After a career with SEPTA, Villanova’s John Ricciutti was tapped to host a show for Radnor Studio 21 on area public transportation. Soon enough, he began hosting and producing additional content. One of the latest projects he was a part of, Irish American Films’ Remembering the 27 Crusaders, focuses on Philadelphia’s Father Judge High School and the 27 graduates it lost in the Vietnam War—more than any private or parochial school in the country.
MLT: What inspired Remembering the 27 Crusaders?
JR: I met a man named Jim Kirlin, a Marine who served in Vietnam and was a graduate of Father Judge High School. He asked me if I was familiar with the monument at the school dedicated to 27 sons of that school who were killed in Vietnam. I got together with Jill Frechie, a colleague of mine from Radnor Studio 21. She’s an award-winning filmographer and documentary maker, and she gave me some ideas and prompted me along.
MLT: How did you honor the fallen men?
JR: It was a tremendous amount of research. [Over more than two years,] we interviewed 12 to 15 family members and a couple of fiancées. Many never told their stories; these are stories they kept for 50 years. I can’t tell you how many people were emotionally overtaken by it. One brother we interviewed said they found out his brother was killed in Vietnam on his mother’s birthday. One sister told us the story of how her father was a decorated Marine in World War II and after his son lost his life, he said he would help other kids get to Canada. There were so many stories like this that no one had ever told.
MLT: What was the most profound part of producing this documentary for you?
JR: I’m part of that Vietnam generation. It’s very sad that our country paid so little homage to the Vietnam veterans until recently. I was so proud of what we did, bringing this whole story to light, and it being a Philadelphia story.
MLT: What’s next for you?
JR: Jill Frechie and I are working on something very timely: the opiate plague in Kensington. We’ve been doing on-street filming, interviewing. We’ve worked with Rock Ministries, helped collect coats. She’s the producer and I’m the co-producer. I think it’s a very powerful documentary.
MLT: How has working on this latest documentary changed your perception about addiction?
JR: I was a person who struggled with the idea that addiction is a disease until I talked to a 22-year-old girl in Kensington. She said, “My father committed suicide. I couldn’t deal with it and started to do drugs, and my mother threw me out. I had no place to go and I got addicted.” A lot of people think that drug addicts are poor, are criminals. But there are doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects roaming the streets of Kensington. This is a tragic story, and Jill and I want to bring it to people’s attention.