Honor Flight: Film Review

Freethink Media
A praiseworthy nonprofit gets an unnecessary doc portrait.

Dan Hayes' documentary debut centers on a nonprofit program flying thousands of WWII vets to visit the Washington D.C. memorial honoring their service.

A doc celebrating World War II veterans that offers touching human moments but never feels like more than a promo for a nonprofit with a very specific mission, Dan Hayes' Honor Flight introduces us to a group of Wisconsinites who are very intent on paying tribute to the vets in their midst while they're still alive. Though well suited for fund-raiser screenings and the like, where military families should be very appreciative, its commercial prospects are slim.

Coming across as a dyed-in-the-wool salesman who just happens to have a noble product on hand, Joe Dean founded a nonprofit (one of scores of similar projects around the country) dedicated to flying vets from his community to see the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Listening to him talk about these elderly men (and women, though we see few here), whom he views as underappreciated, one might wonder if he'd somehow missed all that "Greatest Generation" talk floating around; occasionally, the film acts as if viewers might be a little unclear on what exactly happened in the Second World War and on the bravery of those who fought.

Regardless, Dean and the many volunteers he recruited are clearly sincere in wanting to show their appreciation for those who kept the world safe. They make frequent reference to how quickly these vets are dying and have sworn to take as many as possible on chartered jets to see concrete proof of the nation's gratitude. We tag along on one of these trips -- a long day that starts at 4 a.m., visits a variety of D.C. memorials and ends with a teary celebration back at home.

The film's real appeal is the time it spends with a handful of the project's beneficiaries: men like Joe Demler, whose almost unbelievable state at the end of Nazi imprisonment earned him the moniker "the human skeleton," or Julian Plaster, who shows us the heartbreakingly sweet cards he made for his wife, then talks about caring for her during the seven years she was bedridden at the end of her life.

Few would fail to be touched by these stories, or by the sight of these men having generations of kids and grandkids gather to celebrate their accomplishment. One just wonders: The U.S. government paid to send 16 million citizens around the world and back to risk their lives and is doing the same thing for another generation of Americans now; can it not foot the bill for those who survive to take a domestic flight for a commemoration of their service?

Production Company: Freethink Media
Director: Dan Hayes
Producer: Clay Broga
Executive producers: Ted Balaker, Kmele Foster
Director of photography: Benjamin Gaskell, Dan Hayes
Music: Josh Christiansen, Alexander Maas
Editor: Hawk Jensen
No rating, 82 minutes