The Last P.O.W.: The Bobby Garwood Story

Bobby Garwood Story

Martin Sheen and Ralph Macchio in “The Last P.O.W.: The Bobby Garwood Story.”

(Garwood and Ike lay side-by-side on a narrow bamboo-slatted mat on a low platform. They are lit only by reflected moonlight.)

GARWOOD: Well one day I was on my way to school and I passed this lake, see, and I saw this big long snake in the water. So I went in and grabbed it behind the head and it wrapped itself around my arm. So I took it to school and the teacher, when she saw it she freaked. They emptied the whole damn school, sent everybody home but me. The police arrived, the fire truck arrived. And all anybody said to me was “Don’t let go.” I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Finally this policeman put his hand over mine and squeezed the snake’s head so that the snake unwound from my arm and dropped into a bag. It was a water moccasin. Poisonous as hell. All my life I’ve been getting into trouble like that, just cause I won’t let go.

THE STORY: This is the true story of Bobby Garwood, a young American soldier taken prisoner by the Viet Cong, held captive for years beyond the war’s end, and vilified by the American public when he finally achieves his release.

THE BACKSTORY: This was one of the most amazing true stories I’d ever heard. And the most troublewrought movie (with the possible exception of Hitler) that I ever made.

Alan Sabinson, head of ABC movies and miniseries at the time, thought it was an amazing story too, and he determined that this movie would be made no matter what. The powers-that-be fought him all the way. Bobby Garwood, the last P.O.W. to return from Viet Nam, was thought by many to be a traitor, partially because he learned the language and adapted to his situation. He was a deeply-trusting soul, and after the war he gave his rights to several people (in particular one mother and son) who began (or so I believe) exploiting him for all he was worth. I spent hours on the phone with the mother of this odd couple, who would call me at all hours of the night to complain and harangue and drive anyone she could to the edge of fury. (Years after the film was made, the son was murdered – gunned down in his car, along with his own son and in front of his mother. When I heard this news I was not in the least surprised.)

But Alan and the producers fought hard for this movie, and finally a version – deeply censored – was greenlighted. We were elated. But then, sad to say, the director did not do a very good job of it, and it ended up being a so-so movie that ABC buried as best they could. Occasionally it appears on TV, and is worth watching if only for the incredible story it tells. (Oddly, there is one ten-minute section of the film that, when edited, was placed completely out-of-sequence. I never found out why.)