Documentary is a tribute to World War II Honor Flight veterans

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — A presentation of the documentary "Honor Flight" is more than just a movie screening. It's an experience.

"The film is a tribute to the military and a love letter to veterans of World War II," said Michael Fleishman, attractions director for Community Concerts. "We wanted a way to honor their service, and 'Honor Flight' is a very emotional movie about what it means to be an American."

The documentary will be shown at the Crown Arena on Sunday at 2:30p.m. as a unique addition to the 2013-14 Community Concerts season. The event will feature military displays, a memorial ceremony and musical elements, Fleishman said.

"Honor Flight" is a documentary that follows four World War II veterans as they participate in what's called an Honor Flight — a program that flies military veterans to Washington to see the National World War II Memorial at no cost to the veterans.

Different nonprofit organizations across the country — about 100 presently — have conducted Honor Flight programs through the Honor Flight Network, an umbrella organization. Each veteran is escorted by a volunteer guardian, who helps the veteran on the flight and in D.C. A flight of 100 people, including veterans and volunteers, costs about $30,000, which is often covered by donations and with assistance from Southwest Airlines.

The trips are currently focused around veterans of World War II, whose ages range in the 80s and 90s.

Dan Hayes, founder of Freethink Media and director of "Honor Flight," said he was touched by the stories of so many World War II veterans he met while filming his documentary, which premiered in August 2012.

"It was tough to narrow the film's focus to these four men, whose stories were so amazing, even though they'd often downplay their own stories," said Hayes. "It was a powerful experience to be part of. For many, it's truly their 'last mission,' and that's sad."

Since debuting, "Honor Flight" has been shown several hundred times at various screenings in theaters, schools and at festivals and in every state, including Hawaii.

Hayes said the film celebrates the lives and sacrifices of all veterans, not just the four who are part of the film's focus. Audiences who haven't seen "Honor Flight" in theaters, Hayes said, will be able to experience what it was like to be on an Honor Flight as if they were there. The steadycam film format places the viewer in the moment. Hayes said he attended several Honor Flight trips to gather his footage.

The finished product, Hayes said, has resonated with veterans, their families and military personnel of all branches of service. It's also found a receptive audience with younger audiences, Hayes said.

"Some of the most important reactions we've had to the film have come from school children who told us that they hadn't really thought about their freedom — or knew much World War II history — before this," said Hayes. "This film has helped younger generations change their perspectives, and that's what our mission is — to tell stories that engage people and get them to think differently."

Hayes said people attending the Fayetteville showing of "Honor Flight" should easily identify with the film. But, he added, success will be more accurately measured if the film causes people to move beyond the message and get involved with causes that affect veterans.

"Hopefully, people will use this as a communication tool to engage veterans or start more Honor Flight chapters," said Hayes.

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