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Journalist Sebastian Junger and his friend, photographer Tim Hetherington, covered a lot of conflict together, including the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Restrepo,” which focused on a platoon of U.S. soldiers at a remote base in Afghanistan.
But a few years ago, they started talking about a different kind of project: a walk from Washington, D.C. to New York City along the Amtrak tracks. After Hetherington was killed in Libya while covering the civil war there in 2011, Junger decided to complete the hike he and Tim had planned with two of the soldiers from “Restrepo,” Brendan O’Byrne and David Roels.
“It really, really helped me and now I’m completely ready to move on from the topic of war.”
They were also joined by Spanish photojournalist Guillermo Cervera, who was with Hetherington when he was killed. Their trip is the subject of a new film, “The Last Patrol.” It’s a film about finally coming home from combat, but it’s also a reflection about fathers and sons. It airs on HBO tonight.
“I wanted to travel as a vagrant and I wanted to have a long conversation about war,” Junger told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.
For both of these men, the journey was personal — it helped them recover from some serious emotional struggles. Before the trip, Junger’s father died and his marriage ended.
“I was sort of in shock when we started that trip,” said Junger. “It really, really helped me and now I’m completely ready to move on from the topic of war. It’s not exciting, it’s not intense, it just saddens me — it’s the sort of final and most subtle emotion connected to war is sadness and it can take people years and years to get to that.”
For O’Byrne, the trip helped him reconcile with parts of his identity — as an American and as a soldier.
“I joined the Army right out of high school and never really got to learn what my country actually was,” O’Byrne said. “I went to Afghanistan, fought for my country then came home and I didn’t really feel like I fit into that culture. So this walk for me was to learn what this country was about and see how I fit into the country.”