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Documentary Tells Little-Known Story Of Vietnam War Squadron

The Det-7 unit is pictured in Dong Tam in 1971.
Courtesy of "Scramble The Seawolves"
The Det-7 unit is pictured in Dong Tam in 1971.
Documentary Tells Little-Known Story Of Vietnam War Squadron
Documentary Tells Little-Known Story Of Vietnam War Squadron GUEST: Jeff Arballo, director, “Scramble The Seawolves”

A documentary airing tonight on PBS recognizes a squadron whose story is little known. Despite them being the most decorated Squadron in naval aviation history scrambled the Seawolves tells the story of a squadron that existed only during the Vietnam War and protected service members in boats on South Vietnam's Mekong Delta. PBS military reporter Steve Walsh spoke with documentary filmmaker Jeff our bio. Where did this idea come from. Well my father in law is a Seawolf and that's how the whole thing really got started. I was over at my in-laws house one day and my father in law kept coming in the room I was watching a football game or something. And he kept coming in and asking. I wish I could somehow have a memory of this thing that I'm going to. I wish I could record this thing. I'm going to knowing that I'm a cinematographer and director of stuff so my wife I said I think my dad want you to go record this thing that he's doing. I said Oh what is it. Something with his Vietnam buddies. I said yes. And it was on the midway and we went and recorded it. I had no idea who the Seawolves were what they did and it was a surprise for me to to hear what these guys did. And I started to get a little bit more interested in them as I started to hear some of the stories that guest speakers who are coming up. All right. So we've got Don Thompson. He's a historian and pilot he talks a little bit about their mission. All these PBR Swift Boats and tango boats and all the different types. We had a thousand boats down there. And they were constantly being ambushed. And they were always on the short end of the stick. They were going to lose ambush. But we get a scramble and we usually been there in around two minutes we usually be overhead in five. And. Save the day because we had gone either had to leave or die. He described this as a forgotten unit. Why is it forgotten. They obviously played a pretty major role here and they were around for at least five years. Why are they forgotten. Well they were forgotten because they were commissioned and decommissioned and Vietnam. So they were put together there disassembled there and they were never in the United States not even one day. So a lot of people didn't even know that they existed. And people in the Navy didn't even know that they existed even today even today a lot of people still don't know about these guys and that's why this story is so important to get out there because they really didn't get the recognition even when they came back and told people they were in Vietnam and told them what they did. How did you find all these guys this film is just loaded with these veterans. We kind of got a little bit lucky and what we decided to do is once we decided to start doing the documentary we decided well why don't we go to their reunion and maybe we can get them there and do the interviews there. And at first nobody came in except one guy and we thought well I guess we don't have a documentary. So they were a little tough at least at the beginning. And I want to play another clip this is from Jim Armis that he was a dork. I don't ever remember being afraid. Not many seal insertions on. Many a gunfight. I don't ever remember being afraid at the time but I do remember going back to my bunk and laying in my bed and going oh my god I am so lucky to be alive. So that's Tim Armistead. So how are these guys dealing with the trauma of their service even all these years later. Well I think it's different for each individual. I think from what. I discovered during the interviews and what my wife had discovered during the interviews is that if they were in the military for a long time if they were in the Navy for a long period they seemed to deal with it better. The guys who were there for one year or two years and did the battles and then just came home and it was like they went into these battles and then came home and it just stopped. They had a hard time. I believe and the guys that were in it for a longer period they were able to cope with it better. How hard is it. I mean this unit was disbanded after they left how did they even come together how they ever even learned that each other was still around. I believe it started with a couple of pilots kind of got together and they started talking about getting together every year. And then it expanded from there. They brought in some dorg honors and then eventually the maintainers and. And then it just kept growing every year. And when we decided to do the film about these guys all of a sudden a lot of the Seawolves kind of came out of the woodworks and boom you know jump back into it. So. It took you four years to produce this film. These guys were only around for five years. So what's your take away from their service. I mean how significant. Honestly when I saw the film I thought more about the Army did a lot of this. They did the Apocalypse Now and the air cavalry. What's your takeaway. Well the the army actually did even start with these guys and this was in the Mekong Delta. So the important part of this is that a lot of people they think of Vietnam right away they're thinking jungle you know heavy bush and stuff. And these guys were in the Mekong Delta which doesn't get talked about a whole lot and they were considered the brown water navy. You had the you know PBR which are the river patrol boats and they would go into these canals and get ambushed and the SEALs would go in and save it. And so because of their quick rapid reaction they started to take over when the Army started it. The Navy kind of came in and took over because they could. They were instrument trained. They would fly at night they would fly in any kind of weather. And that's why the Navy ended up taking over because it was Navy ended up taking a lot of the heat though they didn't get much of the credit. That's true. Jeff or by a great film I enjoyed it. Thank you so much for being on. Thank you. Thank you. Appreciate it. Scramble the Seawolves airs on PBS television tonight at 9.

A documentary airing Tuesday night on KPBS-TV tells the story of a little-known Navy squadron, the Seawolves.

That's despite them being the most decorated in naval aviation history.

The documentary, “Scramble The Seawolves,” tells the story of the squadron that existed only during the Vietnam War and protected service members in boats on South Vietnam's Mekong Delta.


The creator of the documentary, Jeff Arballo, joins Midday Edition Tuesday to discuss the Seawolves and what inspired him to tell their story.

“Scramble The Seawolves” airs on KPBS-TV at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

VIDEO: Documentary Tells Little-Known Story Of Vietnam War Squadron