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WWII veterans reunite in France to tell their stories of ‘sacrifices and courage’

World War II veteran Frank Kaszuba at the Normandie-World War II International Film Festival red carpet event at the Utah Beach Museum in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France, Friday, June 1, 2018.



VIERVILLE-SUR-MER, France — Almost exactly 74 years after the Second Ranger Battalion climbed the 100-foot cliffs of France’s Pointe du Hoc in the face of German fire on June 6, 1944, veterans from the so-called Greatest Generation gathered in France to retell their stories of “sacrifices and courage.”

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, fewer than 600,000 are alive today and those who fought the battles are now in their 90s – something Tim Gray, founder of the nonprofit World War II Foundation, thinks about every day.

“We’re in a time right now where we’re saying goodbye to so many of that generation,” Gray said.

So on Friday night, Gray and his foundation gave WWII veterans a chance to reunite with their brothers in arms, meet the actors who played them in the film “Band of Brothers” and tell their stories in their own words.

“Our foundation wants to make sure that these younger generations understand the stories, the sacrifices and courage that went into winning WWII,” Gray said.

Actor Nick Aaron, who portrayed Robert ”Popeye” Wynn in ”Band of Brothers,” sings with his band at the Normandie-World War II International Film Festival red carpet event at the Utah Beach Museum in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France, Friday, June 1, 2018.

The event at Utah Beach Museum in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont was a fundraiser for the World War II Foundation and a chance for aging veterans to return to France 74 years after the daring D-Day landings.

For Frank Kaszuba, who served in the 28th Infantry Division as it pushed across France in the weeks after D-Day, it was his first, and possibly his last, chance to go back to Normandy. He was excited to mingle with his fellow veterans and tell his story.

“It’s great for the younger generation to learn about this so (this kind of war) never happens again,” Kaszuba said.

Gray has used veteran voices in the more than 20 documentary films he’s produced about World War II. The films revisit some of the war’s most historic campaigns, from the D-Day landings to the Doolittle Raids of 1942. The WWII Foundation receives private and corporate funding and donates their materials to public television stations, schools and libraries.

“No two stories are ever the same,” Gray said. “We’re not going to get to them all, but we want to get the ones that will motivate younger people to want to learn more.”

Retired Master Sgt. Charles Shay, who earned a Silver Star and Bronze Star when he was a medic with the 1st Infantry Division on Omaha Beach, said he’s been a regular visitor to Normandy since 2009, the 65th anniversary of the landings.

“I’ve been coming back every year since, apart from one year,” said Shay. “I try to honor the men that paid the ultimate price. I try not to forget them. I have a very good friend who was killed on D-Day. I was the last man to see him alive and treat him. I finally met his family two years ago. They live in New Jersey, and they were very happy to meet me, because we were together on Omaha Beach.”

Dale Dye, who acted in “Band of Brothers” and “Saving Private Ryan,” has been working with the World War II Foundation for several years now, narrating a documentary and lending his celebrity to the foundation’s charity drives. Dye, a Vietnam veteran who earned three Purple Heart Medals and a Bronze Star with a combat “V” device for valor, says he does it to honor the dwindling numbers of World War II veterans.

“Most of [the WWII veterans] are very humble, they remain humble. They’re not asking for a round of applause, but they deserve it,” Dye said. “Anything the rest of us as survivors can do to say we wouldn’t be where we are today without them is proper. They’re a whole different breed of cat than the kids today, and I think they still have something to teach, to admire.”

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PBS’s new World War II film tells the stories of U.S. soldiers in a little-known tragedy

Even in a war with more than its share of horrors, the Malmedy massacre stands out. Eighty-four American soldiers were brutally killed by their German captors in a shocking breach of the Geneva Convention’s rules for warfare. Forty-three more were left for dead, using all their will to remain completely silent and still as they lay amidst the dead on freezing, snow-covered ground.

Today, more than 70 years later, just three of those Malmedy survivors are still alive. The stories they have to tell about that day are the focus of a new film from Tim Gray and the World War II Foundation. “Survivors of Malmedy: December 1944” will premiere on PBS this weekend in honor of Memorial Day, and the stories it has to tell are crucial to our understanding of our world, the filmmaker says.

“People always say history repeats itself, and it may not repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes with itself,” says Gray. “The lessons [these men and women] leave have a lot to do with sacrifice, and belief in their fellow man, and belief in a cause, and belief in their country.”

Gray has a deep respect for the surviving members of the Greatest Generation he’s interviewed over the years as he’s made 20 documentaries about World War II. One of the people who impressed him the most was Harold Billow, a Malmedy survivor whose story is featured in the new movie.

“He was one of those guys who kind of witnessed everything,” Gray recalls, “and had to play dead in the freezing cold. He really went through the worst of it. He could give a perspective of men being shot to the right of him, and then being shot to the left of him, and he doesn’t know why he survived.

“What stood out was the amount of time the guys had to play dead lying there,” he continues. “They were afraid to even breathe. Because it was so cold out, they didn’t want the Germans to see their breath. They would see the boots of a German next to their head, and they were about to be shot, but then a guy would groan, maybe 15 feet away, and the German would lose attention with them and move on and shoot the next guy.”

Even the youngest of World War II’s veterans are now in their 90s, and for many, memories are starting to fade as they approach the ends of their lives. But an event like Malmedy sticks with you, Gray says. “It’s still very vivid in [Billow’s] mind, and I think that’s important. All three of the guys who are left remember what happened like it was yesterday. They struggle with their own day-to-day memory, but this is seared into their mind just because of how horrific it was and how random it was.”

The Malmedy massacre was just one small piece of the notorious Battle of the Bulge, a six-week slog through Belgium, France, and Luxembourg in bitterly cold temperatures. It was one of the German army’s last stands, and as their defeat loomed, their brutality increased to the point that, having overwhelmed a battalion and forced them to surrender, they ignored the international agreement that said prisoners of war must be treated humanely. “It was an incident where all the rules of war were thrown out the window,” Gray says—the largest massacre of American troops in Europe in World War II.

The Malmedy massacre isn’t the best-known piece of World War II history. From the distance of many decades, we’re more likely to be able to relate the details of battles that have been covered in recent hit films, like the battle of Dunkirk or the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The Malmedy massacre has found its way into a few war dramas—“Judgement at Nuremberg” and “The Battle of the Bulge” stand out—but it’s overshadowed by other horrors of the war. Yet as we get farther away from that time, it’s important to preserve all the details, the personal memories as well as the official accounts—and honor the soldiers who died there as well as those who survived to tell the tale.

“If you look back at that time,” Gray says, “everybody played a role. I mean, kids were playing a role. They were collecting scrap iron on the home front; they were collecting newspapers; they were collecting rubber. The women went to work as Rosie-the-riveters. They proved that they could do anything that men could do. It’s the most fascinating time, because it really brought out the best of what America had to offer.”

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Famed Actor David McCallum Will Be Official Host of the 2018 Normandie-World War II International Film Festival and Band of Brothers Actors Reunion in Normandy, France

Famed Actor David McCallum Will Be Official Host of the 2018 Normandie-World War II International Film Festival and Band of Brothers Actors Reunion in Normandy, France

McCallum Currently Stars in CBS’ NCIS and During His long career has appeared in many movies and TV Shows including: The Great Escape, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Colditz

Washington, DC/Kingston, RI-January 25, 2018- Actor David McCallum, best known for his roles in NCIS, The Great Escape and Man from U.N.C.L.E. has accepted an invitation to be the official host of the 2018 Normandie-World War II International Film Festival and Band of Brothers Actors Reunion in Normandy, France from June 1-4, 2018. All proceeds raised from the film festival and actor’s reunion benefit the educational mission of the non-profit World War II Foundation.

McCallum will appear at the opening events of the film festival and actors reunion on June 1st and 2nd, including a special VIP reception and public event at the Utah Beach Museum on June 1st. McCallum will also take part in a question and answer session with actors from the Band of Brothers television series on June 2nd in Carentan, in which the cast will talk about episodes 2 and 3 of Band of Brothers, Day of Days and Carentan, which focus on the Normandy invasion. McCallum will speak about the behind the scenes making of the famous World War II film, The Great Escape in which he played the character Ashley-Pitt. Steve McQueen led the all-star cast.

“It’s an honor to have David joining us in Normandy and accepting the title as official host of the events in France,” said Tim Gray, Founder of the World War II Foundation. “David is regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation and has played some iconic roles in the movies and on television,” Gray continued.

“I think festival fans and also those in attendance in Normandy to meet the Band of Brothers actors will enjoy meeting David and listening to his stories about the making of The Great Escape, which is one of the iconic movies made on the topic of World War II,” Gray said.

“We hope people will continue to buy tickets to the events surrounding the festival and reunion to help support the work of the non-profit World War II Foundation,” Gray continued. To date, the foundation has produced 20 award-winning documentary films on the personal stories of the WWII generation, which are all donated to American Public Television in the United States, as well as schools and libraries, so future generations never forget the sacrifices made by those who fought and survived during World War II.

Narrators of past WWII Foundation films include: Tom Selleck, Matthew Broderick, Dan Aykroyd, Damian Lewis, Bill Belichick, Kyle Chandler, Jason Beghe, Tim McCarver, Dale Dye, and in the future, Gary Sinise, David McCallum, Donnie Wahlberg, Gen. David Petraeus and Jon Seda

The World War II Foundation also raised all the money for and dedicated on June 6, 2012, the Richard D. Winters Leadership Monument in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France, recognizing leadership by American junior officers on D-Day.

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Newport Daily News/November 2017

‘Journey Home’ tells story of USS Arizona survivor’s posthumous return to Pearl Harbor

By Laura Damon | Newport Daily News Staff writer

NEWPORT — The urn containing Raymond Haerry Sr.’s remains were submerged underwater and placed within the sunken hull of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in April of this year.

Haerry, of West Warwick, was one of 335 survivors out of the 1,512 officers, sailors and Marines of the USS Arizona when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He died in September 2016 at the age of 94 and was one of the last USS Arizona survivors.

A new documentary about his family’s 5,200-mile journey to place his ashes aboard the battleship, honoring Haerry’s final wish, will be shown in a “sneak peek” to Rhode Islanders on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theater, 49 Touro St.

The film, “Journey Home to the USS Arizona,” won’t make its official world premiere until Dec. 3; PBS will air the documentary later this month. The one-hour film is narrated by actor Matthew Broderick.

The event will include speaker David Kohnen, director of the John B. Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research at the Naval War College, and a question-and-answer segment with Haerry’s granddaughter, Jessica Marino, who made the journey to Pearl Harbor with her grandfather’s ashes.

“Journey Home to the USS Arizona” is the 19th documentary film from the South Kingstown-based nonprofit World War II Foundation, produced in cooperation with Tim Gray Media.

When asked how the latest documentary manifested, Tim Gray, a South County native and founder of the World War II Foundation, said Haerry was interviewed for the foundation’s earlier film, “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

That 84-minute film, which premiered last November, is narrated by Tom Selleck and features interviews with more than 35 World War II veterans and Hawaiian citizens.

When Haerry passed away and Gray learned he wanted his ashes returned to the USS Arizona, “we felt as though that would be a very compelling documentary,” he said.

“The interesting thing about Ray is his son tried to get him to go back to Pearl Harbor,” Gray said, but Haerry refused. Nineteen years old at the time of the attack, he carried memories too painful to allow him to return to Honolulu; yet Haerry’s dying wish was to have his ashes returned there.

“That’s where he wanted to spend eternity,” Gray said. “With his shipmates … there’s that bond there that I don’t think people knew.”

The remains of more than 900 sailors killed on Dec. 7, 1941, are still inside the ship. Of those who survived the attack, Haerry was the 42nd who asked to be returned to the ship to be laid to rest. Only five other survivors are still alive.

After Gray earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Rhode Island in 1989, he worked as a television sportscaster for about 15 years. He wanted to create documentaries on World War II and the World War II Foundation was born; he began work on the first documentary in 2006.

Whether in Europe or the Pacific, “we shoot all the films on location,” Gray said. “We film in the places where the actual events took place.”

Gray produces, writes and directs the documentaries. To fund the projects, he fields donations. “You reach out to as many people as you possibly can and hope they have an interest in honoring that generation,” he said. “Nine out of 10 say no but you just hope you come across someone who understands what you’re trying to do.”

Gray has recruited Selleck and Bill Belichick to narrate past films. “I target people who, first of all, I like their voices, and second of all, who have an interest in World War II,” Gray said. All narrators have had some connection to the war or the military. “Most of these guys say yes right away,” he said.

Gray said World War II documentaries help to keep the stories of veterans preserved for future generations. In the next 15 years, all the World War II veterans will likely be gone. Documentaries help ensure there’s a record of what those veterans did “in helping to save the world.”

“They (documentaries) really preserve the legacy of what that generation accomplished,” Gray said. “We are who we are today because of what they did.”

As for the decision to premiere the latest documentary in Newport: “He (Haerry) had ties to Newport after the war,” Gray said. “We wanted to premiere in Newport because after the war Ray taught in Newport,” through the Naval War College.

Gray said Saturday’s event will honor the legacy of the Navy in Newport and Rhode Island.

“It’s not a war film,” Gray said. “It’s a film about a journey, a family’s journey.”

Tickets cost $10. For more information, visit or call 846-5474.

Rhode Island Monthly/November 2017