With the world’s largest and most spectacular fireworks display as a backdrop to their patriotic salutes, four members of an exclusive club—World War II veterans—celebrated Independence Day with joy and resolve in a scene meant to close Detroit: Our Greatest Generation, the documentary film.

A photo op with meteorologist Chuck Gaidica, from WDIV-TV, a hug from Mayor Dave Bing for Tuskegee Airman Alexander Jefferson, and an exclusive interview with Jefferson on WJR with legendary journalist Paul W. Smith, was a bit of icing on the Fourth of July cake.

Of greatest value of all, however, was perhaps the opportunity for the four veterans to speak to young Nick Cardone.  A self-described ‘World War II buff’, the bright nine-year-old was enthralled to be in the presence of men who had actually fought in many of the conflicts which the fifth grader has been learning about.  Equally, the chance to make sure that this youthful generation remembers the sacrifices made by World War II veterans is the driving mission of Detroit: Our Greatest Generation.

The series of events took place atop the Miller Parking Garage on June 24, without doubt the best location to view the Detroit summertime tradition.  Thanks to the Parade Company and Target, Zambelli Fireworks Internationale was able to present over 10,000 pyrotechnic effects to light up the international skyline over the Detroit River. 

The four veterans, in full dress uniform, were soundly cheered by the crowds as they entered and for the rest of the evening, there was a steady parade of well wishers who essentially wanted to say ‘thanks for your service’.  This included several men and women who are currently in the military.

Under the watchful eye of Commander Joseph M. Salvia, of AMVET post 2006, were Sgt. Lewis Bradbury, who served on four fronts, including the well-known Italian conflicts at Casino and Anzio Beach and currently lives in Milford; Sgt. Jackson Baker of the Army Air Force, another Milford resident, who served as a waist gunner on a B-24 during 26 combat missions over Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia; Corporal John Snow, who served in the Army between 1943 and 1946 in both the European and Pacific fronts, including a time in the Philippines during which General MacArthur had a presence; and Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson, who graduated from the pilot training course at Tuskegee Army Air Field and served as a P-51 fighter pilot with the Red Tail 332nd Fighter Group.  Three days prior to the invasion of Southern France, Jefferson was shot down and captured by German troops.  He remained interned for nine months as a POW in the infamous Stalag Luft III.

The stories that these men can tell, most of which happened before their twenty-fifth birthdays, could fill volumes.  We are proud to have preserved a portion of these stories, along with a series of striking images in what is potentially the last time they will gather together in uniform, for Detroit: Our Greatest Generation.

As living witnesses to events in history which not only changed the world but insured our freedoms and the perseverance of American ideals, there is no more fitting time to express our gratitude to these men, and their comrades in arm, than on the anniversary of our national independence. 




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