It’s well after midnight by the time Oscar Soliz clicks off his lamps and shuts down his computer. His brown eyes are strained, his neck and back are stiff, his hands tingle. He rubs his salt-and-pepper beard; it’s time for bed.
He’s just finished another 13-hour day producing a documentary about four local Vietnam vets and how their powerful memories have barely diminished with the passage of time.
The hour-long documentary, titled “Deep Scars,” features retired Staff Sgt. Edward Brown Jr., retired Sgt. Trini Cruz, retired 1st Sgt. William J. Johnson and retired Sgt. 1st Class Dion Soliz III. The veterans, all Purple Heart recipients, recount their struggles on the battlefield and off.
“I’m showing the feelings and fears of being in combat as well as its affect on their lives after returning home,” says Soliz, a self-taught videographer and owner of Ozman Visual Media Productions. “There are so many stories. So much had happened to them.”
The documentary opens with images and narration explaining the politics of the Vietnam War, the lives lost and the toll it took on men such as Brown.
“Hmm, lemme see, I’ve been recovering from my injuries for 44 years and counting,” Brown, 63, says with a chuckle. “Physically, I spent 32 months in various hospitals.” Brown was injured on May 14, 1968, in Binh Duong Province, Vietnam. In the uncut version of the film, Brown recounted how his fellow soldier Ron E. Clark fell into him after being hit by a grenade from a rocket-propelled launcher. “I looked into his eyes as he died,” Brown said. “His death was fast, and his survivors should know he didn’t suffer (alone).”
The documentary also recounts the hostile reactions many returning vets received from their fellow citizens.
Cruz spent 39 months in different hospitals recovering from his injuries. In the film, he tearfully recounts arriving back home in the United States still in uniform and walking with a cane. Cruz wanted a cup of coffee but he had no money. “I gave [the man behind the counter] one of my medals and said I’ll come back and pay for it. The man said, ‘We don’t take medals. We take cash here. I can’t give you a cup of coffee.’ We’re over there fighting this war, and nobody would give me a cup of coffee.”
Soliz is seeking a distribution deal for the film and, in the meantime, hopes to show it to various local veteran organizations. For now, he’s working on it primarily for the men featured in the video.
The documentary has been a year in the making, the last three months on editing alone
“You can get lost in editing,” he says. “Sure, I get tired and frustrated but that’s nothing. It’s a difficult documentary.”
“Deep Scars” had an effect on the subjects of the documentary.
“Being a part of Oscar’s movie is the first time I ever talked in-depth about my experiences in Vietnam,” says Dion Soliz, 64, Oscar’s brother. “And now I want my daughters to see the movie and understand what the nightmares and screaming at night were all about.”
It’s also had an effect on its director, who did not serve in Vietnam.
“I have a good life, but I still think I should have been over there,” Oscar says. “I have guilt of not going to Vietnam. But since my brother was enlisted, I couldn’t go; he wouldn’t allow it.”
Soliz’s only sibling served three tours in Vietnam (1967-1971) and was awarded the Purple Heart and four Bronze Stars.
“No need for mom to lose us both,” says Dion, explaining why he wouldn’t allow his younger brother to follow him into battle. “It wasn’t the politics so much as I felt it was my duty. But once you’re over there, family is all you live for. It keeps you going.”
Funding for the film came from $5,000 in prize money Soliz, 63, won in the 2011 Pepsi Challenge Grant. The program awarded grants for projects that benefit the community, environment and schools. While $5,000 is a pittance compared to what most films – even documentaries – cost, Soliz spent carefully and stayed within his budget.
“I bought the things I truly needed, like the green screen and software and some things I bought at a discount, like the Sony mc2000 camera.” Soliz said.
The film includes both comedic and painful recollections, such as Cruz’s having a tailbone removed, Soliz’s encounter with an elephant, Brown’s blown eardrums and the time Johnson was shot twice in two days.
Soliz says that for him, an unforeseen benefit of his working on the film is that he is now closer to his brother because he better understands Dion’s wartime traumas. “I’m trying to draw out the inner feelings of their reality. To understand how the wounded veterans survived during and after the war,” he says.
“I know my brother is real patriotic and feels plenty of guilt about not going over to serve in Vietnam,” said Dion Soliz. “But I tell him ‘Hey, I served your time and mine. I served for America, and that includes you.’ “
By, Elena Brown, Special to the San Antonio Express News