WW II veterans view documentary of inaugural Honor Flight SW Minnesota
LUVERNE -- Fantastic, real good, great and awesome.
Those were the words of World War II veterans reacting to the special presentation of the Pioneer Public Television documentary on the inaugural Honor Flight Southwest Minnesota Saturday morning at the Historic Palace Theatre in Luverne.
A majority of the 108 men and women on the April 30-May 1 flight attended the free showing, along with a reunion and luncheon that followed at the Blue Mound Banquet Center. Many were joined by spouses and families for the event.
The documentary, which will air on Pioneer Public Television in November, was condensed into 65 minutes for the special showing, but will be cut further to fit into an hour-long time slot on public TV. Pioneer's president and general manager Les Heen said more than 20 hours of footage was filmed for the production.
Melissa Young and Bob Davidson accompanied veterans and guardians on the inaugural flight, filming their experiences at each of the memorials visited during the two-day whirlwind trip. In addition, they chose several veterans to conduct more in-depth interviews with, including Warren Herreid, Sr., and Ray Anderson of Luverne, Carl "Whitey" Amundson of Chandler, Jo Strube of Jackson and Ron Vogel of Worthington, to name a few.
For those who watched Saturday's premier, it was a 65-minute journey filled with amazing stories of battle and survival veterans experienced during the war, mixed with anticipation and excitement as they traveled to see their World War II Memorial on Honor Flight some 65 years later. There were moments of sniffles and tears, followed by smiles and laughter, all accompanying an overwhelming sense of pride.
Fritz and Virgil Schuld, brothers who served during World War II and now reside in Edgerton, attended Saturday's premier together.
"I thought it was great," said Virgil.
Bill Deutsch of Ellsworth agreed.
"Some of them went through a lot more than I did," said Deutsch, who served during the occupation of Japan. "The (Honor Flight) trip was very enjoyable and today too -- we really felt honored."
Lois Widmark of Ivanhoe, one of two women on the inaugural flight, said she couldn't wait to show the DVD to her grandkids. Since she took part on Honor Flight, she's been sharing her experience with people in her community, family and friends.
"I never shared my story before," she said. "Nobody did. We were too busy."
The Honor Flight Southwest Minnesota executive committee has since returned from its second flight to Washington, D.C., and plans are now forming for a third flight from the region sometime next spring.
"But you can never quite replace the first flight -- it was a fantastic time," said executive committee president Terry Gulden. "We can continue to tell you how honored we are to do this for you, but I know you've probably heard it a hundred times."
Each veteran who took part on the inaugural flight received a free DVD of the documentary. The film will air on Pioneer Public TV at 7 p.m. Nov. 11, and at 4 p.m. Nov. 14. After that, people may view the production online at www.pioneer.org/honorflight.
DVDs are also available for purchase at Pioneer Public TV by calling 1-800-726-3178.
Heen said a DVD has been sent to the Library of Congress, where it will be included in the Veterans History Project.
The entire project by Pioneer Public TV was made possible through funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, which receives money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment voters in the state approved in 2008.
"This is one of the first projects we're doing on the history of southwest Minnesota (with legacy funds)," Heen said.
Approximately 326,000 Minnesota men and women served their country during World War II, and just 36,000 of them remain living today, ranging in age from their mid 80s to early 90s.