Saluting WWII Veterans

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This Michigan vet is featured in the documentary “Detroit: Our Greatest Generation.” // Photograph by Chris Kassel

The men and women who survived the Great Depression and fought in World War II never refer to themselves as “the greatest generation.”

Now in their 80s and 90s and dying at a rapid clip, they would be the first to point out that plenty of Americans before and since have been made of some pretty stern stuff, too. It’s just that their generation had Tom Brokaw’s mega-selling book, whose title became an inescapable part of the lexicon.

Shopworn appellation aside, Detroit: Our Greatest Generation, an hourlong documentary by Wixom-based Visionalist Entertainment Productions airing this month on WDIV-TV, does a commendable job of telling the collective story of Detroiters at war. Fred Millard of Northville, who was in the first assault wave on D-Day, recalls stepping off the landing craft ramp into 7 feet of water. “I can tell you something, too,” Millard says. “I’m not 7-feet tall.”

“Detroit had a huge impact on the war,” says Keith Famie, a chef and the executive producer, who has produced several other locally themed documentaries. “Not only the people who served in uniform, but also from a manufacturing standpoint. If Detroit’s automakers hadn’t put aside their egos for the common good, D-Day might not even have been possible.”

The centerpiece of Famie’s production revolves around the return of another D-Day veteran, Merle Barr, to Normandy for the first time since the war. Accompanying the former army lieutenant on this emotional trek is Barr’s son, Brad, a National Guard staff sergeant, who walks Omaha Beach with the veteran.

“As much as it’s about World War II vets, it’s also about what it means to grow old as part of the greatest generation,” says Famie, whose late father served as a B-17 bombardier in the Aleutian Islands. “They are fading away so quickly.”

Detroit: Our Greatest Generation airs Dec. 16 at 9 p.m. and Dec. 25 at 2 p.m.

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