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Thursday, 06 March 2014 00:00

Students share veterans' stories in film

Written by  Edwin Scherzer
Robert Burrows smiles during an interview for the “Mission to Honor” documentary film project done by five University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students. Burrows, a World War II Marine Corps veteran, is a resident at Fairhaven in Whitewater. Robert Burrows smiles during an interview for the “Mission to Honor” documentary film project done by five University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students. Burrows, a World War II Marine Corps veteran, is a resident at Fairhaven in Whitewater. Carrie Larsen

 WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- To serve one’s country is a great honor.  Countless tributes set in granite, prestigious awards handed out by presidents and national holidays bear witness to a sacrifice that truly cannot be repaid.

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Now some of those stories of sacrifice have been recorded and preserved in a documentary film.

“Mission to Honor” was created by a handful of students at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The students didn’t set out to make a film, but as senior Katie Klepper points out, it was the right thing to do.

 “Our group did not want to write a paper or do a PowerPoint speech for the final presentation,” Klepper said. “We were approved to make an about 15-minute film to show as our project and presentation.”

Klepper’s group, which also included Jarred Donlon, Ashlee Lamers, Carrie Larsen and Travis O’Gallagher, not only fulfilled the service learning requirement of volunteering 20 hours at Fairhaven Community Center in Whitewater, but spent countless hours interviewing, filming and editing the final product.

Susan Wildermuth, UW-Whitewater associate professor of communication, taught the class that included Klepper and company. The commitment required to complete such a project is unusual for students, Wildermuth said.

“I have never had students take a project to this level before,” she said. “So often students do the bare minimum to get by. If an assignment asks for ‘X,’ they do ‘X’ and no more.

“This group took the initiative to go way beyond the assignment criteria and created something that, while small, is powerful.”

Even Klepper, 23, admitted she had doubts about taking on a volunteer assignment and a group project, on top of her 18 credits last fall.

“I usually do not like group projects, but this was honestly the best project I have created by myself or with a group,” Klepper said. “We put many, many, many hours into this project and this class.

“But the product we created is something that will stay with me forever.”

Like the brothers in arms they interviewed, Klepper made lasting connections with the residents at Fairhaven. In particular, she points to the Rev. John Klindt, who served in the Navy and who appears in the film.

Klindt is an inspiration to her and others, Klepper said.

“His religious background is what intrigued me and made me want to interview him,” she said. “I think it was interesting to talk to someone whose experience in the war shaped his career, beliefs and values for the rest of his life.”

The service learning project in Wildermuth’s course offered students a choice between Fairhaven and two other non-profit organizations. However, it was representatives from Fairhaven who convinced Klepper she was headed in the right direction. They told of the Veterans History project, which collects oral histories from veterans to preserve for future generations.

Terrie Munger, leisure services assistant, worked with the students in the fall and said they jumped right in.

“We were grateful to have them,” Munger said. “They really settled in, (got) to know the residents and embraced the project.”

As Wildermuth points out, there were no special criteria for student selection.

“They were just students who had signed up for the courses,” Wildermuth said. “They made themselves exceptional by the time, energy and thought they put into this project.”

Anyone who has ever put any kind of film together knows it’s the countless screening of “raw” footage and the editing that take the majority of time putting together a finished product.

Just ask Carrie Larsen, 24, a journalism major who worked on the film. It was Larsen who did most of the filming and editing.

In the end there was six hours of footage. The group members decided to trim that down to just three minutes each from their four subjects, and include the veteran’s time before, during and after the war.

“We also wanted to make sure these three minutes touched on their experience with the different culture they were thrown into while in the war,” Larsen said. “The production part of this project was definitely the most time consuming.”

“Mission to Honor” will be shown as part of the Fairhaven Lecture Series, which is open to the public (see graphic). The lecture series this spring focuses on Abraham Lincoln and the students’ documentary work fits right in, as it was Lincoln who started the idea of what has now become the National Veterans History Project.

Wildermuth said it was Lincoln who first wanted war stories preserved.

“Back during the Civil War he felt it was important to capture the stories of soldiers,” she said.

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