country’s at right now, and where we are at."

Here, Mr. Junger speaks to a crowd.

“We’re trying to figure out what the best thing about America is. What do you think? What do you think is the best thing about this country?”

“That you’re free -- freedom of speech.”

“Freedom of speech, man, freedom of religion.”

“It’s free -- free country!”

“Best thing about America? Hmm…I got to Google it first.”

The Last Patrol shows how some war veterans in America feel lost. They are seeking to find their place in a time of peace.

Mr. Junger talks with a war veteran about fighting the enemy.

“You miss combat at all?”

“Yeah, I do.”

I’m Christopher Cruise.

VOA movie correspondent Penelope Poulou reported this story from Washington. Christopher Cruise wrote this story for VOA Learning English. He also narrated and produced the program. George Grow edited it.


Words in this Story

war zone – n. an area that is different from other areas because of fighting between soldiers

adjustment – n. a small change that improves something or makes it work better

civilian – n. a person who is not a member of the military or of a police or firefighting force

self-destructive – adj. causing destruction or harm to oneself

suburbs – n. a town or other area where people live in houses near a larger city

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