Defense Media Network

Honor Flight Movie Review

In this divisive day and age, what cause could possibly be so important as to unite a community and engender contributions of hundreds of thousands of dollars and volunteer hours? The answer, if you watch Honor Flight, is World War II veterans. Honor Flight, in theaters Dec. 7, follows a Wisconsin community, four World War II veterans, and Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, Inc. as they work to fly thousands of World War II veterans to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. First-time film director Dan Hayes succeeds in telling a heartwarming story about veterans getting the thanks they so richly deserve.

Orville Lemke

World War II veteran Orville Lemke is surprised on the flight home with a package of letters written by family and friends expressing gratitude for his service. Freethink Media photo

Joe Dean, whose father was a World War II veteran, started the nonprofit Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, Inc. and has worked tirelessly to fly as many of these veterans as possible to Washington, D.C. He did not know that his own father was a World War II veteran until his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This provided the motivation for Dean to begin his work to honor World War II veterans. Dean and many of the other volunteers mention more than once that what they are doing is a race against time, with 1,000 World War II veterans dying every day.

Honor Flight adds a face to that statistic with the story of World War II veteran Orville Lemke. The 85-year old Lemke, who was battling terminal cancer, got a chance to see the World War II Memorial only six weeks before he passed away. Lemke served proudly in World War II, but then returned home to his community and got on with his life, just like millions of others from his generation. Watching the outpouring of love from his family at an especially touching part of the film, you get the sense that Lemke did not realize just how much of a positive impact that his life had on his family and community.

It’s those types of stories that make Honor Flight such an affecting film. The stories of the World War II veterans add an emotional heft that shows just how important the efforts of the community and Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, Inc. are. The love and gratitude that these veterans receive for lives well-lived is inspiring.

Joe Demler

84-year old World War II veteran Joe Demler holds a photo of himself as “The Human Skeleton” taken shortly after his liberation from a German POW camp in 1945. Freethink Media photo

The film also reveals, consciously or not, just how effective the World War II Memorial really is. When first opened to the public in 2004, the memorial was on the receiving end of a lot of criticism for, among other things, being supposedly cold and unwelcoming. After watching Honor Flight and seeing the flood of emotions from the visiting veterans theatergoers may come away convinced of just how effective the memorial truly is. There didn’t seem to be a dry eye among the veterans as they visited the monument, and in my book that is a mark of a successful memorial.

“Every day is a bonus,” says World War II veteran Joe Demler toward the end of Honor Flight, in describing how he has lived his life. I would posit that that credo, now the motto of Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, Inc., is how Americans should view their remaining time with the Greatest Generation. Honor Flight serves as a reminder of how much these veterans mean to their local community and what will be lost if they aren’t remembered.


Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...