We just spent four days working on the most important assignment we’ve ever had in our 28 years of business. We worked with Team Pegine, a think tank chosen to organize the Day of Appreciation for Vietnam vets, to document the events for the 50th anniversary celebration at the Mall in Washington D.C. right next to the Vietnam War Memorial. I covered four days of setting up this event under Team Pegine’s supervision who facilitated the entire process. I met admirals, generals, and other veterans who served for our country for multiple years. I captured interviews and the events and activities it took to build this function over four days. The resulting 90 minute program that was broadcast on almost all major news networks around the world was over in almost a blink of an eye.
When Pegine asked me to come two weeks ago, there was no time to put a crew together. So fresh back from Guadalajara and used to working in extreme heat conditions, I charged all the batteries and packed extra batteries, lights, our Go Pro camera, our portable high-def Xacti camera and our Cannon camera. I then flew into Washington D.C. to document this event for Team Pegine.
As I started to meet people, Pegine introduced me to a United States Army colonel. A few minutes into our conversation, the colonel asked if it would be all right for us to provide the United States government with a copy of our edited documentary for the National Archives in Washington D.C. Game on!
It then became more important than even before to capture every speck of activity. Somehow the adrenaline and an awful lot of water kept me going for four days.
On the day of the event, we arrived onsite at 4 a.m. We got our bearings and made sure the storm that passed through the night before hadn’t affected our site enough to cause problems with the production. Before I knew it, it was 7:30 a.m. and Secret Service began their sweep of the grounds and surrounding area. We walked across the street and sat on a stone wall. About an hour later we were allowed back into the site. By 9 a.m. I had conducted a few interviews, including an interview with an Army soldier, who biked for a hundred days from California to honor and support our troops, and a Marine. The Army soldier was a double amputee and his bike was powered by hand. The Marine soldier was a former professional football player who had decided to enlist in the Marines. That is just one of the dozens of interviews that I conducted over four days either on property at the Mall where the ceremony took place or at our hotel room.
One of the things that I do in advance as a video journalist is prepare questions to ask so I’m not at a loss for direction during an interview. On this particular assignment, those questions were not necessary because every single interviewee that I video recorded had a story to tell. Our conversation was very guided by that story. It was almost effortless to capture the information that recorded.
Perhaps the biggest memory was meeting a gentleman named Jay who was a Vietnam vet from the army. When I first saw Jay, he was laying in the middle of the median on Constitution Avenue where a Marine in full dress uniform was standing at attention while 100,000-200,000 motorcyclists who belong to an organization called Rolling Thunder had a four and a half parade from Arlington back to the Mall. They rode in circles for four and a half hours to pay tribute to our soldiers. Later on this gentleman appeared taking pictures of one of our staff members, Steve, putting flags up on the War Memorial. After he took a picture of Steve, he and Steve began talking because Steve is a former Navy officer. Steve called me on my cell phone and asked if I had time to interview Jay. He brought Jay back to the hotel.
Bob, who was our guest of honor for Team Pegine and who was also a Vietnam vet from the Air Force, sat down with Jay in the lobby of the hotel. As I was setting up, I was thinking, “What questions should ask in order to make this a meaningful interview?” I didn’t say a word for over half an hour. By the time the mics were on and the camera was rolling, the conversation had begun. The two of them connected as if it were a reunion. That will always stand out in my mind as a high point in this project. The ironic part is that Jay is going to be coming to Plymouth Michigan, near my home in Rochester Hills Michigan, in two weeks. We’re planning on connecting for dinner.
I got one underlying message from everybody I interviewed over the last several days. I asked the question: “What do you want people, who watch this video a hundred years from now when we’re gone, to know and remember about this event?” Without hesitation, everyone I asked that question to said, “Remember our vets. Thank them for their service.” That is an overwhelming message that we all need to consider going forward. I know I will.