Vietnam War Memorial
2:00 p.m. on Sunday,
October 27, 2002 at Veterans Memorial Park
to the Memory of
Robert P. Gandil
Thomas J. Holden
Michael J. Macarell
Memorial Dedication Service [Story & photos]
[Photos Group 2]
Record, Friday, October 24, 2003
HASBROUCK HEIGHTS -- Thomas J. Holden, Michael J. Macarell, and Robert P. Gandil grew
up in this small town and died too young in the jungles of Vietnam.
They have never been forgotten - not by their friends, family, or platoon mates, nor by
the borough, which recognized the trio on a plaque last year.
And now, the three fallen borough residents are once again being remembered - this time
The hour-long documentary, "Recovering Satellites," will premiere Sunday at
noon at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall. It is not just a tale of three men who lost
their lives three weeks to a month apart in 1966. It is a look at the special bond among
Vietnam veterans who keep the memory alive of those who died, even decades later.
The film is framed around a ceremony that took place Oct. 27, 2002, when a plaque with
the three men's names was attached to the borough's veterans monument.
Young filmmakers Chad Jenkins and Mike Kane were invited by a Vietnam veteran who was
in the same unit as Macarell. After recording the ceremony and talking with some of the
hundreds of veterans and family members, they realized they could tell a larger story. So,
they traveled 7,000 miles and conducted 30 interviews with veterans and active military
Jenkins said the film is not really about the Vietnam War and that he and Kane did not
incorporate their own political opinions about the conflict. The film "is really
about friends," he said. Jenkins, a 29-year-old student at Philadelphia's University
of the Arts, said the film tries to answer the question: "How is it that after 36
years they still feel so compelled to honor their friends?"
Dan Vecchio, commander of the borough's VFW Post 4591 and a Marine veteran of Vietnam,
was instrumental in getting the plaque placed on the monument. Vecchio said he made it his
"obsession" to mark the service Holden, Macarell, and Gandil gave to their
Marine 1st Lt. Thomas James Holden was killed Oct. 22, 1966, while attempting with his
platoon to save another unit under fire by the Viet Cong. Holden, a 1959 graduate of St.
Mary's High School in Rutherford, was 25 years old.
Army Pfc. Michael Joseph Macarell was killed in an ambush in Nui Ba Den (Black Virgin
Mountain) on Nov. 13, 1966. Macarell, a 1964 graduate of Hasbrouck Heights High School,
Marine Pfc. Robert Patrick Gandil was killed while on patrol in Quang Nam on Dec. 18,
1966. Gandil, a 1961 graduate of Hackensack High School, was 23. He left behind a wife of
only one year.
The quest for the plaque started with an oversight, Vecchio said. At the borough's 2002
Memorial Day Parade, American Legion representatives "read off the names of all those
who were killed [in the military during wartime] and they omitted the three Vietnam
guys," he said.
The names of the three men were carved into the bottom of the monument's stone base and
the American Legion had overlooked it by accident, Vecchio said. "Right then and
there I made up my mind that was wrong and we needed a plaque," he said. Vecchio
asked town officials to place a remembrance to the three young men on the monument.
Jenkins and Kane, a 26-year-old graduate of the Philadelphia college, were brought to
that ceremony by Dan McGowan, a Gloucester County man who was a member of Macarell's
platoon. Originally, the two filmmakers had no idea what they would do with the film.
"If nothing else, we would donate the footage to Hasbrouck Heights for their
archives," Jenkins said.
But they realized this was a story for a larger audience.
"When we started to interview a couple of the guys who knew Mike Macarell, this
issue of this lifelong bond happened to come up," Jenkins said. "They retained
their friendships over 36 years, and their friendships with each other that led them to
come back to Hasbrouck Heights to honor their friend."
Jenkins also learned that Marine veteran Gene Carrington spent more than 10 years
searching for Holden's grave to pay his respects. "I discovered that the core group
of guys who knew Tommy in the Marines had not seen each other in 35 years," Jenkins
McGowan said being interviewed for the film was "a little tough. You are dredging
up stuff that happened 36 years ago," he said.
McGowan, who lives in the South Jersey borough of Clayton, was with Macarell on patrol
when the Hasbrouck Heights resident was shot and killed.
"Mike was the kind of guy who wasn't afraid of anything," McGowan said.
Talking about Macarell brought McGowan to tears.
"I'm still here," he said, weeping. "Mike Macarell never knew anything
about life. He never had a family. He was just a 20-year-old kid. He never had a chance to
The filmmakers hope that by telling the story of the respect and honor among these
former platoon buddies, they'll show that Macarell, Gandil, and Holden did not die in
vain. That's what Vecchio hopes comes across, also.
"Here it is, 36 years after these three men died, and they are still doing
something," Vecchio said. "They are bringing people together."
The filmmakers are planning to submit the finished work to film festivals. But on
Sunday, Jenkins and Kane will happily welcome constructive criticism from the audience.
They will host a question-and-answer session after the showing.
Admission to the film is free, but space is limited in the VFW hall.
To make a reservation, call the VFW post at (201) 288-1112.
Source: Record, Friday, October 24, 2003