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Crofton veteran, filmmakers team up for documentary about a 6,000-mile walk to reconnect with other Marines

Jon Hancock had already begun his 6,000-mile to visit fellow Marines and the families of the fallen when his friend called him.

His friend’s neighbor wanted to do a documentary on him. Hancock decided to take the call from Brian Morrison and feel him out.

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Morrison was watching the news when he saw a story about Hancock, a Crofton veteran who was on a walk to reconnect with fellow Marines and their families.

Morrison, a video producer, wanted to know more. The one to three-minute news story did not give him enough information.

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Morrison and Hancock attended the same high school, although they were in separate grades. Even more of a connection was Morrison’s neighbor, who was Hancock’s best friend.

Hancock was in Louisiana when he first took the call from Morrison, but he had a Veterans Affairs appointment coming up. When he went to the VA, he decided he would do a more formal interview.

After an hour of talking with Morrison, Hancock felt comfortable with Morrison videoing him along the journey. Hancock started his walk on Sept. 11, 2015, and walked for just over a year.

The end result was a documentary that came out in 2020. It had done well in festivals, until the COVID-19 pandemic, which essentially shut everything down, Morrison said.

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The film, “Bastard’s Road,” released to the public Tuesday and can be purchased on platforms such as iTunes and YouTube.

Morrison would fly out and stay a week or so with Hancock as he did his walk and met with the Marines and families.

Many of them were comfortable with Morrison documenting their reunion, Hancock said. They just wanted to know if he was “on the level,” their way of asking if he was someone they could trust, someone to let into their lives.

Hancock started the walk after seeing Mike Viti do one for Legacies Alive, which connects the family members of fallen service members. At the time, Hancock was struggling with the flood of memories from his time in the service.

He had been out since 2009 and had turned to alcohol to cope. He was hurting, he said. The walk gave him purpose.

But it also meant that he would be visiting people he had not seen in at least 10 years, some not in 14 years, Hancock said.

“We immediately just reconnected like there was no time that had passed at all,” he said. “And I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about a person that has served and served in combat with other men is that there is such a bond there that isn’t broken, and that they could never be broken. And that you do just really pick up right where you left off.”

As he would get closer to a Gold Star family or a fellow Marine, his pack felt lighter, he said. He would walk a few more miles. He was excited to see each of them and see their lives after they served together.

The visits with the Gold Star families were hard, Hancock said. When he arrived, it was like they were seeing their son who didn’t come home.

“And I had to immediately share in those grievous moments with them, of kind of tearing that wound back open, that their son didn’t come home, and here’s this man who knew their son or knew of their son, who wanted to spend time with them,” he said.

And while those conversations were difficult, they helped him heal.

For Hancock, the walk was in part about healing and understanding what he went through during his time with the service.

He learned a lot about accountability, he said. He learned he did not have to be the person he was.

“And I don’t have anybody to blame but myself,” he said. “The good things that happened, I get to blame myself for those. The bad things that happened, or the things I didn’t get done, I get to blame myself for those as well.”

Morrison is different than the person he was before his time with the Marines, he said. He experienced something that most will never, and that alone changed him. While those experiences had an element of trauma in them, he also saw them as an opportunity for post-traumatic growth.

And as he was learning about his friends and himself, Morrison was there to capture it for the documentary.

He was an outsider, he said. He didn’t need to have the right thing to say when he heard their stories and their memories. He needed to be there without judgment.

“I had to be vulnerable to them as well,” Morrison said.

Once Morrison finished the filming, he had a new problem. This was his first documentary and he had hours of footage.

“I had no idea how to wrangle the story together,” he said.

Morrison worked with Mark Stafford to compile the film and edit it.

When putting the story together, Morrison and Stafford did not want to focus on any one aspect. The editing process became a balancing act, Morrison said. Post-traumatic stress disorder is real, but it is not the whole story.

The two set up the documentary to follow Hancock’s story. Hancock’s role as the main character was someone that could inspire the film viewers, but also someone who they would question as they learned more, he said.

Hancock had a way of telling his story that connects with people, Morrison said.

Not that there weren’t challenges when it came to figuring out the best way to tell the story, Stafford said.

“Where you start is a million miles away from where you end when you make a movie, especially a documentary,” he said.

The film starts in a way that hooks viewers, Stafford said. But it can also be jarring.

It wasn’t the original beginning, he said. That was one change they made after realizing they wanted a bolder start.

And there are many scenes that Stafford wanted in the film that just did not work no matter how they were edited.

For Stafford, who grew up in a military family, he hopes the film will build bridges for those with military experiences and those without it. For veterans and service members, he said he hopes the film helps them speak out and have a sense of hope.

For non-military people, he hopes that they understand more about what veterans experienced.

Hancock walked 5,807 miles, he said. It took seven pairs of shoes and a year, three months and three days. Walking that long also cost him two inches.

After the walk, Hancock went back to school and finished his degree. He now works as a government contractor and started a nonprofit where he takes veterans on long distances hikes.

While the film was shown at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival, it did not complete the circuit, Morrison said.

He hopes to be able to do a local showing around the film release or possibly Memorial Day.

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