By Kevin Binversie | Wisconsin Reporter
Dan Hayes cut his teeth at the libertarian magazine “Reason,” producing smart, funny and very short “Reason.TV” videos to complement online reporting. The 29-year-old filmmaker from Wauwatosa never considered long-form documentary — until a 2009 call from his father.
His dad wanted Hayes to get footage of Wisconsin veterans visiting the World War II Memorial in the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to help promote the Milwaukee chapter of the nationwide Honor Flight program, known locally as Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. Honor Flight is a volunteer program that flies World War II veterans free of charge to see the memorial in our nation’s capital.
Hayes agreed, and his first day on the National Mall led him and video production and FreeThink Media business partner Clay Broga to produce “Honor Flight.”
“Honor Flight” is a full-length documentary focusing on the Milwaukee community’s coming together to get as many veterans on as many D.C.-bound flights as possible. The film premieres Aug. 11 at Miller Park where it will be shown on the stadium’s high-definition scoreboard.
During that first day on the National Mall, Hayes knew he was witnessing something remarkable.
“As I was going from place to place, shooting footage of vets — going with them to Arlington National Cemetery, seeing their reactions — I knew I had captured something that was really profound,” said Hayes.
“I recall calling up Clay on the night of that first day and telling him I was shooting out of my mind and how amazing this subject was,” continued Hayes. “But honestly, I had no idea until almost a year later in September 2010 that I was going to make this a long-form project. That only occurred after I was invited to take a full trip on an Honor Flight.
“Seeing these 80- and 90-year-old men from 3 in the morning until midnight go on this trip, and the range of emotions they go through is just amazing. A lot of these vets had no idea about ‘mail call’ (letters from loved ones handed out on the plane during the return flight), or the size of the homecoming that awaited them. I think after that day, I was pretty confident and I knew we had to do something with this footage. And it’s gotten to be big.”
Broga believes the film isn’t just about a way to honor those who 70 years ago gave up everything to fight in World War II, but a wake-up call for his own generation.
“For us being a bunch of 20-somethings and doing a piece on older people about something that happened 70 years ago isn’t that typical,” said Broga. “But for us, Honor Flight and the WWII vets are the story, but the message is to our generation is ‘Have you thought about your freedom lately?’”
“And the answer is, no, most people don’t,” said Broga.
What the story of Hayes, Broga and programs like Honor Flight show us is the importance of lauding what has been called “The Greatest Generation,” the one that fought and won World War II. Statistics show that every day this country loses more and more veterans of that conflict to the passage of time. That gives us less and less time to simply say thanks for their service — and for saving the world.
“It will be wonderful to see so many other World War II veterans together at one place,” said Harvey Kurz, a Port Washington resident and 86-year-old Navy veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima who is profiled in the documentary. “Those present will represent nearly every major battle throughout the war. That’s going to be a lot of living history in one place.”
Not just history, but honor too — forged in the crucible of battle and given the respect it deserves.
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at [email protected].