Battle cries: Gandolfini, HBO show true cost of combat in ‘Wartorn 1861-2010’ | The Boston Herald

Battle cries: Gandolfini, HBO show true cost of combat in ‘Wartorn 1861-2010’ | The Boston Herald

By Mark A. Perigard | November 11, 2010

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not just something that affects a combat veteran.

It’s something that can devastate an entire family, as James Gandolfini’s (“The Sopranos”) new documentary “Wartorn 1861-2010” reveals in stark, lean vignettes.

For decades, soldiers were reviled as weaklings and cowards for complaining of distress.

In one chilling bit of footage from the 1940s, one anguished soldier tries to explain himself.

“I can’t stand seeing people killed.”

His seemingly callous interviewer wonders, “What does that do to you?”

“Scares me,” the man answers.

Eighteen-year-old Angelo Crapsey joined the Union Army in 1861. His letters to home over the next three years track his mental disintegration as more of his brothers fall in combat.

“Many was the time that I saw things that will be remembered unto death,” he wrote in one missive.

Discharged from service, he returned home to Pennsylvania and killed himself.

His story parallels that of Noah Pierce, an Iraq war veteran who shot himself in 2007 in his Minnesota hometown.

His mother Cheryl says, “The United States Army turned my son into a killer. They forgot to untrain him.”

A group of World War II veterans gathers to share stories they’ve not dared speak aloud in all the ensuing decades. One has a grandson serving in Iraq: “I know, but how can I tell my grandson he’s not coming home the same person who left? I wasn’t the same person that left.”

Billy Fraas spends hours staring at pictures he snapped of the carnage he saw while serving in Iraq. He suffers severe panic symptoms. His wife comments, “Even though he wasn’t shot, he still died over there.”

At just under 70 minutes, “Wartorn,” Gandolfini’s second documentary with HBO regarding the plight of veterans (the first, “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq”) includes some graphic footage of maimed and bloody corpses, giving the smallest hint of the horrors servicemen and women have witnessed. Althought “Wartorn” cries out for more aid for veterans, it doesn’t try to suggest solutions.

Gandolfini asks one colonel if everyone who sees combat suffers from some form of PSTD.

He replies, “Nobody is really unscathed unless you have no compassion for human life.”

On Veterans Day, “Wartorn” is a somber reminder of the price that many pay when they serve their country and a wake-up call to the rest of us about the debt we owe them.

Rating: B+