The Suffolk Journal

Director Richard Fitts Jr. brings father’s legacy to the big screen in new Vietnam documentary “21 Years – A Folded Flag”

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Director Richard Fitts Jr. brings father’s legacy to the big screen in new Vietnam documentary “21 Years – A Folded Flag”

Sarah Lukowski/Journal Staff

Sarah Lukowski/Journal Staff

Sarah Lukowski/Journal Staff

Sarah Lukowski/Journal Staff

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Director Richard Fitts Jr. and producer Rudy Childs visited the AMC Loews Boston Common on Wednesday to screen and discuss “21 Years – A Folded Flag,” a heartbreaking documentary that focuses on Fitts’ father’s journey and untimely death in the Vietnam War.

The 86-minute documentary describes the life and death of Richard A. Fitts, whose remains were discovered 21 years after his death and returned to his hometown of Abington, MA for a welcome home.

The Boston Globe’s Beverly Beckham moderated the discussion between Fitts Jr., Childs and the audience following the screening. This was Fitts Jr.’s first time directing, so he recruited the experienced Childs, who has worked on other documentaries and music videos to help him along.

“It was very touch-and-go, but I had to reach out to somebody like Rudy,” Fitts Jr. said during the discussion. “I had to find somebody that was willing to be patient and really guide me.”

The documentary included interviews from war heroes, battle reenactments and Fitts Jr.’s story as he tried to make sense of his father’s death during his youth. The screening invoked a round of applause and strong emotion from the audience filled with veterans. It’s a story that will resonate with anyone who has tried to understand their father or even themselves.

Originally, Fitts Jr. hadn’t planned to write, and eventually direct, a documentary about his father, but friends and family encouraged him to share his father’s story. Fitts Jr. was inexperienced in filmmaking and as a musician he didn’t understand military terms, which was something he had to learn as he went.

“Everybody has been telling me that I had a good story for years,” Fitts Jr. said. “There was a lot of it that I felt like I wasn’t ready to do out of respect and I had to learn it all.”

Fitts, who was killed in action after conducting several reconnaissance missions in Laos, sent home his Green Beret and a voice recording six months before his death. However, the government would not admit any knowledge of his death, deeming him Missing in Action in 1968.

Fitts served as a Demolition Specialist in the Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group. This was a highly classified special operations unit that conducted covert warfare prior to and during the Vietnam War. According to the documentary, of the millions of Americans that served in the Vietnam War, about 2,000 served in the MACV-SOG unit and of that 400-600 ran the recon missions, which Fitts was a part of.

The documentary took Fitts Jr. two to three years to produce. Fitts Jr. and Childs met at least once a week while working their full-time jobs.

“There were days that we spent 14 hours [on it] and we just went until the wee hours of the morning,” Childs said.

Fitts Jr. and Childs also received help from many family friends. On the soundtrack, Fitts Jr. used a song from his dad’s former teammate and he recruited help to edit the original voice recording of his father to include in the final film.

“That was full circle moment for me,” Fitts Jr. said.

As Fitts Jr. was interviewing those also a part of MACV-SOG and other veterans, he was learning things about his father as he went. But finding these men to talk to was hard as many went off the grid after the war.

Of those that were interviewed, it was hard for them to open up about the war and their special operations.

“It took a while to understand how to talk to them,” Fitts Jr. said. “I wanted to do it respectfully.”

The 50th anniversary of Fitts death, which was on Nov. 30, is a milestone to Fitts Jr. and an appropriate time to show the documentary to the public. The documentary was first debuted at the MACV-SOG reunion in October.

“It’s emotionally huge and it’s also cathartic,” Fitts Jr. said.

“21 Years – A Folded Flag” is currently making its rounds at film festivals such as at the Ocean City Film Fest.

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About the Writer
Sarah Lukowski, Staff Writer

Sarah has been writing for The Suffolk Journal since fall 2018 mainly on arts and culture and opinion. She is a print journalism major from Connecticut....

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Director Richard Fitts Jr. brings father’s legacy to the big screen in new Vietnam documentary “21 Years – A Folded Flag”