The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

August/September 2003
SDIT REPORT
   
 

A Courageous Documentary

BY KAREN SPEARS ZACHARIAS


Those who have seen the film, Be Good, Smile Pretty, say they are taken aback by the raw courage of filmmaker Tracy Tragos.  

"I was really struck by the courage it took for Tracy to pursue such an emotional endeavor," said Ret. Lt. Col. Janis Nark, after viewing the film at New York City's Lincoln Center in May.  

Be Good, Smile Pretty tells the story of Tragos' struggle to know her father, U.S. Navy Lt. Donald Droz, who died in Vietnam when she was three months old. By chronicling her journey, the film explores profound loss and the need to know, remember, and mourn the cost of war. 

The film's name comes from beyond the grave: It is the phrase Lt. Droz used to close his many letters to his young bride, Judith.  

Veteran Mike Coale was impressed over by the powerful first-person documentary.

 "I was surprised by how fast it brought tears to my eyes," he said. "I couldn't get over thinking, 'This could be my wife. My daughter.' " 

Growing up, Tracy Tragos didn't ask her mother a lot of questions about her dad. "There was a lot of pain and sadness around my father's death," she said. "I didn't want to hurt my mother."  

The few memories she had of her dad were captured in the photographs other people took and the stories other people told. Because she was so young when her father died,  people tended to dismiss her grief. They told her she was lucky she didn't have memories to haunt her. They told her she was blessed to have such a loving step-father. 

Such words brought little comfort to a daughter who wanted to know the sound of her father's voice, the timbre of his laughter, the crinkle in his eyes, the security of his presence.  

It was while surfing the internet in March 2001 that Tragos discovered a first‑hand account of how her father was killed in an ambush along the Mekong River. That discovery was the starting point for Be Good, Smile Pretty. 

The nearly hour-long film chronicles Tragos' journey as she traveled the country in search of memories of her father's family, his hometown friends, his classmates at the U.S. Naval Academy, and his comrades in Vietnam. It's an intimate and achingly honest look at the man her father was, filled with all the tenderness and tension that is part of death.

Judith Droz's declaration that a daughter's grief and a widow's grief are different reveals only a glimpse at the overwhelming cost of one man's life to the family that loved him.  

Even more powerful are the relationships Tragos cultivates with her father's comrades. Sen. John Kerry provides a high-profile look at what it's like to be such a survivor.   

The defining role veterans can play in the families of the fallen rang sincere with other Vietnam veterans. "What got me was just seeing how much Tracy wanted to know who her father was and how so many others like her want the same. It made me feel like these are all our veterans children," Mike Coale said. 

Survivors, both family and veterans, will relate to the film, said Janis Nark. "It's relevant and crucial to understanding the conflict and its aftermath. There are so many people out there still in pain that will benefit from seeing this film."  

Be Good, Smile Pretty is scheduled to be aired Veterans Day on PBS stations nationwide.

   

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