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POV: Almost Sunrise

At the start of their trek at the Milwaukee War Memorial, Tom Voss hugs his girlfriend Katinka goodbye.
Courtesy of Thoughtful Robot Productions
At the start of their trek at the Milwaukee War Memorial, Tom Voss hugs his girlfriend Katinka goodbye.

Airs Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Follow two veterans on a 2,700-mile trek on foot across America.

Veteran suicides reached epidemic proportions in recent years, with many deaths blamed on “moral injury”—the result of transgressing deeply held beliefs during wartime.

“Moral injury” is an evolving diagnosis without a fixed treatment plan. Veterans must often find their own way.


Iraq veterans Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson, haunted by combat experiences, decided to distance themselves from their demons by taking a 2,700 mile walk from Milwaukee to Santa Barbara, seeking redemption, acceptance and a way to close the deep moral chasm opened by war.

That trek is the centerpiece of “Almost Sunrise,” a new film by director Michael Collins and Producer Marty Syjuco, whose Emmy-nominated "Give Up Tomorrow" aired on PBS in 2012.

“Almost Sunrise” debuts on POV and all streaming devices Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 at 10 p.m. #AlmostSunrisePBS

The film defines moral injury as “a wound to the soul inflicted by violating one’s own ethical code.”

These wounds often result from unexpected situations over which a soldier had no control, including “collateral damage” and civilian casualties.


S30 Ep15: What Is Moral Injury?

"This clip begins with a definition of moral injury as a "wound to the soul

Tom Voss came from a military family and joined the Army at age 19. He was deployed to Iraq from 2004-2005. “You really don’t know anything about war,” he says. “You’re naïve about the whole process.”

Yet soldiers often experience searing events that transform their lives, though the effects often do not reveal themselves until they return home.

Anthony Anderson did two tours in Iraq, and like Voss experienced mental anguish after his deployment ended. “I had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. I was breaking down.”

Both men experienced sleep disorders, chronic anger, and suicidal thoughts. Alcohol and prescription drug abuse added to their problems.

Voss finally had enough. “I needed to do something to help myself. I needed to take a stand.”

He decided the walk — which would help raise funds for a Milwaukee veteran gathering place — would help him come to grips with his wartime experiences.

Anthony, who had also concluded that his survival required drastic action, agreed to join him.

Anthony Anderson kisses his wife Holly and daughter Madeline goodbye.
Courtesy of Thoughtful Robot Productions
Anthony Anderson kisses his wife Holly and daughter Madeline goodbye.

The hike was no stroll in the park.

Massive blisters, snow and a blazing sun were accompanied by constant mental replays of what Voss and Anderson call their “deployment reel” — memories of combat experiences brought vividly to life in graphic detail.

As they walked, they kept a blog, maintained a social media presence, and read emails from supporters and veterans encouraged by their example.

They also followed the news. Some 22 veterans were killing themselves each day.

There are lighthearted moments. Anderson’s shoes, which had produced significant blisters, were gleefully blown up during one stop.

A church group, led by a man dressed up like Abraham Lincoln, sponsored a dinner attended by local supporters.

Along the way, people stand at attention, salute, and thank the walkers for their service. “No problem,” they reply, without losing a step.

When they finally approach Santa Monica a bystander asks “where you guys walking from?” When they answer “Milwaukee” he replies, “I think you made a wrong turn.”

But the film seldom strays from the serious subject of moral injury. Tom’s girlfriend Katinka, interviewed several times, offers her own explanation for the delayed response to wartime horrors.

S30 Ep15: Just War and Its Relationship with Moral Injury


When Tom and other soldiers went to war, she says, they “didn’t know what love was.”

After returning and starting serious relationships and families, they had to face the fact that “I terminated all that love and all those people’s lives,” she says. “What an awful thing to live with.”

A priest named Father Keating, who works with veterans suffering from moral injury, calls it a “raw primitive feeling” — the knowledge that “I did something wrong.”

Healing requires that the soldier admit that, “yes, I did this.” A sense of forgiveness is also key to recovery.

Tom sums up the spiritual nature of the inner conflict. “How can a just God let humans do this to each other?”

Their search for spiritual healing takes them to a Native American spiritual leader named Wolf Walker, who counsels them at Colorado’s Garden of the Gods, one of many spectacular settings captured by the filmmakers.

S30 Ep15: Diagnosing Moral Injury

"Tom and Anthony meet a policeman who shares that police officers have suicide rates similar to vets

And eventually the miles work some wonders. Anthony explains that when his daughter was born “I didn’t feel anything. Now I do, and I’m antsy to get home.”

Yet Tom’s troubles persisted after returning home. Katinka says Tom was “still holding everything in.”

He would eventually seek help at a facility outside of Aspen, where Father Keating and intense meditation techniques helped him achieve the peace he had been seeking.

He also affirms that he has become drug and alcohol free.

The filmmakers hope the film will raise awareness of moral injury, and contribute to the reduction of veteran suicides.


“We bring our passion for impact, awareness and action to an engagement campaign that ignites this timely and much needed international dialogue around mental health, healing and war,” Collins says.

“The broadcast appropriately follows Veteran’s Day this year,” said Justine Nagan, executive producer/executive director of POV/American Documentary. “After grueling tours in conflict zones, it can be difficult to return home whole. Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson’s incredible journey shows what it takes to remember, reflect on and reconcile with traumatic pasts. They also reveal our nation’s ongoing shortcomings in helping veterans heal. With great humanity, 'Almost Sunrise' raises the important issue of our veterans’ mental health after returning home and offers hope and suggestions for healing.”


This film will stream online on in concurrence with its broadcast. Full episodes of POV are available to view on demand for a limited time after broadcast.


POV is on Facebook, Google +, and you can follow @povdocs on Twitter. #AlmostSunrisePBS

"Almost Sunrise" film is on Facebook, and you can follow @Almost_Sunrise on Twitter.


Directed by Michael Collins. Produced by Marty Syjuco. Edited by Eric Daniel Metzgar. Executive Producers Peter Cooper, Suparna Bhasin, Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim. Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan and Chris White. Produced by American Documentary, Inc., POV is public television’s premier showcase for nonfiction films.