Ten years ago, ESPN Features producer Jon Fish wanted to go to Vietnam with Rocky Bleier. In 2018, it finally happened. And tonight, viewers will be able to see the results of his persistence when the new ESPN “SC Featured” documentary, The Return debuts on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET – on the 50th anniversary of the day Bleier was wounded in combat.
The Return was selected as “Best Documentary” at the recent LA Shorts International Film Festival.
Bleier’s comeback story is well known to many football fans but he had not been back to Vietnam since he was wounded. Fish, who had wanted to go to Vietnam with Bleier since they did a story together in 2009, asked him again in 2017.
“I said, ‘Take a day, take a week, take a month, but let me know,’” Fish said. “About a month later I got a text on a Sunday morning. He said ‘let’s go.’”
After research and reporting at the National Archives, Fish found military records of what occurred with Bleier’s unit on that day. With the help of a contact who works in America and Vietnam and who interpreted language and scouted locations in the Hiep Duc Valley, places were identified.
With more help from his contacts in Vietnam, Fish navigated through the mounds of paperwork and local government approvals needed to shoot.
“The logistics on this were spectacular – spectacular meaning difficult,” he said. “Our travel department was unbelievable. You’ve got to remember it’s on the other side of the world and it’s 13 hours difference.”
What viewers see of Bleier in Vietnam was shot in August of 2018, on the 49th anniversary of his wounding. Bleier, Fish, reporter Tom Rinaldi and the crew stayed 90 minutes away in Hoi An and two vans of people, including government officials who were required to be present, made the trip to the shooting location on two separate days.
“The amazing thing about this documentary is you really pull the curtain back just a little back and you see just a hair of all the people who make things go,” he said. “Because normally it’s just kind of seamless – but this one was very different.”