From Port Chicago to Iraq, a new SF State film project goes beyond the tombstones to tell stories of veterans interred at the San Francisco and Golden Gate national cemeteries. The 12 student-produced shorts are the centerpiece of a $309,148 contract awarded to SF State’s Veteran Documentary Corps by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration.
The 1944 Port Chicago explosion caused the death of 320 American soldiers and civilians, injuring 390 others. Navy Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was a heroic fleet commander in World War II; a major East Bay freeway is named after him. A Gold Star mom discusses her reaction after learning her 22-year-old son was killed in Iraq: “It’s like someone just kicks you in the gut, and you literally can’t breathe.” These are among the people and historical events explored intimately.
The videos are available on a new YouTube channel, National Cemetery Administration Legacy.
“Our student filmmakers worked hard with great success,” says Daniel Bernardi, Veteran Documentary Corps executive director. Bernardi is a professor of Cinema, Navy Reserves officer and Iraq War veteran. “They’re inspiring. They fulfilled our contract with the National Cemetery Administration, hopefully leading to an extension to make more films about our veterans.”
In addition to the films, students are creating an interactive website, social media marketing and elementary- and middle-school curriculum.
The University is working with a schoolteacher to help place the films and instructional materials in third, fourth, fifth and sixth-grade and middle-school classrooms in the Bay Area.
Kanopy, a streaming video service for educational institutions and public libraries, will distribute the films. They will also be available online at SF State’s Digital Information Video Archive.
National Cemetery Administration
The National Cemetery Administration awarded three separate contracts to SF State, Black Hills State University and University of Central Florida. It is the first of many initiatives planned to engage educators, students and researchers and the general public through its Veterans Legacy Program.
The National Cemetery Administration honors veterans and their families with final resting places in national shrines and with lasting tributes that commemorate their service and sacrifice to our Nation. It aims to be the model of excellence for burial and memorials for American veterans and their families.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates 135 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers' lots and monument sites in 40 states and Puerto Rico. More than 4 million Americans, including veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in the national cemeteries.
Veteran Documentary Corps
Founded in 2011, the Veteran Documentary Corps empowers veterans and filmmakers from around the world to tell true stories about the veteran experience. Its goal is to facilitate greater understanding of the diverse personalities, struggles and successes that define the veteran experience. Stories come from all branches of service, military jobs, campaigns and nations. The Veteran Documentary Corps is a research and service organization in the College of Liberal & Creative Arts.
— Matt Itelson
Photo: U.S. Army Private Benjamin Tollefson, 22, of Concord, was killed in a mortar attack in Iraq in 2009. He is featured in one of the new Veteran Documentary Corps films. Courtesy of Veteran Documentary Corps.