Projects | Soldierboy
The story that haunted me was about my father. I was five years-old when he returned from World War II. Dad served with the 36th Infantry Division, called the “hard luck” division by Ernie Pyle, a noted war correspondent of the day. Dad took part in the bitter winter war in the Vosges Forest and the house-to-house assault in the Alsace town of Ribeauville. Too many men in his company didn’t make it, some he’d known since childhood. He deliberately chose to avoid getting close to the new soldiers, but as company postal clerk, he wrote letters home for illiterate replacements from the Arkansas Ozarks.
At Landsburg, Bavaria, the 36th Division liberated a Jewish concentration camp where he witnessed the results of unspeakable cruelty, rows of starved corpses and emaciated men not far from death themselves. For self-preservation he desensitized himself to death. Once home, he had nightmares that he was back in Germany. In those dreams, he feared that this time he wasn’t going to make it.
In my father’s absence, his younger brother, Guillermo “Willie,” had become my play-companion. Dad’s emotional readjustment was complicated by his envy of my close relationship with his brother and Willie’s deteriorating health. As a child, Wille nearly died of Scarlet Fever. His damaged lungs had made him unfit for military service, 4-F. A bad flu led to pneumonia. Death had followed my father home from the war.
The seed idea for Soldierboy began to grow. In 1980, I’d been on location for four weeks. When the film I was working on wrapped, my wife, Judy, and I dropped off our children, Rafi and Rachel, with my parents in San Antonio, Texas. Rachel was two-and-a-half, and my mother was enchanted. Judy and I drove to Austin, checked into the Driskill Hotel, and three gloriously creative days later we emerged with the first draft of our screenplay for Soldierboy.
In 1982, Luis Valdez, Artistic Director of El Teatro Campesino, commissioned Judy and me to adapt Soldierboy as a play.