It’s one of those almost forgotten moments in the Christmas classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” that makes that film such a precious time capsule of a bygone time in our nation’s history. While Harry Bailey goes off to become a war hero, it’s up to George Bailey and his fellow townsfolk to “fight the Battle of Bedford Falls,” as the angelic supervisor informs Clarence. Like their fellow citizens on the home front all across the country, George and the good folks of Bedford Falls collected metal and rubber, went on war rations, bought war bonds, and conducted civil defense drills, all contributing in some small fashion to the war effort being waged by men and women like Harry on the far side of the world.
Fast forward three score and a few years, to another war being waged halfway around the globe by this generation’s Harry Baileys. What do all of us on the home front do today in our collective role as George Bailey, circa 2008? Why, we support our troops, by golly! We must, because that ribbon on the back of our gas-guzzling SUV says so! Or we argue, as yours truly is guilty as charged, that we support our troops by demanding that they return home to safety, yesterday, if not sooner.
In other words, we Americans suck at being George Bailey.
Which is why it’s no surprise that when troops began arriving home to appalling conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center, to name the most famous example, and were greeted by hearty, well-intentioned thank yous… but not much else in the way of tangible support from the government or from their fellow citizens, the same troops who foraged through Iraqi scrap heaps for their own humvee armor have once again taken matters into their own hands, this time regarding their post-service care.
“Swim,” a solid, non-strident and determinedly apolitical documentary from filmmakers Matt Cook, Chantz Hoover and Andrew Cockrum, shines a spotlight on one such unique effort. The film chronicles the efforts of two veterans, David Broyles and Rush Vann, who set out to swim the dangerous Strait of Gibraltar in order to raise money for and awareness of the plight facing veterans returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A soothing yet serious, beautifully photographed affair, “Swim” lets us tag along with David and Rush as they train for their arduous swim through frigid, white-capped, ship and shark-infested waters and struggle mightily to attract media attention from a general populace initially more interested in raising $10,000 for a dog’s operation than contributing to the two veterans’ Swim the Strait fund.
The filmmakers also allow us to meet a couple of vets badly wounded in the fighting, which not so subtly reminds the viewer why it is that the charismatic swimmers are risking life and limb again on the treacherous passage.
The 12.5 miles as the crow flies from Marifa, Spain to Morocco is a walk across the street compared to the distance we as a country need to traverse to make supporting our troops more than just a slogan on a bumper sticker.
As ably documented in “Swim,” the David Broyles and Rush Vanns in the service have more than done their part. It’s time for the rest of us to sink or swim with them.