We are filmmakers in our late 20s and, like most everyone in our generation, we take a lot of things for granted. Past Memorial Days have simply been a day off from work, a trip to the beach and a barbecue in the backyard. This one is different.
Over the past two years we've had the opportunity to interview dozens of World War II veterans for our feature-length documentary Honor Flight that is premiering this August at Milwaukee Brewers baseball stadium to a crowd of tens of thousands -- including hundreds of WWII vets. The Honor Flight program flies veterans to see the memorial built in their honor in Washington, D.C., at no cost to them. The WWII Memorial wasn't built until 2004, 60 years after World War II.
Throughout the Honor Flight trip, vets begin to share their war stories -- sometimes for the first time ever. After the trip, many vets say it was one of the greatest days of their lives. For those in their late 80s and early 90s, Honor Flight is their first visit to Washington, D.C., and the very last trip they'll ever take. It's a race against time.
But not everyone can go on an Honor Flight. So we're bringing it to them:
Memorial Day Challenge: Ryan's Story
Through social media and film, we can show these living heroes, one last time, just how grateful we are for the freedom and opportunity they've left us. Last Memorial Day we asked people for 50,000 views on the film's trailer to show vets our support. They responded with 4.5 million.
Perhaps more importantly than what we can do for the vets through this project, is what the veterans can do for us... again.
Filming Honor Flight has been a transformational experience. It's forced us to grapple with the issues of gratitude, family and freedom in our own lives. We've come to realize that shaking a vet's hand or calling grandpa on Memorial Day isn't the point. The only way we can bring honor to the lives of WWII vets, is through our own.
Knowing what the Greatest Generation did for us to have the lives we enjoy today, both in war and in life, we must strive for greatness in our lives worthy of their sacrifices. That means different things for different people but the question for everyone is the same: "Am I fully taking advantage of the freedom and opportunity I've been gifted in the United States of America? Am I living like 'every day is a bonus'?"
That phrase, "every day is a bonus," is the motto of one Honor Flight chapter. It was coined by Joe Demler, a WWII vet who was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and sent to a Nazi prison camp. When Joe was rescued, he weighed less than 80 lbs and is chronicled in Life magazine as "The Human Skeleton." When the reporter asked Joe how he was feeling, he responded with "every day is a bonus."
Joe and his fellow WWII veterans who barely made it out of the war alive know that every day is a bonus all too well. Today, in the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last chapter of their lives, they're confronted with mortality again. Through Honor Flight, we hope to ensure their message lives on.