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Respect and thanks: today, tomorrow and every day

How some local people show their appreciation for service members all year

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 11, 2015

 Veterans hold hands while gathering at the Detroit Veterans Center on Christmas Eve in 2009 to share stories with a documentary film crew.

Veterans hold hands while gathering at the Detroit Veterans Center on Christmas Eve in 2009 to share stories with a documentary film crew.

Photo provided by Visionalist Entertainment Productions


METRO DETROIT — Each year around metro Detroit, a few businesses close in observance of Veterans Day. Some residents may head to a local parade or cemetery to pay their respects to the men and women who’ve served our country, and families will go and honor their fallen soldiers in a quiet cemetery.

But those in the United States military did not fight for our freedom one day a year — so why should they only be acknowledged when the calendar tells us to do so?

A few folks around metro Detroit have made it their mission to shed light on our local veterans as often as they can, whether it’s a national holiday or not.

You can count Christopher Causley in that group, as president of the Michigan Military Technical and Historical Society in Eastpointe. The 11,000-square-foot museum houses a collection of artifacts including equipment, weapons, uniforms and other fascinating finds that tell the story of Michigan and its fight to defend democracy over the last 100 years. About 600 people a year see the exhibitions that pay tribute to local veterans and military bases, but more often than not, the museum comes to them.

“We participate in a number of things throughout the year,” Causley said. “We are part of the Blue Star Museums group that gives anyone with a military ID free admission to the museum from Memorial Day to Labor Day. We also offer discounted admission to the museum at any time of the year for veterans, and we participate in Wreaths Across America at Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township; it’s an organization that goes out to cemeteries and lays wreaths on veterans’ graves during holidays.”

The museum actually opened on Veterans Day in 2011, making this observance the facility’s four-year anniversary. But there won’t be a celebration Nov. 11, since the museum will be closed.

“We did it for the first couple years, but we had nobody come,” he explained. “Most people don’t get the day off, unfortunately. So we’ll do something here the Sunday before and have a free-admission day.”

Keith Famie knows all too well how many people can unconsciously let Veterans Day slip by without giving service members the proper appreciation they’re due. He’s the executive producer at Visionalist Entertainment Productions, based in Wixom, and has released several documentary films centering around the lives of veterans in Michigan. He has seen firsthand how younger generations just don’t seem to have the same patriotic spirit as generations before.

Growing up in Farmington, he said, it was his father, Albert, a World War II bombardier, who inspired him to explore the people who made up our “Greatest Generation.”

“I was fascinated by the impact that these individuals had on our community from the standpoint of the ‘Arsenal of Democracy,’” Famie said. “Just this generation of people who did so much with so little and just picked up and volunteered for the draft. Whole neighborhoods of guys went, some lying about their age to go fight for their country.”

During the course of filming “Detroit, Our Greatest Generation,” Famie worked with Bob Gillette, chairman of the board at American House Senior Living Communities, to connect with local veterans who fought during World War II. The filming team spent months on end between 2008 and 2009 following local World War II veterans around to dig deeper into their stories.

Fifty Michigan vets were filmed during a visit to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II memorial, and Chelsea resident Capt. Merle Barr was given the opportunity to accompany the crew back to the French coastline to visit Omaha Beach, where he and approximately 160,000 other soldiers came ashore on D-Day.

During the shooting of that project, Famie noticed something else: Almost anywhere there was a World War II veteran, a veteran of the war in Vietnam wasn’t far behind.

“I saw that they had become the caregivers to those first veterans, and they were now the defenders of the military,” he said. “They were pushing these guys through Arlington Cemetery because (a soldier) had lost one of his friends, or they were taking groups through war memorials. They would stand in cemeteries in the rain to hold a flag up and create a blind from the media so families could have peace while burying a fallen soldier.”

In 2010, Famie started talking to those Vietnam vets, and with Gillette’s help, started filming his second veteran project. “Our Vietnam Generation” delves into the lives of the young men and women who bravely battled overseas, but didn’t return home to the same community of grateful citizens as those who fought before.

“It was everything: sex, music, drugs, rock ’n’ roll. It was all going on at one time in America, and these guys and gals were caught right in the thrust of it. America was divided — it wasn’t this ‘all for one, one for all’ attitude like it was before. There were protests for them, protests against them.”

Crews followed Vietnam veterans to local ceremonies, and even as far as back to Vietnam to return Marine Pfc. Mark Spooner to the A Shau Valley — where he once fought — alongside his daughter, Marine Capt. Jennifer Spooner.

“Vietnam was different. Some went voluntarily, some were drafted, and some had problems with the law and went as an alternative to jail,” Famie said. “Now these guys are getting older, and they never really got that parade or that welcome home.”

His films, Famie hopes, pay tribute and tell these soldiers’ tales in an honorable way. Sometimes, he said, Hollywood and video game culture can glamorize war in a way that’s disrespectful or even hurtful to the veterans who experienced true sacrifice. His projects are about something else — paying homage to the service members who gave Americans the gift of freedom.

“I think folks are drawn to these documentaries from a historical standpoint, a nostalgia standpoint and a brotherhood standpoint,” he explained. “Nobody can relate to what brotherhood really is until you’re stuck with them in a foxhole for days on end knowing that they or you could die there.”

To learn more about Famie’s documentaries, visit

To learn more about the Michigan Military Technical and Historical Society, visit