New documentary honors Edison High School’s fallen Vietnam War troops

Robert Davis of West Oak Lane looks at his collection of newspapers that chronicled the loss of lives of Vietnam War troops who were Edison High School students. (Abdul R. Sulayman / The Philadelphia Tribune)

Robert Davis of West Oak Lane looks at his collection of newspapers that chronicled the loss of lives of Vietnam War troops who were Edison High School students. (Abdul R. Sulayman / The Philadelphia Tribune)

This story originally appeared on The Philadelphia Tribune.

As we celebrate our veterans this year, it is always a time to reflect and honor the men and women who serve our country. Philadelphia of course, is a centerpiece for freedom, democracy and has its share of people who have served in the military, particularly from the area high schools where hundreds of male graduates or undergrads enlisted in the United States armed forces.

The name “Edison 64” may ring a bell with longtime Philadelphia residents through passing by the new Veterans Multi-Service Center that bears the same name, or the state historical marker in the heart of North Philadelphia. However, there are many not familiar with the actual story or origin of mostly African-American teens who decided that serving their country was a better way to cope with everyday struggles of life in the city.

For Veterans Day 2021, a new documentary is being released on the 64 alumni of Thomas Edison High School who lost their lives from November 1965 to January 1971 while serving in the Vietnam War.

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Edison holds the distinction of having the most casualties from Vietnam than any other single high school in the United States. Two other city schools, Father Judge in Mayfair and the former Cardinal Dougherty each lost 27 former students North Catholic lost another two dozen.

Produced by American Veterans Media, The one-hour “Edison 64” documentary focuses on the over five dozen young men from stories told by fellow vets, and alumni and military historians.

The production also digs deep into the generational impact of the lives lost and their effect on the families and neighborhoods in which the servicemembers were raised.

Shawn Swords, co-director of the film says “The narrative is that the environment these young men grew up in was rife with poverty, violence, racism and lack of opportunity. This story is about trying to understand those difficult circumstances that most of the 64 endured in their youth and how the service helped to bridge the gap between people of color and whites that served together.”

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Edison’s history as a school (then at 8th Street and Lehigh Avenue) in the Fairhill section, struggled to find its own identity once Northeast High vacated for a new building on Cottman Avenue in the late 1950s.

What also began to leave was the many factories in the adjacent neighborhoods which caused massive unemployment for residents. Add the heavy presence gang wars along with racial tensions, students had choices to make about their future. Enlisting in the military was one of them with aspirations and a chance to live the American Dream.

The Edison 64 also examines these economic and cultural effects but also honors the legacy of these young men while they made the ultimate sacrifice, their dedication, courage, and hope for success during a tumultuous time in the nation. “We were so drawn to their powerful stories and we’re sure that audiences will connect to their stories too,” Swords also said.

Although the film will be made available by request for local VFWs (Veterans of Foreign Wars), American Legion posts and veterans advocacy groups, there is an upcoming screening at Neshaminy High School in Langhorne, Pa., on Thursday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, go to AmericanVeteransMedia.org.

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