Arizona PBS Honors Veterans with Commemorative Programming in November

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U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on February 23, 1945. Credit: © 2015 Associated Press

PHOENIX – (Nov. 4, 2015)

Arizona PBS honors veterans’ service with special programming focusing on the lives of soldiers during and after war, as part of its “Stories of Service” initiative, dedicated to exploring veterans’ experiences and providing a deeper understanding of American military history.

The upcoming commemorative series includes “Iwo Jima: From Combat to Comrades” and “Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History” airing back to back on Nov. 10 at 7 and 8 p.m. respectively. The “Independent Lens” special “Stray Dog” spotlighting American veterans will air Nov. 9 at 11 p.m. and “Healing the Warrior’s Heart,” a special focusing on returning American Indian soldiers will air Nov. 18 at 11 p.m.

An unforgettable journey back to the iconic site of one of the fiercest battles of World War II, “Iwo Jima: From Combat to Comrades” is the powerful and moving story of the American and Japanese servicemen who came together 70 years later for a historic reunion in March 2015. This island battlefield is the only former combat zone in the world that sees men who once were enemies return as friends in a ceremony of peace and remembrance. This special is hosted by Ryan Phillippe, who portrayed John “Doc” Bradley, one of the young men in the famous photograph who helped raise the flag over Iwo Jima, in Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of our Fathers.” Both of Phillippe’s grandfathers fought in World War II and his father served in Vietnam.

Two film crews were used to capture the historic reunion for “Iwo Jima: From Combat to Comrades." An American unit followed three U.S. veterans – Lt. General Larry Snowden, USMC (Ret.), U.S. Marine Hershel “Woody” Williams and Army Air Corps fighter pilot Jerry Yellin – while a Japanese crew filmed Tsuriji Akikusa, the only Japanese survivor able to make the arduous trip to Iwo Jima. Through their firsthand accounts, the film takes viewers back to 1945 when these men first encountered each other as four of the 90,000 combatants on an eight square mile island, a dot in the Pacific Ocean just 650 miles from Tokyo. Twenty-eight thousand soldiers died either defending or taking Iwo Jima. Seventy years later, men who lost so much make the emotional pilgrimage back to face the defining moment of their lives.

Immediately following “Iwo Jima: From Combat to Comrades,” Arizona PBS will premiere “Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History,” a new documentary film by six-time Emmy Award-winning director Ric Burns. “Debt of Honor” examines the way in which the American government and society as a whole have regarded disabled veterans throughout history, beginning in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War and continuing through today’s conflicts in the Middle East. The film combines personal stories, told by distinguished disabled veterans, with deep history narrated by leading scholars in the fields of disability studies, history and psychology to illustrate the human cost of war and the enormous sacrifices of military service. These sacrifices are brought to life through hundreds of carefully curated still images and archival footage from across the country.

A tribute to the history of disabled veterans in the U.S., “Debt of Honor” is an unflinching portrait of the realities of warfare and disabilities. The program features interviews with some of the country’s most prominent disabled veterans, including U.S. Representative Tammy Duckworth (Illinois); former U.S. Senator and Veterans Affairs Administrator Max Cleland (Georgia); former Garrison Commander of Fort Belvoir, Col. Gregory Gadson; and actor, motivational speaker and Iraq War Army veteran J.R. Martinez. Gadson, a double amputee veteran of the war in Iraq, who shares his experiences on camera, calls this special “one of the most accurate and balanced productions I have ever seen. It should be mandatory viewing for all high school civics classes.”

"We at Arizona PBS are honored to present these striking documentaries paying homage to the sacrifices made by soldiers who fought during such volatile points in history," said Arizona PBS Associate General Manager of Content Nancy Southgate. "These films feature powerful and inspirational first-hand accounts of experiences from the battleground and the trying times that followed long after war was over. In these films, viewers will hear stories of resilience, reconciliation and healing directly from the source – the veterans themselves."

In addition, the “Independent Lens” special “Stray Dog” will explore the life of Vietnam War veteran Ron “Stray Dog” Hall, as he joins his fellow retired servicemen on their yearly cross-country ride to the Vietnam Memorial to pay their respects to their fallen brothers. The documentary also explores Hall’s life after war, as he battles post-traumatic stress disorder and forges a new life with his wife Alicia and her two sons.

Arizona PBS will close out the commemorative programming series with the special, “Healing the Warrior’s Heart,” highlighting the central role that military service plays in Native American life and exploring the spiritual traditions that help returning American Indian soldiers readjust to civilian life. The documentary focuses on the Blackfeet tribe from northern Montana, who continue to practice many ancient healing traditions. The documentary includes interviews with veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, elder veterans, family members and spiritual and tribal leaders.

These special programs are part of PBS Stories of Service, a multiplatform initiative that explores veterans’ experiences and provides a deeper understanding of military history in the U.S. “Stories of Service” was announced in May 2014 as part of an initiative with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to share veterans’ stories and increase dialogue as American veterans transition to civilian life. The initiative includes national, multi-platform content as part of “Stories of Service” on Arizona PBS, and funding by CPB for local station productions, national productions and community engagement as part of Veterans Coming Home.

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