Wichitan’s documentary explores post-traumatic stress disorder

The Naslund family suffered grief in Iowa, but Wichita filmmaker Tom Zwemke says their sorrow could visit any family anywhere.

Veterans were killing themselves at a rate of 22 per day by 2010, the most recent data available, the New York Times reported in February. That was up 22 percent from 2007.

In “Dillion,” a documentary directed by Zwemke and scheduled to be shown at 8 p.m. Sept. 11 on KPTS-TV in Wichita, we get to know Dillion Naslund up close. He wanted to serve his country from boyhood.

We see his suffering, in stories told by those who love him, and we see the grief that his parents, Jeff and Lisa Naslund, hope we can collectively translate into some form of good. They talked hoping we will better understand post-traumatic stress disorder.

“This kind of loss has such a heaviness to it that I don’t know if it will ever go away,” Lisa Naslund said in an interview. “The only way we know to survive this is to help other soldiers and their families by talking about it.”

Zwemke worked for 30 years for Cessna Aircraft in Wichita, including as director of marketing and communications. He said he is a Vietnam veteran who befriended the Naslunds while visiting Iowa years ago; Zwemke’s father was from Galva, where the Naslunds live.

They told him their son was suffering emotional strain from two U.S. Army combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last December the family told him they had just lost their son.

But Dillion Naslund was no battle casualty. He came home to Galva after Afghanistan prone to depression, binges and erratic behavior that the film shows spiraled downward.

By age 25 last year, with another combat tour scheduled, he was drinking to pass out, isolating himself, alienating those who loved him and hinting at what was to come. On a lonely road in December, he pulled a trigger on a weapon one last time.

One of the sadder moments in the 45-minute documentary is the opening scene, where Zwemke uses an old family video showing Dillion Naslund as a towheaded little boy talking in a little boy voice as he helps siblings care for calves at their Iowa livestock barn. He’s sweet and filled with life, and we sense what’s coming.