I met Shawn Schmidt in early 2014 and shortly after we became acquainted, I gave him some CDs of my Irish music. He responded very positively and approached me about joining his “48 STARS” project as Music Director. I was thrilled for the opportunity and agreed to become a part of the team. I became increasingly more involved in all aspects of this exciting project to preserve voices that soon will be lost. I helped with research, scheduled and conducted interviews, traveled, and wrote text for narration and promotion. Shawn and I found that we balanced each other out creatively, coming from two different perspectives and Shawn eventually expanded my title to co-director.
I was interested in widening the spectrum of viewpoints in our interviews. Shawn was already committed to talking to both men and women as well as African American, Filipino, Native American and Japanese service people, but I was also interested in hearing from the rare category of WWII Conscientious Objectors and a member of Veterans for Peace – people with dissenting voices. I also suggested opening the criteria up to non-veterans who could offer valuable insights into the time period.
We wanted to ask those whom we interviewed deeper questions than simply, “What did you do in the war?” We wanted to get a sense of what life was like for them growing up in the world of the early 20th Century. We asked what led up to the war in their lives, and what their war time experiences were. How did they percieve the spirit of the country during the war years; what moments of sadness or joy stand out in their memory of that period, and how their experiences during the war shaped and colored their lives after the war ended.
In our search, we found remarkable stories, memories, impressions. We have found people for whom the war was a thing of the past and their memories of it are nostalgic and distant. For others, war experiences still haunt and torment them well into their 90s. Some of our interviewees drew powerful conclusions from what they experienced and moved forward into the future with strong convictions to change the “status quo.” Their efforts in some cases contributed to major social changes in America.
Studying war through the eyes of people who lived it can be painful work, but also inspiring. For instance, the combat veterans we interviewed tended to reject the term “war hero.” Some reject it because they viewed the act of killing as their job, “what we had to do” – not a noble or heroic act. Others reject it because their friends died and they did not. In their view, only those who made the “ultimate sacrifice” can be called heroes. Another discovery is that despite the fact that war pits nations and races against one another and some retain prejudices against former enemies for decades, many that we interviewed have found a way to leave grievances behind. This letting go, when we have found it in our interviews, provided some of the top moments of grace I have encountered in making this film.
I have been deeply touched by our interviewees’ trust in us. They have trusted us as we have invaded their homes, rearranged their furniture, shone glaring lights in their faces, strapped them up with microphone wires, asked them about some of the most intimate details of their lives and then, the greatest trust of all – they have trusted us to tell their stories with respect and artistry. I feel true gratitude for all that they have shared with us. Those who allowed us not only into their homes but into their hearts and minds, for me, are the reason and the root of this creative endeavor. Without their openness and trust, “48 STARS” would not be possible.
When you sit face to face with real veterans and others of the WWII era and listen to their authentic stories and thoughts, all pre-conceived ideas about “The Greatest Generation” or “honor and glory” fall away. What replaces them is deeply personal truth – plain, vulnerable, human truth from each unique perspective. Things don’t turn out as you expect, answers aren’t convenient, morality is never uncomplicated and that is the only way the human story can be told.
Co-Director/Music Director 48 STARS