The Silent Soldier and the Portrait is a documentary about one of the last living survivors of a major World War II military tragedy and two secrets that he kept for decades.
The first was a military secret.
On Christmas Eve, 1944, John Suter Waller was a 19-year-old soldier, fresh out of boot camp, on his way to join in the Battle of the Bulge, when his troop ship was sunk by a German U-boat. Over 800 US military personnel died that night in the icy waters of the English Channel.
Fearing the effect of the news on morale back home, the military instructed the survivors not to talk about it. Not even to their families. So John Waller kept that secret. Seven decades passed before his family or his friends knew that he was a man who had been given a second chance in life - by an odd twist of fate.
John Waller kept another secret as well – one that was a bit more complicated. It involved what the family called a “purloined” French portrait, but it came with a backstory that involved grenades and a safe.
With an impressive bit of detective work, and little luck, producer Garland Waller, John Waller’s daughter, recently discovered both secrets as she was helping him move. The story of the Leopoldville and the portrait set both father and daughter on a journey that became the essence of the documentary.
Shot primarily in England and France, this film is by turns deeply moving and warmly funny. Father and daughter retrace the journey of the young solider headed to war, and in so doing, find a measure peace along the way.
Ultimately, this is a story about secrets and second chances.