It was fitting that the last interview for Unforgotten 24 would bring the story full circle for me. If you remember we started our first day of shooting with Mitchell Libman and his drive to get the proper recognition due for his childhood friend Leonard Kravtiz.
Today I had the pleasure of meeting Leonard Kravitz's niece, Laurie Wenger, who was the recipient of his Medal of Honor at the Valor 24 ceremony in March of 2014. She had spent some time the week before our interview preparing documents that she had received from friends and the Jewish War Veterans organization.
Across her dining room table she graciously shared her thoughts about her heroic uncle. As I listened she painted a picture of a sheepish but selfless man. The often last picked kid for stickball games grew up to be a man who at the age of 20 willingly gave up his life at a machine gun post to save his entire platoon from enemy fire. It's hard to imagine that the "tag along" of the neighborhood would act so heroically to save his fellow soldiers.
As she recounted his distinguishing event it became very hard to imagine that such valor wouldn't have received the Medal of Honor from the outset. Mitchell seemed to be correct - something didn't add up with the story. Was his case one of outright prejudice because of his ethnicity?
What Laurie showed me next was shocking and painted this entire story in a very different light. It's such a great story point that I'm simply going to have to save it for the film.
I will say this though. This story has been surprisingly more complex than I had initially thought it would be. On the surface it seemed that this was a simple case of prejudice and discrimination - these men were only overlooked because of their faith, race, or ethnicity. What I learned though was that painting this complex and nuanced narrative with such a broad brush is a disservice to the valor of these men. This story is about prejudice, but it's also a story about hope, justice, dignity, selflessness and honor.
The disparate stories of the white protestant in rural America and the hispanic soldier from the mountains of Puerto Rico could in some ways be less alike. And yet their stories remind us that valor is not meant for only men of one race or for those of one ethnicity. Valor can be found in the foxholes of Korea or at a letter writing desk in south Florida. Where you find selfless action you find valor.
This is a story for us. It's a story that reminds us of the enduring foundational truths of what it means to be an American. It's about being a community that's based around looking out for the little guy. Because you never know, someday that little guy might be looking out for you.
My head and heart are full as I walk into the edit suite to begin the next stage of production. During this time there will be a lot for me to consider. Wish me luck, this will take some time to get right.