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55,000 Viewers Later: Honor Flight Film Continues to Make History

Director Dan Hayes, a native of Wauwatosa, remembers the "electricity" in the air when the documentary set a record for largest film screening in history over the summer — and looks forward to continuing on with the film's journey.

After a second stint back on the big screen in Marcus theatres across Wisconsin, the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight documentary has touched the lives of more than 55,000 viewers, Honor Flight officials say.

The Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Facebook page is chock full of comments from people in the Milwaukee area who saw the film this week, offering gracious praise about the power of the film's message.

"I believe people recognize that —  in a way — these heroes are the new Ghost Soldiers. Now you see them, now you don't," Stars and Stripes Honor Flight founder Joe Dean said. "Over 1,000 WWII heroes die every single day in this country. It is beyond our ability to describe how grateful we are that so many people recognize this fleeting and poignant opportunity to thank our WWII veterans before it is too late. Seventy years ago they saved the free world. It is  a remarkable honor to let them know how much we all appreciate their service and sacrifice."

Honor Flight is a national program with 117 hubs from coast to coast. The WWII Memorial did not open until 2004 and many veterans are unable to visit it without assistance, so Honor Flight works to bring these veterans to see the memorial in Washington D.C.

The documentary, starring two Ozaukee County WWII veterans, follows a team of local volunteers as they race against the clock to send every WWII veteran on the completely free trip to visit the war memorials built to commemorate their service.

Director Dan Hayes, a Wauwatosa native, was inspired to make the documentary in 2009, after he collected stories from the veterans and shortly thereafter cut together a five-minute film about the men; soon, he realized there was greater potential.

In 2010, Hayes began working on the documentary. He participated in three Stars and Stripes Honor Flights where the veterans "really opened up" and shared their stories. Soon, Hayes had over 100 hours of footage.

The movie made a new Guinness Book of World Records with its premiere at a Miller Park event over the summer, where 28,422 people came to watch the film — earning the title of having the "largest film screening in history." The number to beat was 27,022 for a soccer film in Brazil.

"You are part of history tonight, give yourselves a big round of applause," the announcer said to the audience in Miller Park after declaring the record officially set.

"I will always remember the feeling of community and electricity in the air that night in August, when over 28,000 people packed the Milwaukee Brewers stadium to see our film saying thanks to America's World War II heroes," Hayes wrote in a letter that Dean shared with Patch. "This is just the beginning of the impact we hope to have. ... Thank you for your continuing support of this incredible journey."

Hayes recaptured the experience of setting that record in a short film attached to this article. The film will show in 25 states over the next two months; times are available on HonorFlightTheMovie.com.

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