Vietnam War Memorial Dedication
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]

Comrades Forever

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 on film.

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 members.

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 country:

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, was 20.

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 said.

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 enjoy anything."

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


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