Bret Crandall was a typical teenager in Utah’s Salt Lake Valley during the 1960s. He loved cars, skiing, spending time with friends and family, and hunting in the fields of Sandy with his dog, Stubby. It was the fields of combat that would eventually take his life.
One Family’s War is the simple, eloquent story of the Crandall Family of Sandy, Utah during the Vietnam conflict as told in their own words through audio-cassette recordings shared between parents and son, and augmented by the memories of family members and service buddies.
The film airs Sunday, May 25 at 8:30 p.m. and again at 10:30 p.m. One Family’s War will be repeated on Memorial Day, Monday, May 26 at 8:00 p.m. and again on Thursday, May 29 at 7:30 p.m.
A Crandall relative, who had stored the tapes in her basement for years, contacted KUED producer Sally Shaum, who co-produced the KUED series, Utah’s Vietnam War Stories. After listening to them, Shaum knew she had to share the Crandall’s story.
“I was moved by the respectful, tender connection between Bret and his mom and dad, Helen and Irwin Crandall, and the backdrop sounds of a soldier in Vietnam contrasted with the kitchen table audio nuances of every day life in America during that time," says Shaum.
The recordings deliver the tedium of wartime, life as usual on the home front, and the ever-present fear, set to the sounds of mortars showering the perimeter of Camp Eagle, Vietnam. “Not that I’m a coward or nothing, but I guess everybody’s scared over here. I’m scared too,” Bret says.
While he clearly misses the luxuries of home— including his mother’s breakfasts, his father’s steak dinners, and a real bed with clean sheets —Bret never wavers in his spirit. The tapes that serve as narration for One Family’s War chronicle a young man doing his best to stay positive in the most harrowing of circumstances.
“This is a heck of a place to spend your 21st birthday,” Bret tells his parents in one recording. “But that’s life. It’s my duty to do for my country. I don’t know why they keep saying ‘For our Country,’ when you’re over here it makes you wonder. We’re not dying for the United States. We’re dying for the Republic of Vietnam.”
One Family’s War reminds viewers of an ageless truth: when young men go to war, many hearts go with them. Viewers enter the home of Irwin and Helen Crandall as they reach out to their soldier son through a cassette recorder. Helen shares home-front news of the war, anxiously hoping for a peace agreement. Irwin updates Bret on college football scores. At times both carry an urgent, unsteady tone in their message, “The thing I want to impress on you is not to get careless. Be alert and keep your powder dry (as they say) and be ready to go,” Bret’s father pleads.
“We hope your new operation is a change for the better,” Helen says. “We’re thinking about you all of the time Bret. We’re thinking about you when we’re not recording, when we’re recording. We think about you when we go to sleep, and we think about you when we wake up in the morning.”
“He was their whole world,” Sgt. Dale Hansen, Bret’s best buddy in Vietnam, says of Helen and Irwin Crandall. “He was their only son.”