Garland Waller’s father had a secret. On Christmas Eve, 1944, the Leopoldville, a United States military troopship, was torpedoed by a German U-boat. Of the 2,000 men on board, 800 died that night in the English Channel. By some miracle, John Waller, a 19-year old draftee, had kitchen duty that night, and was able to climb out of the sinking ship, afterwhich he was rescued by French fishermen. He was given a second chance at life.

The U.S. military instructed the soldiers to keep the event a secret — so for seven decades, Waller never told anyone about the ship going down, not even his family. When his daughter, Garland, a documentary filmmaker and retired Director of the TV Graduate Program at Boston University found out about it, she knew she wanted to help her father to let go of these secrets that he had carried for so long.

A man and woman smile at the camera against blue sky and the ocean in the background
Waller and her father
Monica Stein

“These were young men who were drafted, they didn't get a choice, and they went overseas with the belief that they were fighting for just causes,” Garland Waller says. “And they suffered enormously, and they came back and were silent about it. My father was not the only silent soldier. There were many silent soldiers.”

So she enlisted the help of her husband, Barry Nolan, also a filmmaker, and they set out to tell her father’s story. Filmed entirely on iPhones and iPads, The Silent Soldier and the Portrait documents that journey as they re-trace her father’s steps seven decades later, all the way to France, where he was greeted as a hero.

Waller says that she believes she gave her father a great gift: “I do feel a burden has been lifted. To be part of something like that with your dad, is a really special moment in space and time,” Waller says. “It really mattered to him, and he could let it go. I just felt so grateful that I could give something back to him that would make a difference in his life.”

The Silent Soldier and the Portrait airs the following times: Monday, Nov. 9 at 8pm on WORLD; Thursday, Nov. 12 at 10pm on GBH 2; Friday, Nov. 13 at 1pm on GBH 44; Saturday, Nov. 14 at 6pm on GBH 44.