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Local veteran featured in Vietnam documentary

By: Sarah Cormier | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published January 26, 2011

 Lt. Col. Donald “Digger” Odell, 76 and from Harrison Township, will be one of dozens of Vietnam veterans featured in the upcoming documentary “Our Vietnam Generation.”

Lt. Col. Donald “Digger” Odell, 76 and from Harrison Township, will be one of dozens of Vietnam veterans featured in the upcoming documentary “Our Vietnam Generation.”

Photo provided by Our Vietnam Generation

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HARRISON TOWNSHIP — Lt. Col. Donald Odell, better known as “Digger” to friends and family, never enlisted in the military with the thought that he’d one day be a prisoner of war.

But one day he was.

After his aircraft was shot down in North Vietnam in 1967, Odell was taken as prisoner, where for the next 5 1/2 years, he lived in tortuous conditions as the Viet Cong attempted to garner secret military information.

“They’d torture you to the point where they forced you to lie,” said Odell. “You had to answer those questions.”

Odell said camaraderie between him and others who were prisoners became key in surviving. He said he never lost hope he’d be freed, but it was tough.

“There were times we had no idea. Are we going to be there 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years?” he said. “It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have any other choices.”

Odell was finally released when the United States began to withdraw troops out of South Vietnam. In 1973, he was awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star Medal. He is now 76 and lives in Harrison Township.

Because of Odell’s compelling and heart-wrenching story, he is now one of many Vietnam veterans being featured in a documentary, “Our Vietnam Generation,” which will premiere at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on Jan. 28.

Keith Famie, director and executive producer of the documentary, said the film is 110 minutes long and features interviews with about 40 veterans. It took about 16 months to film, and there was 110 hours of taped interviews conducted.

“We have a lot of individuals that help tell the story of that generation,” he said.

Famie said the film explores the anatomy of a Vietnam vet, such as what they meant to society then and now.

“It was a very difficult time when they came back. ... They were really frowned upon by society,” said Famie.

Famie said he did a film last year on World War II veterans, and when that was showing, he kept running into Vietnam veterans.

“During the course of that film, every time I turned around, there was a Vietnam vet there,” he said. “Every time. I just came to the realization of who these guys are.”

Odell was one of the people that Famie met, and as soon as he did, he knew he had to put him in the film.

“He’s an amazing story in its own. There’s a few big stories — he’s one of them,” he said.

Famie said he created the documentary because more people need to be educated about the Vietnam War.

“My reasoning is, I just feel the story needs to be told,” he said.

Odell said he was pleased to be included in the film.

“I think it’s important we don’t forget. Whatever mistakes we made then, hopefully, we don’t repeat them,” he said.

“Our Vietnam Generation” will air on Detroit Public Television in February. Dates still have to be determined.

Tickets for the premiere are $25 and $35 and are available at Ticketmaster or the Fox Theatre box office.

For more information, visit www.ourvietnamgeneration.com.

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