Every year there's at least one film at the Ashland Independent Film Festival that leaves audiences saying, ''Everyone in America should see this.'

Every year, there's at least one film at the Ashland Independent Film Festival that leaves audiences saying, "Everyone in America should see this."

Last year's was "Soundtrack for a Revolution," a documentary that told the story of the 1960s civil rights struggle through its inspirational songs.

This year, "The Welcome" may very well be that film.

The documentary follows 24 veterans of wars in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq as they come alone or with family members to a retreat at rural Buckhorn Springs resort outside Ashland in 2008.

They have four days to forge a bond by telling their stories and writing poetry about their war experiences. On the fifth day — Memorial Day — they will share the stories and poetry with hundreds of audience members in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland.

But as the film shows, whether the group will even hold together until Memorial Day is questionable.

Years, even decades, of frustrations come out on the first day, with veterans and their family members complaining that soldiers lacked even basic equipment such as walkie-talkies during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Eli Painted Crow, an American Indian, says racism ran deep in her company when she was in the Middle East, with her commander and fellow soldiers referring to enemy areas as "Indian Country." But another veteran remarks, "I didn't come here for a lesson on racism."

As the days progress, Vietnam veteran Bob Eaton — still tormented by nightmares and depression — begins to emerge as a gentle guide for the younger veterans. Go ahead and cry. Let it out, he tells them.

He doesn't offer pat answers to ease Painted Crow's pain, or tell her to just get over the past. He does say that he loves her, and would die for her.

Finally, Eaton tells the others of the night in Vietnam in 1969 that still haunts him. He was only 18 years old when enemy forces attacked, firing rockets and shooting guns.

What followed that night and the next day would have left most people with broken minds and hearts.

The miracle revealed by "The Welcome" is that people who have gone through such horrific events can still feel, can still care, and can still show such love and support for each other.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.