A WWII veteran brings along a photo of himself as a soldier in his youth. His volunteer travel companion, or "guardian," holds the picture up for him on their ï¬‚ight to DC.
A World War II veteran looks over thousands of fallen soldiers' gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery.
Eighty-four-year-old WWII veteran Joe Demler holds a photo of himself as "The Human Skeleton" taken shortly after his liberation from a German POW camp in 1945.
Orville Lemke, a WWII veteran battling terminal cancer, is greeted by a young boy at a surprise parade toward the end of his Honor Flight trip.
“Every day is a bonus.”
This is the message from World War II veteran Joe Demler, one of several men featured in Honor Flight: One Last Mission. The poignant film centers on a Wisconsin community’s efforts to raise money so that World War II veterans could travel to see the DC monuments built in their honor. The film just won the Best Documentary Feature Award on May 12 at the GI Film Festival in Arlington, Virginia, and releases on video on demand platforms today, May 14, via SnagFilms.
The film follows four veterans: Demler, the 84-year-old who was once held in a Nazi prison camp and was famously pictured as the “human skeleton” on the front of LIFE magazine; Harvey Kurz, an 85-year-old with Alzheimer’s who witnessed the American flag being raised at Iwo Jima; Orville Lemke, a veteran fighting terminal cancer who is determined to make the trip; and 89-year-old poet Julian Plaster who once served as a gravedigger.
Funded completely by donations, the Honor Flight program takes the men on a 20-hour once-in-a-lifetime-trip to the World War II Memorial, U.S. Air Force Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and to see the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
Veterans’ reactions upon seeing the monuments for the first time range from tears and grief to pride and awe to pure joy, says director Dan Hayes. Hayes recalls visiting the World War II memorial in 2009 and meeting a veteran on an Honor Trip named Theodore Gurzynski. “Gurzynski looked at me, blinked back tears, and said ‘I could die a happy man now that I’ve made this trip,’” Hayes says. “I knew at that moment that this memorial was a very special place for them. When they look at the wall of stars they don’t see 80- and 90-year-old men. They see the 20-year-olds who didn’t make it home.”
The film contains footage from Normandy Beach, Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, concentration camp liberations, and more. The next area screening is scheduled to be in Arlington, Virginia, at AMC Courthouse 8 on Thursday, May 23; admission is free but reservations are required by May 16 on honorflightthemovie.com. For information on the Honor Flight program, or to make a donation, visit honorflight.org.