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Film Vérité
Tracy Tragos (WCAS91) produced a documentary about her father, who was killed in Vietnam when she was just a baby.

Tracy Tragos
Photo by Timothy Teague
One late Friday night in 2001 in her Topanga, Calif., home, Tracy Tragos (WCAS91), then a freelance writer, took a break from Internet research she was doing for a television script.

For fun, she began entering family members’ names in a search engine to see what popped up. This time, instead of typing in Donald G. Droz for her father, she entered a simple “Don Droz.”

And there it was — a graphic account by a Vietnam veteran of the death of her father, a Navy lieutenant, in 1969. Their patrol boat had been hit in the Mekong Delta by a rocket, severely injuring Tragos’ father and several others. The craft, carrying 800 pounds of explosives, eventually drifted to shore, only to be met by camouflaged enemy forces lurking behind the tropical bush. By the time rescuers arrived, three crew members had already been killed.

Tragos’ lifelong mystery had been solved. Finally she learned how her father died. She only met him once, during his week of R&R in Hawaii, when she was 3 months old. “I cried — a lot,” says Tragos of her discovery. “There was this eerie sense that I was there with him. I’d never been that close to my father before. It was so immediate, like witnessing a murder.”

The discovery led Tragos to take on a challenging project — producing Be Good, Smile Pretty, a documentary film about her father’s life and death.

Tragos learned many heartbreaking stories during the process. One veteran remembered dragging Droz off the boat during the fatal incident. Afraid the explosives on board would detonate, he took Droz into the water, supporting his head so he wouldn’t drown.

Tragos grew up curious about her father but had always bottled her emotions. “There was a great, unspoken sadness my mother and I shared,” Tragos explains. “I knew it was better left unsaid.” For the filming of Be Good, Smile Pretty — named after the way Droz signed his letters to his family — her mother, Judy Keyes, opened her heart as her daughter trained the camera on her.

Keyes met Droz at a football game in 1964 when he was a midshipman at the Naval Academy. He approached her and said, “There you are. I’ve been looking for you all my life.” Four years later they were married, less than a month before he was sent to fight.

“There have been moments of tremendous guilt for doing this to my family,” says Tragos, “but in the end, there’s a value in reviving a life that’s been shut away.”

At Northwestern Tragos began as a theater major, quickly changing her mind when she realized she was “a miserable singer and dancer.” After graduating with an English degree, Tragos attended the University of Southern California’s graduate screenwriting program.

During the film project, the 14-hour days of interviewing and editing 300 hours of footage for the documentary were brutal. Her husband, Christian (KSM90), was supportive, initially providing her with resources from his production company, Essential Entertainment.

Be Good, Smile Pretty will air next season on Independent Lens, a new PBS series.

In addition, Tragos has founded the Orphans of War Foundation, an organization to increase awareness of the war’s effects on those who lost parents in the conflict.

“In a sense I’ve learned who I might be if my father had lived,” Tragos says. “My grandmother said I would be more carefree, less serious. I think about that a lot. Maybe I can be more carefree because I’m Don Droz’ daughter. I’m my father’s daughter.”

— Christina Ko (J03)

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