Documentarian Tim Breitbach compares the initial news of Sgt. Dan Hefel's capture to that of John F. Kennedy's assassination. Of course, the two are apples and oranges on the surface, but when you consider the local impact of a Guttenberg native being taken as a prisoner of war (POW) during the Vietnam War, it was a "where were you" kind of moment.

Breitbach's documentary The Final 19 tells the story of Hefel, one of the final 19 prisoners of war to come home from Vietnam. Hefel would spend a jaw-dropping 1,143 days in captivity.

The film is a first-person account revolving around Hefel's Vietnam experiences, which included his horrific bout with malaria, a broken back from the helicopter crash that led to his capture, and the treatment he endured at the hands of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), according to the documentary's press kit.

Breitbach was kind enough to call into the Y105 Morning Show to discuss the documentary and its screening at the Hotel Julien Dubuque on Thursday, July 21st at 7pm. The screening is a free event on a "first come, first sat" basis. The event is part of the ongoing Mid-America H.O.G. Rally, with doors opening at 6pm.

Among many things, Breitbach talked about Hefel's background upon arriving in Vietnam in 1968:

He was enlisted in 1969 ,and was shot down out of an airplane and captured by the Viet Cong. [He spent] 1,143 days in prison camp. It was the story of stories around Dubuque. There was a constant 24 hours vigil.

The premise alone is the stuff of which unforgettable war documentaries are made. Breitbach made sure to note just how visceral of an experience is in store for the audience:

We take you into the camps, into Vietnam, into what Dan felt like and what he was going through. Also, we tell the side-by-side story of what it was like for the family at home. It was that family who kept him going. It was this region of the country that kept him going.

 

Special commemorative hats for sale at the Thursday night screening of "The Final 19." Photo Credit: Tim Breitbach/"The Final 19"
Special commemorative hats for sale at the Thursday night screening of "The Final 19." Photo Credit: Tim Breitbach/"The Final 19"
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For the screening at Hotel Julien Dubuque, Breitbach and the crew will be selling special commemorative hats. Hundreds of hats, in fact:

Proceeds will go to Dan himself and the [....] costs of this film. Dan spent 1,143 days in captivity. We have a hat for every single day. [Each] has a very specific date on it. You can pick the date you want on the hat and it will be custom-made and delivered to you [....] It's something extremely unique and collectible, and [it will] mean something to somebody.

Talking with Breitbach was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. A Facebook page dedicated to The Final 19 and Dan Hefel's story has seen substantial growth and discussion regarding both the film and Hefel himself. Breitbach's film was also screened at the St. Louis International Film Festival in 2021.

For more information on The Final 19, check out the documentary's Facebook page. You can also take a listen to my interview with Breitbach below!

LOOK: 100 years of American military history