Vets get first look at new Midway film

World War II veteran Robert Taylor, left, of Auburndale, puts an arm around his son, Mark Taylor, of Jacksonville, as Mark addresses the crowd on his father’s behalf about the Battle of Midway.

The Villagers for Veterans Military Film Festival opened Wednesday night with a red-carpet opening cocktail party. Military vehicles lined the front of Old Mill Playhouse at Lake Sumter Landing, setting the scene for six days of films that pay tribute to the veterans who have given us the freedom to gather and watch films. Villagers for Veterans CEO Marie Bogdonoff, of the Village of Pine Ridge, said she hopes the festival will become an annual event that honors veterans for their commitment and sacrifice. The stated purpose of the Military Film Festival is to: “Show films that enhance the public’s awareness and understanding of what men and women experience while serving in the military and/or after discharge when they transition back into civilian life.” After opening ceremonies that began with the presentation of colors by the Tri-County Women Veterans Color Guard and the pledge, everyone in the crowded lobby sang the national anthem.

The crowd anxiously awaited the opening night’s special treat, a showing of the film “Midway,” which recounts the 1942 World War II battle with spectacular computer graphics. It stars Woody Harrelson as Adm. Chester Nimitz, perhaps the best-known of the U.S. admirals involved in the decisive victory against the Japanese navy, six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. VIP ticket holders got to see the film before it is released nationwide Friday..

During the opening ceremonies, three World War II veterans were introduced. Robert Taylor,  95, of Auburndale  stood with assistance, to a rousing round of cheers. Taylor was a 17-year-old seaman manning an anti-aircraft gun on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown during the battle of Midway.

Other WWII veterans present included 95-year-old Irving Locker , of the Village Santiago,  who landed in Normandy on D-Day and fought in five major battles en route to Berlin. Also present was 97-year-old George Yankowski , of the Village of Polo Ridge, who received a Bronze Star for his efforts in the Battle of the Bulge.

The majority of people in the VIP audience looked like a who’s who of the many veterans organizations in The Villages.

Diane Ricigliano-Crannage, of the Village of Caroline, came to see the film because her uncle, Harold Clark, died aboard the destroyer USS Hammann when it was torpedoed during the Battle of Midway while trying to assist the stricken Yorktown.

Taylor, who is nearly deaf today due to hearing loss from firing the guns during that battle, went over the side when the Yorktown began to sink amid the battle, which raged in the skies above the American and Japanese fleets. He could swim, so he gave his life jacket to another sailor who couldn’t. When he exhausted himself from swimming, he was able to catch the rope of a life ring thrown to him with his toes, saving his life.

“I shot down several planes and told our lieutenant that I was sorry to be killing so many people,” Taylor recalled. “He told me they were trying to kill me and to shoot some more. War is a terrible thing and it’s good to be alive.”

Taylor later became a third-class electrician and was transferred to the Battleship USS West Virginia after the damage it received in the attack on the fleet in Pearl Harbor was repaired.

Taylor also was in the Battle of the Coral Sea, which took place a month earlier in 1942.

Midway was the first successful U.S. engagement with the Japanese navy and it was made possible by code breakers who had deciphered several transmissions and knew where their fleet was going to attack and laid a trap for them.

Rick Rademacher, of the Village of Lake Deaton, was on hand to see the new film because it champions his field of service. Rademacher spent his enlistment in Vietnam intercepting enemy transmissions and deciphering their code.

“I’m very excited to see the film,” he said. “Code breakers made it all possible.”

One of the people responsible for the festival, Marcus Bovee, an independent film distributor from Los Angeles, will be here throughout the week promoting several veteran-related projects he describes as his children.

He is the founder of VetFlicks, a nonprofit company that works to ensure that servicemen and women returning from combat are portrayed accurately and the issues they face are presented honestly within the entertainment industry.

As an Army veteran himself, Bovee’s passion is reducing the veteran suicide rate nationally from 22 per day to zero.

At 1 and 3 p.m. today, one of several free workshops will be held in the lobby of the Old Mill Playhouse. Adopt History and Adopt our Heroes are two projects for veterans he supports. Peter Huh , the son of a Korean War veteran who created the projects, will speak about the ambition for assisting veterans.

Today’s Film Festival Schedule includes the following films:

“Last Man Club,” 9-10:35 a.m.

“Charlie Wilson’s War,” 11:05 a.m.-12:47 p.m.

“A New Leash on Life: The K9s for Warriors Story,” 1:20-2:18 p.m.

“Buck Privates,” 4:45-7:48 p.m.

“Wings,” 8:20-10:44 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased for one film or in a package of three for $25.

For schedules through the closing ceremonies of the festival, contact Old Mill Playhouse.

Staff writer Frank Ross can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or frank.ross@thevillagesmedia.com.