Walk With Frank is an engaging documentary about Vietnam veteran Frank Romeo’s long journey of self-discovery, mental health, and eventually moving from denial to understanding and embracing his PTSD. He suffered traumatic injuries during an enemy attack that left him critically wounded and alone for a time in the jungles of Vietnam. Rotating back home to recover, Frank’s life went down a long spiral of drugs and alcohol. He spent time in prison and then isolated himself from his large Italian family. The beginning of Frank’s salvation came in the form of art. He began painting scenes from his memories and nightmares of being in-country. What he couldn’t say in words, he expressed in his art, and this was key to understanding his PTSD and the unhealed trauma he experienced for decades. Part of Frank’s healing came from his efforts to help others. He appears as a speaker and works with veterans who are also dealing with PTSD. The talking helps both him and the other vets.
To mark his 70th birthday, Frank decided to celebrate by walking the length of New York State, 750 miles, as a way to call attention to his cause, share his education curriculum, and bring awareness and a voice to those suffering from PTSD. He stayed in shelters when he could, with homeless vets. By walking, Frank hopes to shed light on the true experience of the American soldier, the ongoing struggles facing the mental health and homeless communities, and hopefully inspire others to speak about their own mental illnesses. Frank’s old injuries make walking a challenge for him, but he struck out on a winter morning and walked all day, and continued to walk each day until the challenge was complete, as he walked into New York City.
“…Frank hopes to shed light on the true experience of the American soldier…”
In 2014 Frank went back to the jungles of Southeast Asia to hear about PTSD from the viewpoint of his former enemy, visiting battle sites and living in grass huts among rice paddies, just as he had during the war. He wished to understand the Vietnamese experience of the war and how those soldiers later dealt with the trauma. Frank documented his trip on a daily blog as students in America followed him in real-time. The blog is still available online as an amazing document bridging past and present.
Brothers, co-writers, and co-directors Matthew and Ryan Mayers follow Frank along his walk, incorporating their footage with his self-recorded vlog entries. Frank’s passion for doing the healing work for himself and others is inspiring and moving. It’s clear that this work does as much for him as for others who are suffering. The fact that Frank is highly functional, re-integrated with his family, and clean now, shows his progress in healing. His calm, confident way of addressing other veterans (and other people who’ve suffered traumatic events) is amazing. He knows how to reach people. Despite no formal training in being a therapist, Frank listens and asks questions leading people to tell their own stories. His patience with people is generous, and his love for them is moving.
Decades after a war, as the soldiers enter their senior years, we are just now getting around to accepting and treating their PTSD, and it’s a good effort. Still, there have been many wars since that one, and generations of soldiers who will be dealing with the same mental illness. People like Frank Romeo, and Mayers brothers bringing awareness through Walk With Frank, are critical to paving the way for treatment and may, at some point, result in re-considering the human cost to our troops when deciding when, why, and how we go to war.
"…inspiring and moving..."