Film Review: Honor Flight

Moving documentary about a campaign to bring World War II veterans to Washington

The so-called “Greatest Generation” indubitably proves itself to be just that in Dan Hayes’ debut documentary, Honor Flight. Wisconsin native Joe Dean came up with the idea of flying World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the National Memorial dedicated to that war. Some 500 ex-soldiers expressed interest and it was a challenge to get it funded, as well as a race against time, as many of these veterans are dying off.

The film is undeniably heartwarming and an important reminder of the sacrifices these men made without question, an effective rebuke to all those pathetically attended Veteran’s Day celebrations you see or, more likely, just hear about every year. Dean himself is very present in the film, slickly effusing about these gallant geezers, but I wish there had been less of him and more actual talk from the vets themselves.

When they are allowed to speak, you may find your eyes welling up at the simple eloquence of their words, especially Julian Plaster, who describes being given a shovel and a pair of gloves in the Pacific and being told to do burial disposal. Seeing the bodies of American as well as Japanese soldiers immediately changed his ideas about what being a soldier meant and made him realize that “you are just one human being.” He lost 50% of his squad in one fiercely bombed battle, but a flag was put up “and in the morning the flag was still there, and so were we.”

He’s revealing, too, about post-war life, the struggle to get on with it and survive, during which time he gave his wife of 60 years nothing but handmade cards expressing his love for her. His simply stated yet heartbreaking description of her death, after seven years of hospitalization, make his a truly great love story.

Then there’s Joe Demler, dubbed the “human skeleton” because of the way he looked after being imprisoned by the Nazis. My own father scrubbed the blood off the wreckage one day after Pearl Harbor, and recalled the hard looks he was given, as a Korean, being mistaken for Japanese at the time. There are countless, priceless stories to be told, soon to be forever lost to mortality’s inevitability. In the film Golddiggers of 1933, Joan Blondell unforgettably sang the song “Remember My Forgotten Man,” about the plight of World War I veterans. Hopefully, this film will address the situation of those involved in the great war following it, just as we need to be cognizant of all the guys who recently served in the Middle East and are going through the effects of that experience as well.