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Veterans invited to put their stories on film

New Hampshire Sunday News

November 09. 2013 9:43PM

Leo Thomas during World War II. (COURTESY)

He's capturing their stories, one veteran at a time - while there is still time.

Dan Marcek of Brookline is the founder of Vetflix, a nonprofit company dedicated to recording interviews with those who have served. His is an ambitious goal.

"Our big mission is to educate Americans about what veterans have done so that they care," he said. "Right now, there's such a disconnect; we're trying to make that connection so veterans get the respect they deserve."

Marcek, 56, grew up in Nashua and studied computer science at the University of New Hampshire. After 30 years in the high-tech industry, he "became part of the great recession of 2008," as he puts it.

While figuring out what to do next, he started volunteering as a Big Brother. And through his "little brother," he met Bob Flannery, "a 100-year-old man living in the woods of Brookline by himself in a house that he built with his own hands."

The two became friends as Marcek offered to do some woodworking and other chores Flannery needed done around the house. He was captivated by the older man's stories from his century of living, including his service during World War II in the South Pacific.

"He could make you feel what it was like to be there," he said. "He was truly inspirational."

Indeed, Flannery, who died in 2011, inspired the idea that became Vetflix: "To capture and focus on the veteran's story."

Marcek created Vetflix with a partner, cinematographer Jon Teger. The two tape interviews with veterans at their homes, and each veteran then receives a DVD that includes a "highlight film" as well as the raw footage.

They've interviewed about 60 veterans to date, the majority of them from New Hampshire.

And in honor of Veterans Day, two films compiled from those interviews will be previewed at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton this Thursday.

The first, shown at 3:30 p.m., will feature interviews with veterans of World War II and the Korean Conflict. The second, at 6:30 p.m., focuses on the Seabees, the construction branch of the U.S. Navy, whom Marcek calls "unsung heroes."

John Hemeon is commander of the New Hampshire Seabees, which made Marcek an honorary member because of what he's doing for the veterans.

"The World War II guys, they've been silent for a long time," Hemeon said. "But we don't have much time left to get their stories."

Margaret LaBrecque, commandant of the Veterans Home, said what Vetflix is doing means a lot to her residents and their families.

"It means a lot to them to not be forgotten. And on Veterans Day more than any other day, they should not be forgotten for everything that they've given to their country."

She hopes the public will come to see the films - and stay to talk with the residents. "They love to be listened to."

While there's time pressure to capture the stories of the oldest veterans while he can, Marcek also interviews those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And he said the older veterans love to visit with this younger generation of warriors; he once asked some of them why. "You know what they said? 'Cause that's what we looked like when we went to war.'"

Vetflix does not charge veterans for the interviews or DVDs. Instead, they rely on fundraising and donations from grateful family members who "pay it forward" to cover the cost of future interviews.

One grateful relative is Michele Thomas of Mont Vernon; Vetflix interviewed her dad, Leo Thomas of Rindge, several months before his death last January.

Her father served in the Navy's Armed Guard during World War II and later re-enlisted in the Seabees. Marcek also interviewed her mother, Cecile Thomas, who worked at Fort Devens during the war.

The Vetflix interview has become a cherished family treasure, Thomas said, noting it was shown during her dad's memorial service. "It was pretty wonderful," she said.

After this week's premiere in Tilton, Marcek plans to try to get his films screened at some of New Hampshire's independent theaters. He hopes showing them to a wider audience will inspire more public support for those who serve.

"In World War II, the whole country was involved in the war," he said. "In Vietnam, one way or another, the whole country was aware and involved in the war."

But with today's all-volunteer force, he said, only about 1 percent of the population serves in the military. Many veterans don't tell their stories, he said.

"What happens is that people come home from war and they put it in a box in their head, and they don't like to open it. And then the people around them are sensitive to how painful it might have been, so they don't ask.

"When we lose their stories, we lose a piece of ourselves and where we came from."

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