"I was about 10 years old," Ponsoll said, adding his dad and mom Kathy still live in Danville. "It was an awakening for Dad to spend time with the guys he had gone to war with, to just reflect."
At that time, he added, he was too young to understand what was going on at the reunion. But members of A-Company made a point of getting together annually or every couple of years, Ponsoll said. As time passed, more veterans started attending these reunions.
Then, in April 2007, the medic who was out in the field March 22, 1967 — the day 1st Sgt. David H. McNerney's actions in the Battle of Polei Doc ultimately earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor — organized a reunion in Spencer, Ind. His name was John "Doc" Bockover and he began putting narratives together, Ponsoll noted.
"He'd taken up this mantle of leadership to capture the stories of our time," he said. "He said, 'I died in Vietnam — they just didn't bury me.'"
He died later that summer.
Ponsoll said Bockover's stories coupled with his dad's slides gave him a sense of mortality and a realization "they were now going to start passing away."
He thought about his quest to better understand his dad, and these men's stories fading into oblivion as they died. He remembered a class with Clarence Wyatt at Centre College about Vietnam. And he realized he had an amazing opportunity in front of him — "something the world deserves to see," Ponsoll said."
The film is about McNerney and the journey he started with men of A-Company, said Eric Dow, writer, producer, director and editor of "Honor in the Valley of Tears." Ponsoll is the other writer as well as the executive producer. Dow's production company is Time Stand Still Productions.
It was a rare thing in 1965 for a group of soldiers to train together and do a tour together.
"They were essentially together for two years," Dow explained. "The story is, basically, about a sergeant molding a bunch of high school kids. He was 34 years old at the time and ... really taught them how to be a unit and a family."
During their time in Fort Lewis, Dow added, they forged bonds and relationships "that they still say are closer than in their own immediate families."
Ponsoll said on March 22, 1967, the North Vietnamese army tried to overrun A-Company, which suffered a 60 percent casualty rate.
"For his valor and intrepidity in action, (1st Sgt. McNerney) was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor," he added. "There are only 96 living (recipients) of the Congressional Medal of Honor from all the wars. He is one of the few from the Vietnam War. Most were awarded posthumously."
Dow and Ponsoll were working together at Supernova Productions in New York City when they became friends in 2007. Supernova is a medical marketing and communications company.
On a slow day, the two discussed Ponsoll's idea for a movie — an idea in which Dow saw potential for a documentary. The two self-financed the film from Ponsoll's coffers and Dow's expertise and time. Friends were integral in contributing to the effort as well.
A reunion was planned by members of the A-Company in early fall 2007, so Dow quickly pulled together the resources he needed to begin shooting. He began with one-on-one interviews with a half-dozen of the men, as he realized the importance of getting them to trust him and open up to him.
Many were guarded with information but Dow let them answer questions until they were finished. If they didn't want to answer, he didn't push.
"I handled it with kid gloves," Dow said. "It was very emotional. ... They told me stories they never told their wives. They told me stories they never even told each other."
Dow said talking to these men and creating this documentary was probably one of the most rewarding things that's ever happened to him — and one of the most unexpected. The men opening up to him and trusting him with their innermost thoughts and feelings was gratifying.
"They accepted me as part of their group. They consider me one of their own," Dow said.
End and beyond