For Springs resident Kevin Reynolds, a slight against his long-dead brother opened a door for himself, and dozens of Vietnam veterans, to salve the scabbed-over but still lingering wounds of an ugly past.
For decades, Mr. Reynolds and his family barely spoke of the death of his brother Richie, just 22, in an infamous Vietnam War battle. For most of his adult life, Mr. Reynolds, 67, says, his brother’s death was only a faint memory for him.
“I never dealt with my brother’s death,” he said recently. “I’m first-generation Irish Catholic—we never talked about it. For 45 years, I never thought about it. Then I read an article that said my brother was at fault for a lot of guys getting killed.”
The article was written by a former U.S. Marine Corps officer who had been in command of the battalion of Marines who were approaching a small village on the edge of the demilitarized zone of South Vietnam. The article was the officer’s way of “covering his own ass,” as Mr. Reynolds put it. “Forty years later, he writes this disparaging article?” he said. “Why?”
The article became a case file for Mr. Reynolds, a former cop, then a history lesson and—now—a crusade to help former Marines introduce what they experienced in Vietnam to their families, or help quiet the internal turmoil that still roils.
Having rarely thought about what the Marines in Vietnam went through, Mr. Reynolds started interviewing other former soldiers, first those who had served in the units involved in the battle in which his brother was killed—starting with Dan Reeves, the man who had been next to Richie Reynolds when he was killed, and who suffered injuries that still inhibit his ability to talk—then those who had served throughout the country.
Mr. Reynolds filmed the interviews, and the effort grew into a still-in-the-works documentary, to be called “My Brother, Your Brother.”
The interviews, dozens of them and counting, have evolved into a way for his subjects to express, and share, difficult-to-discuss experiences. He keeps the interviews for use in his documentary but also burns them onto DVDs that the veterans can give to family members.
“I sit down with them and film them and let them tell their stories,” Mr. Reynolds said. “They go back there with their children, and their children have a totally different perspective and respect for their dads. They’re 45 and they had never known what their dads had gone through.”
Last month, Mr. Reynolds, a former NYPD officer turned massage therapist who moved to East Hampton in 1991, traveled with one group of veterans to the small Vietnamese village where his brother had been killed, along with a dozen other men in his company, in a battle that has become well-known because it was recounted by another Marine wounded during the fight: Ron Kovic, author of “Born on the Fourth of July.”
Mr. Reynolds returned from Vietnam with a small plastic bag filled with sand from the open field where his brother had led the U.S. Marines 3rd Platoon, A Company, 1st AmTrac Battalion, crossing it in hopes of assisting another company that had been pinned down by North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops.
He also came back with a trove of interviews of former soldiers, in the villages and fields where they had seen horrors that still haunt them. Marines have been making the trip for decades, precisely for the cathartic process that Mr. Reynolds now seeks to capture on camera.
“They take you back to the exact spot where you were wounded or where you lost your best friend,” he said. “They bring beers and flowers, and there is a lot of crying, but it removes all this weight from their shoulders. These guys, they’re really suffering, still. But by being there in the present, they can let go a little of the past.”
Part of the healing process for the veterans is connecting with the people of the villages they once battled with. Mr. Reynolds’s group brought with it bundles of gifts: children’s toys and composition books for an orphanage, 400 kilos of rice, even a box of cashmere sweaters—all donated by East Hampton friends.
As he begins to craft his documentary—he’s hiring a professional film editor to help him weave the interviews and other footage together with historical photos—Mr. Reynolds says he is building a new lifetime of memories in the hours he spends toiling at a computer.
“The silver lining is that I have been with my brother every day for the last three and a half years—and I hadn’t been for the previous 45 years,” he said. “Who is luckier than me to find a passion at 67 that I’m involved with every day?”