As Veterans Day approaches, the Lincoln Theater has partnered with The Peace Gallery in Damariscotta for a showing of award-winning documentary “The Wake Up Call.”
The film introduces viewers to Vietnam veteran, peace activist, humanitarian, double amputee, and prosthetist Dave Evans.
It opens in West Virginia coal country in 1969. Black-and-white photos and film footage depict the austerity of life in that time and place. The conveyors bringing coal up out of the mines seem almost like military vehicles, and striking miners eye the camera. Aimless young men cluster outside a building as the tail end of a truck passes out of the frame.
The scenes stand in stark contrast to “the rhetoric of John Kennedy” as described by Bobby Muller, founder and president of Veterans for America, who was interviewed for the documentary, and it becomes easy to see how those noble ideals might have motivated Evans to escape to the Marine Corps at the age of 17.
The filmmakers interviewed a number of veterans involved in peace movements who shared their own experiences and the growing disillusionment that came out of their wartime service. Hearing them describe what they saw and how they felt in what one interview subject called “the mad moments” of combat is eye-opening, particularly to those who never served.
Evans recounted his first day on the ground and how what he saw changed him.
“When you see the dead, reality sinks in,” he said.
He also described his last day in country, the day that altered the trajectory of his life. Evans and his company were ambushed: unexpected gunfire, an explosion. He describes the “super slow-mo” feeling of the attack, seeing part of his own leg, still in the boot, lying amongst the bodies of his comrades. Evans actually lost both legs that day and he returned from the war profoundly changed.
Evans’ anger is a palpable theme that runs through the film – at the politicians and corporations he blames for sending young men to lose limbs, to be traumatized, to die for reasons that he ultimately determined were less than honorable.
Ultimately Evans focused his patriotism and sense of duty on the collateral damage of war: the civilians, the veterans, the amputees. He turned the loss of his legs into a mission.
He learned to craft and fit artificial limbs, and when he made his way into hospital wards, famously dancing in on his own prosthetics, damaged men began to see the possibility of a brighter future.
Evans advocated for veterans, even running for office at one point. He advocated for the homeless, many of whom had served their country, although he made no distinction.
“They’re all Americans. If you look down on a street person that’s an American you look down on. You can’t do that and call yourself a patriot,” he said.
Evans went even further. The second half of the film shows him as a man on a mission, traveling around the world to the countries that had been ravaged by war to try to rehabilitate the bodies that had been ravaged by war.
He helped build clinics and trained medical staff to fit prosthetics not only in the United States, but in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Cuba, El Salvador, Iraq, Jordan, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Syria, and Vietnam.
“The Wake Up Call” asks the viewer to closely consider the concepts of war and patriotism, and the collateral damage of battle.
A free screening of “The Wake Up Call” will be shown at the Lincoln Theater at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29. The filmmakers, Alison Gilkey and Eric Neudel, will be on hand to discuss the film after the screening, and a reception at The Peace Gallery will follow.
Veterans Day is Friday, Nov. 11.