Sometimes when you're shooting a documentary you get to witness nearly every facet of your film's theme unfold all at once. Over Memorial Day weekend that very thing happened for me in Hooper Nebraska.
Hooper is a town of only 900 people just 90 minutes outside of Lincoln. Don't be fooled though, the size of this town's population does not equate to the size of its pride. The citizens of Hooper passionately recounted stories of bravery, selflessness, and honor which resounded with the strong midwestern undertones of God and country.
When Donald Schwab, one of the Valor 24 recipients and storylines in Unforgotten 24, was awarded the medal of honor in 2014 for his heroic acts during WWII, the town gained a strong sense of identity. It was no longer just Hooper Nebraska, but now it was Hooper Nebraska, hometown of Donald Schwab
Regan and I started our shooting on Sunday in Lincoln. There, across from the state capitol building in an upstairs condo, we met the Schwab family for the first time. Their midwestern hospitality was evident in their willingness to spend hours being interviewed, sharing countless stories of their father and even taking us out for a family style dinner at a local restaurant. It's a unique heartland kindness that reminded me of my childhood when I lived in Missouri. It was often said in my hometown that you can tell a lot about a man by the quality of his kids, and based on that test I'd say Donald Schwab must have been a great man.
During the interviews they recounted everything from the stories of their dad's heroics to the day president Obama called Terry to him that his dad would be receiving the medal of honor.
Later on that evening we had them sit around the table and share more stories while looking over memorabilia and newspaper clippings. Their pride for their father runs deep and it was evident in all of the stories the shared.
The following morning happened to be Memorial Day which was a special treat for us. Donald Schwab had been actively involved in the American Legion in Hooper for many years. He oversaw the color guard for many Memorial Day remembrances at the Hooper town cemetery. This year we joined the family for that same ceremony where they paid tribute to many fallen or late veterans including Donald Schwab.
From the mayor to the ladies auxiliary we were welcomed with open arms. It seemed as though this whole town knew the importance of the story we were telling. Listening to story after story while eating potato salad and fried chicken at the American Legion hall, I began to understand that this town was a microcosm of the American spirit. It wasn't just that Donald Schwab's medal added significance to the town, it was more about the fact that valor and sacrifice were things that mattered and we should all celebrate those virtues when we see it.
Donald Schwab was an icon in his town before he was ever awarded the Medal of Honor. Maybe it was because he was so involved in his community. He was a member of the school board, a founder of the gold club, a rural mail carrier, a faithful congregant and a selfless neighbor. Hooper Nebraska didn't need congress or the president to tell them that Donald Schwab was a hero, but having them do so helped codify the truth that they already knew.
My hope is that Unforgotten 24 will remind us of the brave valor of these men abroad and at home. They were heroes on many levels and they remind us that as Americans we all have the ability to be heroes through our everyday acts of kindness and service.
Thank you Schwab family for you support and thank you Hooper Nebraska for reminding us that heroism exists even when their is little recognition.