The farewell appearance of Ernie Harwell only enhanced the significance of Wednesday’s Detroit: Our Greatest Generation Tribute Night at Comerica Park, where nearly one thousand World War II veterans gathered for what may be the last Tigers game many of them will attend.  Harwell’s poignant thank-you to his fans merely underscored the debt of gratitude we owe not only to him, but to all the valiant warriors of his generation.

A special Visionalist crew was assembled to ensure that the filming went off without a hitch, and that included video photographer Preston Swigart and his sound engineer Edward Paulson, both veterans of the local cinematography scene.  Their dedication and enthusiasm during this night of photo opportunities was of the highest caliber.

On hand to greet the veterans as they arrived at the stadium were one hundred military personnel, including a ten-man Color Guard from the Huron Valley AMVETS Post 2006.  With due pomp and circumstance, these servicemen and women walked the veterans down a red carpet as soon as they arrived.

Bugler Sgt. Joel Weisman of the US Army Reserves under the direction of Master Sergeant Jeffrey Rector blew taps in commemoration of those World War II veterans who have made the final sacrifice for their country, and over one hundred military personnel from all four branches joined forces to make sure that the veterans felt appreciated and understood a small measure of the gratitude we feel they are owed, even sixty years later.

Rob Gillette of American House, who along with his father Bob (who founded the senior living facility)  sponsored more than fifty veterans.   “Taking these vets to the Tiger game is a small gesture, hardly sufficient to thank these men and women.  Frankly,  I’m awed just to be in their presence.”

It’s a sentiment that we all echo. 

Detroit: Our Greatest Generation Tribute Night events covered a vast array of pre-game activities.  The national anthem was sung by World War II vet Harold Lanning and the first pitch was thrown by Army PFC Marvin Wesch, 84—a strike, incidentally.   Tiger fans were thrilled an early-game fly-over by the Yankee Air Museum’s fully restored B-17 bomber ‘Yankee Lady’ piloted by Norm Ellickson, crew chief and flight engineer.

Ellickson pointed out that without the B-17, the war might have had a significantly different outcome.  He added that, during the war on ‘a good day, “A thousand B-17s might fly missions over Germany.”

Ground Control Tony Nagerson of the Yankee Air Museum helped make the flyover one of the most dynamic events that Tiger fans might ever be able to appreciate.

With family and friends swelling the ranks of the guests of honor, all in their eighties and nineties, the Detroit Tiger baseball organization pulled out all stops to ensure a memorable experience to these genuine American heroes.  Eli Bayless, Director of Tiger promotion and in-game entertainment, offered a respectful nod to the World War II veterans being honored:  “These gentlemen, and women, are the backbone of our community, and the Tiger organization was thrilled to be allowed to celebrate their lives and victories in this way.”

The evening was an emotional triumph on every front.

The event, along with numerous interviews with Detroit-area World War II veterans, can be seen as a part of Detroit: Our Greatest Generation which will air in December on WDIV-TV.  The film is being produced by a local company, Visionalist Entertainment Productions, which has won eight Emmy Awards for a series of Detroit-based documentaries.  The centerpiece of Detroit: Our Greatest Generation will be a return to Omaha Beach with Detroiter Merle Barr, an Army Captain who was among the first wave of soldiers to storm ashore in Normandy on D-Day.

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