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“Never Lose Hope”: Stories of Eight Hoosier Veterans

May 26, 2021

The son interested in filmmaking and the mother nurturing his interest approached Owen Hollander at the premiere. The son, an eighth-grade student, wanted to meet an established filmmaker. He wanted to know how Mr. Hollander became a director and shot the film during the late winter of 2020.

The film that the aspiring director came to watch was “Never Lose Hope,” Mr. Hollander’s newest documentary. As it unfolds, the audience meets eight veterans of U.S. military service. By telling these veterans’ stories, Mr. Hollander believed the film would honor the sacrifices of military veterans and their families.

“Never Lose Hope,” documenting the military service of eight Hoosier veterans, premiered in November 2020, at the Evansville Wartime Museum.

“Never Lose Hope,” documenting the military service of eight Hoosier veterans, premiered in November 2020, at the Evansville Wartime Museum.

“Many in my family have military careers behind them,” he said. “Both of my grandfathers served, as did my mother.” Mr. Hollander saw fragments of untold stories in the lives of those around him. He believed he could produce a compelling film that allowed audiences to gain new insights into the valiant service of US veterans.

“We can’t get inside their heads, but we can learn from their words,” said Mr. Hollander. He recalled the experience of being on set during filming and wondering who besides other veterans had ever heard these stories. “I prepared the questions for the interviews, and yet I couldn’t have predicted where the film was going or the power its messages would have.”

Within the film’s 48-minute running time, some veterans told their stories for the first time. “A veteran’s daughter told me about how eye-opening and emotional seeing the film was because her father never talked about his military service,” said Mr. Hollander. When asked what it was like having an Army nurse for a mother, the children replied they didn’t know of her WWII service until they were adults.

The camera lens captured a series of experiences in the military ranging from stateside service during the Cold War to an Army hospital under the flight path of planes headed to France on D-Day and bases within easy reach of hand-held weaponry. Said one of the veterans, “We were one rocket-propelled grenade away from our tent being blown up.” From another, “You don’t know how good you’ve had it until you’ve had it bad and living in a combat zone is pretty bad.”

Owen Hollander (seated) and crew interviewing Tom Wilson, U.S. Navy Seabee, retired, at the Evansville Wartime Museum in March 2020.

Serving in the Navy during WWII might explain a husband’s answer when his wife wrote to him about enlisting. His reply was a full-size page with one word on it: “No.” There are moments of humor in the film contrasted with day-to-day military life and its lifelong impacts. For one of the veterans decorated for heroism, he’d never heard his medal citation read aloud before that interview.

At the November 2020 premiere of “Never Lose Hope,” the mother and son met with Owen Hollander. “He was younger than me and wanted to know my filmmaking story.” They knew before they came what interested them the most. Owen directed and produced the film when he was a 15-year-old sophomore at Evansville’s Signature School.

View “Never Lose Hope” at EWM Films on YouTube. For more information, visit the Evansville Wartime Museum website.

All images have been provided by the authors.

Stephen Witte chaired the Evansville Wartime Museum's Exhibits and Design Group from November 2016 until March 2021 and leads the Specify Creative Collaborative. Owen Hollander, a junior at Evansville's Signature School, plans to pursue a degree in film following graduation in 2022 and a career in filmmaking.

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