Three-time Emmy winner James Gandolfini returns to HBO with the documentary special Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq. The documentary about wounded soldiers surveys the physical and emotional cost of war through memories of their “alive day,” the day they narrowly escaped death in Iraq.
“Everybody makes a big deal about your alive day,’ especially at Walter Reed,” comments Sgt. Bryan Anderson. “And I can see their point, that you’d want to celebrate something like that. But from my point of view, it’s like, ‘OK, we’re sitting here celebrating the worst day of my life. Great, let’s just remind me of that every year’.”
First Lt. Dawn Halfaker says, “I think people come away from the war wanting to feel that they made a difference, wanting to feel like their sacrifice, or their time, or their energy was worth it. War is horrible. I don’t like the sounds associated with it, the smells I associate with it. But I’m glad I did it.”
In a war that has left more than 27,000 wounded, Alive Day Memories looks at a new generation of veterans. For the first time in American history, 90% of the wounded survive their injuries, but a greater percentage of these men and women are returning with amputations, traumatic brain injuries and severe post-traumatic stress. More than half these injuries are too severe to permit a return to active military service.
Gandolfini, who has visited the troops in Iraq on behalf of the USO, serves as executive producer. In Alive Day Memories he interviews ten soldiers who reveal their feelings on their future, their severe disabilities and their devotion to America. Their first-person stories are augmented by harrowing footage from the war-torn streets of Iraq, and from embedded cameras in the vehicles of the soldiers, which was shot when they were injured, as well as disturbing video of IED (Improvised Explosive Device) bombings released by insurgents, and soldiers’ personal home videos and photographs.
The soldiers who speak with Gandolfini on a sparse New York soundstage range in age from 21 to 41; six are from the Army and four are Marines. Their injuries range from triple amputees to severe traumatic brain injury to blindness.
Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq marks HBO Documentary Films’ third production focusing on the war in Iraq, following the Emmy and Peabody winner “Baghdad ER” and “Last Letters Home: Voices of American Troops from the Battlefields of Iraq.”