As thousands filled Miller Park stadium Aug. 11 for largest ever movie premiere, it was only fitting the event took place across the street from the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.
“Field of Honor,” a special event to honor and thank World War II Veterans and a generation of people who did everything that was asked of them when the world was being circled by darkness.
Besides the celebration on the field, the highlight of the afternoon was the premiere of the documentary, “Honor Flight.”
The movie focuses on those Veterans from southeastern Wisconsin, and the guardians who escort them to Washington, D.C., on free Honor Flights to see the World War II memorial. It is a day jam-packed with memories, emotions and tears.
More than 2,100 Veterans from southeastern Wisconsin have participated in the Honor Flights, and many of our VA employees have raised their hands to serve as guardians.
The producers of the film, Dan Hayes and Clay Broga, quote one World War II Veteran interviewed during his Honor Flight, who said, “If I die today, I can die a happy man.”
That quote demonstrates the positive power of the Honor Flights, but is especially relevant when our World War II Veterans are passing on at the rate of 900 per day in our country. The goal is to get as many of these World War II Veterans to Washington to see their memorial before time runs out.
Fifteen of our Community Living Center residents, many of those World War II Veterans, made the trip to Miller Park for the Field of Honor, with the help of CLC staff and a troop of volunteers. Some, like Bob Moen, have been fortunate to take an actual Honor Flight.
“I was thrilled with my Honor Flight,” he said. “I had a wonderful experience.”
Sara LeClaire, recreation therapist, was part of the VA crew that helped out for the premiere. LeClaire also attended the Honor Flight as a guardian with CLC resident Andy Garraghan.
“I thought the Field of Honor event was incredible!” she said. “The documentary depicted exactly what the day was like for Andy and me. It was exhausting and emotional, but worth every ounce of energy just to be in the midst of all of those service men and women. I was so proud to be able to take our veterans over there and share that night with them.”
One might think with the celebration that followed after World War II ended that all of these Veterans would have been recognized and thanked for their service. But, organizers said, so many Veterans served -- close to 16 million -- that many got lost in the shuffle and went about their lives when they came home. The film showed how many Veterans were surprised and honored for this recognition via the Honor Flight, something they never got before.
As the film played, it was amazing to not hear a sound among the 30,000 in attendance. The audience was enthralled. “Honor Flight” takes viewers through happy times, as well as the pain, destruction and anguish of war. It was also a stark reminder that more than 400,000 U.S. soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice in World War II.
“We hope the film also reminds us of what is fundamentally good in our society in a day and age where are challenged in so many ways,” Hayes said.
One of the Veterans featured in the film, Joe Demler, provided these thoughts to live by: “Everyday is a bonus. You can’t have a defeated attitude at anytime, for anything. You always have to think positively; all my life I have done that.”
Demler was a prisoner of war in a Nazi POW Camp. After gaining his freedom from this horrific experience he said, “From now on every day is a bonus.”
Our World War II Veterans led the way on this beautiful August evening as we remembered our past and honored this generation of people that gave it all. As the night transpired we cheered and we cried. The Field of Honor was so much more than an event; it was an emotional experience that told these Veterans we will never forget.