He found the 16-millimeter color film while helping his mother sort through his father’s belongings after he died. Another home movie, Andy Bystrom thought. His dad loved taking home movies of the family wherever they went. If something caught his eye, he shot it.
As Andy unspooled the film, he could see it was beginning to decompose, so he told his mother he would take it home to Los Angeles with him, and have it transferred to VHS. That was 30 years ago.
As Andy began to watch it later, he realized this was a home movie all right, just not his home. This home was a World War II patrol craft, and the family his father, Lt. (junior grade) John Bystrom, was living with in 1943 were the men protecting our naval fleet from the deadly German U-Boats — submarines.
Few, very few, enlisted men went to war carrying a 16-millimeter camera with them. Andy’s father was one of them. He had an eye for the unusual and loved to shoot faces. This home movie was no different.
Shot after shot — each 20 seconds maximum because color film was expensive — he captured the faces of his naval family clowning around to break the tension of months at sea, mine sweeping for enemy submarines.
He captures his naval family dressing up as pirates and pretending to overthrow the patrol craft during a “crossing the line ceremony” held when patrol crafts passed over the equator. He has them enjoying a luau with hula girls on shore leave at their home port in Hawaii.
“Watching it, it finally hit me how cool my dad was,” Andy said. “It’s one of those rare, bottom up military stories told from the perspective of low ranked sailors, the average Joe.”
For the next 28 years, the film sat waiting for the day, a few years ago, that Andy would retire as a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher in inner city schools for 20 years, and as an officer in the naval reserves.
He finally had the time to keep the promise he made to his dad when he transferred that old home movie onto VHS, then DVD, and finally on to a flash drive.
There was a story his father was trying to tell on film, and it was up to his son to finish telling it. But how, he was no filmmaker. A friend told him about an 8-week program, “Veterans Make Movies,” run by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He also attended classes at Compton College where he met Professor Aaron Dowell, who helped him bring his ideas into focus. His father’s film was 5 minutes, not long enough to enter into film festivals. It had to be over 20.
Andy went to a 2019 reunion of patrol craft sailors from WWII and Korea, and added interviews that often turned emotional. He paid $300 for the rights to a short film clip of a Japanese submarine crew waiting silently at the bottom as patrol boats his dad served on dropped depth charges.
He shows the atomic bomb test that turned the beautiful Bikini Atoll into Paradise Lost because radiation made the island uninhabitable. And, he pays homage to the all-Black crew of Patrol Craft 1264 that helped integrate the Navy, and showed us courage has nothing to do with color.
But, there’s no mistake, it’s his dad who is the star of the film — his dad who went on to serve as under secretary of Health and Education in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, then became a professor at the University of Hawaii.
His dad who took his sons to hear Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, and marched with them in the freedom parade.
“Everyone told him he was crazy, that there was going to be violence. My dad said, no, there wasn’t. He wanted his sons to witness history. That 16-millimeter camera was his ticket in.”
“Too Good To Be Forgotten” — 25 minutes long — will be shown in a group of other short documentaries at the Moorpark Film Festival at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 25 at the Studio Movie Grill, 1555 Simi Town Center Way, in Simi Valley.
It started filming in 1943 and took 78 years to complete.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This content was originally published here.