Editor’s Note: This review runs today in honor of the veterans of World War II, including those who fought and died 71 years ago today during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The lights dim, the audience hushes, and an American flag waves in front of a bright, peaceful home. The green and yellow trees rustle in the wind. Behind this tranquil scene the spectators hear a solemn voice carrying a chilling message: “every day, 900 World War II veterans pass away.”
The screen pans to a lone man running along the beach. The narrator, Joe Dean, remembers the beaches at Normandy and his father’s service in the Second World War. “They’ve sacrificed so much for us, and here I am running the beaches of Port Washington in absolute freedom.”
Inspired by his father, Dean began Stars and Stripes Honor Flight in Wisconsin. He brought trustworthy friends together and set up a board of directors, and went to local businesses to raise money.
At first, his plan to fly veterans to their memorials in Washington, DC did not receive much support. He needed more veterans who would share their experiences to potential supporters. Then he met Joe Demler and Harvey Kurz.
The audience meets Joe as a jolly old man, walking silently across a tranquil street. Captured after the Battle of the Bulge, he spent the last months of the war in a Nazi prison camp. After days with no food or water, Demler only weighed 70 pounds when rescued. Life Magazine dubbed him “the human skeleton,” and the picture confirms his ghastly appearance.
Honor Flight’s motto, “every day is a bonus,” comes from Joe’s experience in Germany. “I learned how to pray in a Nazi prison camp,” Joe tells the audience, “and from now on every day is a bonus.” As the camera returns to his silent walk, the audience sees new nobility in his stride.
Harvey Kurz, who now works in the check-out line at a local supermarket, fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. His outgoing, bawdy manner leads him to tease younger ladies, even as they honor his service. But when asked about the fighting, Harvey grows solemn. “We landed on the shore. Japs couldn’t miss, and we did it all day,” he said.
Armed with these stories, Dean raised more and more money. After a successful first trip, they raised more than $250,000 and chartered two 747s.
Orville Lemke heard about Honor Flight on the radio. “I don’t think they’d pick me – it must be important people on this flight,” he said. His family, concerned about his cancer, didn’t think he could make the trip.
Nevertheless, make it he did. The film showed him waiting after sending in the application, like a High School senior nervous about getting into college. Driving to the airport, Orville said he was excited, not tired, at 4 AM.
Touring the memorial, he said, “I feel very small. This is beautiful. It was build to last a long time.” His daughter went with him, as a guardian. “Children will know the price of freedom and what you did,” she told him.
Dean described a guardian’s job – “to ensure that they’re treated like royalty.” Three guardians told their stories and the film showed them, one by one, leaving home to serve the veterans.
Coming home, each veteran receives a “mail call.” Honor Flight tracks down each family member and arranges personal letters for the men and women on their way back. “We couldn’t finish the letters,” one guardian says. “There were too many of them.”
When the plane lands, huge crowds fill the airport. Veteran after veteran comes down the aisle, with family members, clapping children, cheerleaders, and hundreds of community members forming a sea of support.
In Orville’s case, the homecoming brought out cousins, children, and grandchildren from all over the country. Staring into the camera, Orville raises a glass of wine, holds back tears, and says, “thank you, thank you, thank everbody. This was wonderful.”
Then the camera pans to his casket. Orville died on Christmas Eve, six weeks after honor flight.
“It isn’t just the memorial,” a volunteer explains. “This is their day. It is probably their last day in the sun.”
From Pericles’ Funeral Oration to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Western men and women have tried valiantly to thank those who sacrifice their lives for freedom. This film may not achieve that final tribute, but it challenges each audience member not to cry as it draws to a close.
Dean finishes the tale with a deep, somber reflection. “What’s been gifted to us is unbelievable,” he says. “How can we dare live trivial lives?”
Tyler O’Neil is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Andrew Stiles
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Kathlyn Ehl