Area Vets Part of New World War II Documentary

By Chris Burgeron
Metrowest Daily News
NATICK —Area veterans will relive the hardship, heroism and human cost of their World War II service on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor on Wednesday at the premiere of a stirring documentary, “Saving the Reality,” that lives up to its title.

Directed and produced by Tim Gray, the 68-minute film chronicles the origins, course and conclusion of the war by linking deeply personal memories of 30 area veterans and a few civilians with artifacts from the Museum of World War II, founded and owned by Kenneth W. Rendell.

Rendell said he and Gray made “Saving the Reality” in partnership to use the Natick museum’s 6,000 objects to memorialize the service and sacrifices of ordinary people thrust into the greatest cataclysm of modern times.

“This documentary spreads the message that wars are fought by humans. For me, its biggest appeal has been its focus on real people, sharing real feelings. Most were propelled into a war most they didn’t want to be in,” he said.

The high-definition film, narrated by actor Dan Aykroyd, will be shown Dec. 7 at Port 305 Marina Bay restaurant, North Quincy, at a gala event hosted by Josh Binswanger, former History Channel host. Tickets are $100 each and include dinner, cocktails and valet parking. To order tickets, call 617-302-4447 or visit www.wwiifoundation.org/events/december7.

All proceeds will benefit the World War II Foundation, established by Gray, of Kingston, R.I., which will help distribute the film to schools and library and hopes to have it shown on television.

A Dover resident, Rendell has earned an international reputation as a collector and dealer of rare historical letters, manuscripts and documents.

He said the film and an earlier book of the same title are part of a broad-based effort for his museum “to be a place where people can relate to real humans who fought, lived and died in World War II and not just facts, statistics and body counts.”

For 60 minutes, Richard Dinning, Allison “Doc” Blaney and Henry Bengis of Natick, Harry Serulneck and the late Frank Palilla of Framingham and others recall monumental and mundane moments from D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and air raids on Nazi Germany to escorting mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano around Italy to win support for the Allies.

They were interviewed in 2010 and 2011 by Gray and filmed by cameraman Jim Karpeichik in the Natick museum next to weapons, radios, uniforms and documents from Rendell’s collection, believed to be the largest of its kind in the world.

Some of the most gripping recollections came from non-combatants Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter, of Brookline who survived more than four years in Nazi concentration camps where his parents and brother perished and Ermgard Schmidt, who grew up in Germany where she witnessed the growing anti-Semitism.

Now 86, Blaney was a Canada native who’d lost both parents at the age of 11.

At the age of 19, he was serving as a medic with the 101st Airborne, made famous by the HBO series “Band of Brothers,” when he parachuted into occupied France seven hours ahead of the first wave of the Normandy invasion.

“I landed three miles from my designated drop zone. You had to learn real fast how to survive. Many didn’t. I was 19 and I wondered what would happen next,” he said.

In addition to speaking at the museum, Blaney has met with local high school students to discuss the war. When meeting with a French class who had returned from a study trip to France, he was “astounded to learn they visited castles and wine country but no battlefields.”

A Rhode Island native who formerly worked as a TV anchor and reporter, Gray is chairman of the World War II Foundation. He made two earlier documentaries and won two Emmy awards, including one for outstanding documentary film writing.

In “Saving The Reality,” he masterfully interweaves the veterans’ stories with documentary footage from World War II punctuated by Rendell’s observations on the museum’s organization and purpose.

Throughout the film, a veteran or civilian relates their wartime stories in one of the museum’s 30 sections related to their experience.

Gray said, “I think it was important for these speakers to share their stories in honor of people they knew who didn’t survive.”

“That’s why it’s called ‘Saving The Reality.’ I’m convinced they’re not looking for individual credit. They dredged up these often painful memories so people will go to the museum and see the move to honor the people in their stories,” he said.

Digging deep into his memory, Dinning, 89, recalled “serenading an attractive young lady” over breakfast on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, at Northwestern University shortly before learning of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

After having a hernia repaired so he could pass his physical, the young student, who’d never before flown in a plane, joined the Army Air Corps and ended up captaining a B-17 bomber on 33 missions over Nazi Germany.

Standing before a photo of a “Flying Fortress” like those he piloted, Dinning said Rendell’s museum “uniquely brings to light what World War II was about in a way you can’t get out of history books.”

“I hope this film is distributed free to high schools,” said Dinning, who worked 37 years with an airline and continued flying planes into his mid-80s. “There are few adults today who remember 55 million people died as a result of the war. I hope viewers take from this film what visitors hopefully take from the museum: An understanding of the scope a world conflict can reach.”

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