CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On the surface, it was simply a crazy idea.
A group of seven college guys retrofit an amphibious Army vehicle, christen it El Pato Valiente (The Valiant Duck) and head south to launch a madcap goodwill tour of Central and South America.
The year is 1961 and troubles quickly ensue that will take a president -- one named John F. Kennedy -- to help untangle.
This tale is told in a new documentary by West Virginia University graduate Matt Twomey, titled "The Duck Diaries: A Cold War Quest for Friendship Across the Americas."
The 89-minute film was recently screened at a film festival in Oaxaca, Mexico, and has been entered into competition Oct. 20 at the New York City Independent Film Festival.
There are big lessons and small from the dramatic arc of this tale.
A big one?
"My hope and the hope of my subjects in this film, the guys who went on this trip, is that it may particularly inspire young people to go out into the world and see for themselves," said Twomey, a writer and editor for CNBC.com in New York. "And to do so in a spirit of goodwill and intercultural outreach. To learn about other people rather than to lecture them."
A small one?
Never take an amphibious vehicle into places it was never designed to go or you may need help from your president to get you un-marooned and back on the goodwill mission thoroughfare.
It was the height of the Cold War. The man who would become the filmmaker's father, Dan Twomey (who would later teach management at West Virginia University) was attending Cobleskill College in New York with twin brother, Tom.
There, they met a Colombian student who had a few choice and outspoken words to say to the brothers' circle of friends about how the United States treated its Latin American neighbors.
"This relationship was kind of eye opening for these guys who were upstate New York farm kids, really," said Matt Twomey. "That friendship inspired them to come up with this crazy idea."
Crazy idea No. 1: buy a surplus amphibious six-wheel drive vehicle known as a DUKW, but colloquially as a Duck. Get some press coverage, including driving the Valient Duck into Rockefeller Plaza in New York for a live segment on the "Today" show.
Crazy idea No. 2: head south for thousands of miles and a long water-borne crossing never intended by the vehicle's designers.
"One classic example of what the army designed this vehicle for was the Normandy invasion in 1944 -- from the big ship into the water and up into the beach. That's a very short trip into the water," Twomey said. "The army did not envision either taking it on the road for 27,000 miles like these guys did or taking it several hundred miles in the water."
But being intrepid and of stout heart, they attempted a dangerous sea crossing between Panama and Columbia, intent on reaching Pedro, their Columbian friend, in pretty glorious fashion.
"As soon as they hit Colombia, they were going to be able to meet with him and show him they were down there to learn about South America and Colombia just as that student had suggested they do."