Parades, flags and writing letters to the troops are great ways to recognize the service of our active duty soldiers on Veterans Day. November 11 is also a good time to revisit the conflicts and consequences veterans have faced throughout our country’s history.
To bring veterans’ stories to life, we’ve put together a list of five Veterans Day documentaries covering conflicts from The Civil War to Vietnam. If that’s not enough, we’ve also found a short documentary shot in 1939 at Madison Square Garden (six months before German troops invaded Poland) that shows how divided Americans were then, and still are today. Plus, we’ve selected two feature films that offer gripping accounts of the cost of war on and off the battlefield.
Best Veteran’s Day Documentaries
If you’re undecided about which documentary or feature film to watch first, view the trailers. These Veterans Day documentary films and feature films can be streamed on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Kanopy.
1. MESSAGE FROM HIROSHIMA (53 minutes)
Narrated by George Takei, “Message From Hiroshima” illustrates the immense suffering and loss that resulted from dropping the world’s first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima.
Ground zero was the Nakajima district, home to thousands of people and hundreds of businesses. Today, it’s the site of the Peace Memorial Park, where you can still see the Atomic Bomb Dome which somehow avoided complete destruction, though the people inside died instantly from the blast.
In this powerful Veterans Day documentary, survivors and former residents recount their lives before the bombing, accompanied by computer-generated recreations of buildings and people in the Nakajima district. Old footage, paintings and lost photos of families revive the sights, sounds and smells of a lost culture and people. Watch the trailer.
2. AFTER AUSCHWITZ (82 minutes)
Most films about the Holocaust focus their lens on the atrocities of the Nazi era. Few tell the story of what happened after the liberation of the concentration camps. Jon Kean’s “After Auschwitz” is one of those rare Holocaust documentaries, starting where others leave off. It follows the lives of six women who emigrated to the U.S. after their liberation from the camps.
As these women point out, their early days of freedom were anything but free. Though the Allies tried to feed them, the food was so rich it acted as poison on nutrition-starved bodies. Even after years had passed, these women carried the scars of their experiences. Few related their horrific experiences to their family and friends. Silent suffering was the norm.
Filled with vintage newsreels, Army Signal Corps footage, still photos and other visual aids, “After Auschwitz” celebrates the resilience of the human character. Watch the trailer.
3. THE GOOD SOLDIER (80 minutes)
This deeply affecting look at war through the eyes of American veterans provides extraordinary perspective for civilian viewers. Through telling interviews with veterans from WWII, and the Vietnam, Gulf, and Iraq wars, “The Good Soldier” explores the conflicts soldiers faced in the brutal reality of combat and how their attitudes toward war changed as they returned. Juxtaposing archival ground footage with intimate present-day interviews, this Veteran Day documentary is a complex portrait of what it means to be a soldier. Watch the trailer.
4. STRAY DOG (105 minutes)
Ron “Stray Dog” Hall is a motorcycle-riding, freedom-loving Vietnam veteran who runs a trailer park in rural Missouri. He spends his days wrestling with the brutal business of the past, while trying to help others cope with their own experiences of war.
By his side is his mercurial wife, Alicia, a Mexican immigrant, whose patience and acceptance is lovingly reciprocated by the gruff, bearded biker. Alicia’s teenage sons eventually join them, forming an unlikely family unit.
Debra Granik, the award-winning director of “Winter’s Bone”, offers a masterfully restrained portrait of Ron “Stray Dog” Hall as he joins thousands of bikers on a cross-country ride to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Watch a preview.
5. THE CIVIL WAR (11 hours, 17 minutes)
Five years in the making, this nine-episode series by filmmaker Ken Burns won 40 major film and television awards, including two Emmys and two Grammys. Archival photos, written accounts, new footage of battle sites and interviews with experts tell the story of a conflict that we’re still fighting today.
With public displays of the Confederate flag and monuments honoring Confederate leaders continuing to spark national debate and protests, it’s clear that the battle lines are still visible. To understand this turning point in American history that took the lives of 620,000 soldiers and many more civilians, watch this award-winning documentary. Watch the trailer.
6. A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN (7 minutes)
In 1939, 20,000 American citizens rallied in Madison Square Garden to celebrate the rise of Nazism. Made entirely from archival footage filmed that night, this short Veterans Day documentary reveals a disturbing time in American history. At one point a protestor gets onto the flag-draped stage and is beaten for his efforts while the crowd roars its approval. Watch it here.
Veteran’s Day Feature Films
But wait, there’s more. Here are two feature films to watch, one based on a true-life story and one that brings the awful truth of war home.
1. THE MESSENGER (114 minutes)
In this superbly acted drama, Ben Foster plays an army staff sergeant who returns home from Iraq a hero, and his reward is to be assigned as a casualty notification officer. He’s paired up with a fellow officer and recovering alcoholic, played by Woody Harrelson. Together, it’s their job to bear the bad news to the loved ones of fallen soldiers.
Ben Foster’s character faces the challenge of completing his mission while seeking comfort and healing back home. When he finds himself drawn to the surviving spouse of a fallen soldier, his emotional detachment begins to dissolve. Nominated for two Academy Awards. Watch the trailer.
2. A PRIVATE WAR (110 minutes)
This true-life drama is based on the life of Marie Colvin, a war correspondent who lost an eye covering a revolution in Sri Lanka, and who returned again and again to war zones, focusing not on soldiers but on the suffering of civilians. By the time she died in 2012 covering the civil war in Syria for Britain’s The Sunday Times, she’d seen more war than most career soldiers.
Rosamund Pike plays Colvin in a career-best performance. Colvin’s terrifying adventures are contrasted with her life back in Britain, where her dedication to the job estranges her from the people closest to her at home. But no matter the emotional wreckage left behind, she felt compelled to return to the fray to “find the truth” of each gut-wrenching situation. Once seen, she’s impossible to forget. Watch the trailer.
Enjoy the Freedoms Veterans Have Sacrificed So Much For
At Essex Meadows, residents are free to live life on their terms. Opportunities for fun and fulfillment abound on our beautiful 104-acre campus. And should you ever need a helping hand with daily activities, we can provide it in the comfort and privacy of your independent living residence. Learn more about assisted living at Essex Meadows.