MILWAUKEE -- The home of the Brewers took a break from hosting baseball on Saturday to hold an event with a more meaningful purpose. Miller Park set an attendance record for a movie premiere when 28,442 people showed up to watch a screening of "Honor Flight," a documentary following a group of volunteers who help World War II veterans reach Washington D.C. to see its war memorials in person. "I've been anxious waiting, like a bride waiting for a wedding," said Julian Plaster, one of four veterans featured in the film. "I'm very excited today about this. I'm honored that they asked me to take place in this documentary."
The movie relays the stories told by Plaster, who was a cook on a burial disposal ship in the Navy from 1942-45, and his fellow veterans as they made their journeys to the nation's capital. Plaster, a Milwaukee native, said it was "wonderful" that so many people came to Miller Park to take in a message he said needs to be heard. "I think it brings to light for everybody, they can see what has gone on, what the World War II veterans went through," Plaster said. "And also to let people know that all veterans, whether in the Korean War, Vietnam, wherever they are, they're going through the same thing that we went through, and we got to remember them. We also got to remember the families that are left behind." Although the movie focuses on the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight division located in Milwaukee, there are six Honor Flight hubs in Wisconsin and 120 total throughout the country. Started in 2005, Honor Flight has sent 81,000 World War II veterans to Washington D.C. free of charge, with Stars and Stripes Honor Flight having been responsible for 2,130 of those veterans since it was started by Joe Dean in November 2008. Dean, the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Chairman of the Board, said the movie helped veterans open up regarding their experiences during the war. "We recognized through this process so many heroic stories, but we didn't want to lose the fact [that] what's also heroic is that these men and women came back home and found a place for what they had seen and been forced to do, spiritually and mentally," Dean said. "They raised families and were active participants in our community. ... That in and of itself is extraordinary, that they were able to come home and find a place for this." Following the trips, Dean said some of the veteran's families often contact him to let him know their parents or grandparents tell stories they've never told before upon returning. Plaster said it's not always easy to talk about his time during the war, but the movie provided an outlet for him to feel comfortable enough to do just that. "You don't forget that," said Plaster, recalling his experiences. "It's something that stays with you a long time. It gives a different prospect about what war's all about. There's nothing beautiful about it. It's a very cruel thing for everybody that's concerned." Saturday's event featured various activities to celebrate World War II veterans, including fireworks and multiple flyovers. Brewers players also helped welcome patrons to Miller Park on the video board, and Corey Hart said he and his teammates were "so proud" the ballpark was used for such an occasion. "This really is a special thing," Plaster said. "Today is a great day for me and all of us."