Documentary Review: ‘Return To Hardwick’

by | Jun 9, 2020 | Featured, Movie Reviews, Movies | 0 comments

Greetings again from the darkness. ‘The greatest generation.’ Some might consider it an overused colloquialism, but watching this documentary from Michael Sellers proves yet again just how true that “greatest” description is. Mr. Sellers blends the history of the 8th Air Force, 93rd Bombardment Group, the personal stories of those who served, and the airfield that was so crucial to their record number of missions … Hardwick Aerodrome 104 in East Anglia.

As the grandson of John L Sullivan, a bombardier/navigator in the 93rd, Sellers has followed the group closely, and decided to make a film on the 2015 reunion as veterans and family members visited Hardwick. The result is a touching tribute that weaves personal stories with WWII history. Opening with the beautiful prose written by Ed Reilly, a radio operator with the 93rd, on his 1975 (30 years after the war) trip to Hardwick, we then shift to the narrator, actor Michael Cudlitz (“Band of Brothers”) and this trip to Hardwick 40 years after Reilly’s.

Sons, daughters, grandchildren and surviving unit members make the trip, and we are told that the 93rd Bomb Group was the most decorated, most traveled, and most effective of the WWII bomb groups. With much of the airfield now farm land, it would be easy to classify Hardwick as ‘forgotten’, but that’s simply not the case. The main runway was bulldozed years ago, and many of the structures are long gone, but there is a group of locals who maintain a museum dedicated to Hardwick and those who served. There are multiple albums with organized photographs, and remnants including what’s left of a pilot’s jacket after a horrific plane crash. That pilot’s nephew is on the trip, seeking any details he might discover.

It’s that kind of personal touch that grabs us. There is even a love story – one that either blossomed due to WWII, or in spite of it. The daughter of the woman who fell in love and got married is on the trip. The museum’s albums hold a photo of her parents that she’s never seen, and she gets to visit the local chapel where their service was help. We hear from locals who recall watching the airfield being constructed, and how appreciative they are of 1942 when the US Air Force joined the Allies in the fight against Hitler.

Interviews are shown with those who served (Navigators, Pilots, Gunners, Ground Crew), their families, and those keeping the memories and history alive. We see photos, personal letters, and archival video of a time that truly changed the world. Director Sellers uses animated graphics to superimpose images of the original airfield and structures over today’s topography so that we have a visual of what Hardwick once was. The 93rd is credited with flying 396 missions, the most in the Air Force, including air sport over Normandy on June 6, 1944. As if all of the personal tales weren’t emotional enough, Sellers takes his camera to the Memorial Day ceremonies at Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial. It’s quite a sight. Finally, we learn that hot dogs were the “hurry up food” for those headed to their next mission!

DVD and Digital Download via iTunes on June 9, 2020

David Ferguson