On Filming Heroes: Memorial Day Reflections



Kim Sedmak produced the Gracie Award-winning special "Picking Up the Pieces" which debuted on Maryland Public Television in 2008. Below, she reflects on making this piece.

As this Memorial Day Weekend draws near, I can't help but remember how hard we were all working three years ago to put the finishing touches on "Picking Up the Pieces" with Jane Pauley. This AARP documentary aired on Maryland Public TV and was an outgrowth of the superb investigative reporting Barry Yeoman did on behalf of AARP The Magazine as part of their coverage on wounded warriors returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan .

The article emphasized that unlike other wars, our country had never experienced so many adult children returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan with severe injuries needing long term care. This was and continues to be unprecedented as thousands of Baby Boomer parents are unexpectedly forced into becoming long term care givers for their adult sons and daughters. It was a moving set of stories to produce, and I shall never ever forget meeting the injured and their families. The crew and I repeatedly witnessed the power of love in action. We felt so very small as we worked to interview these mothers and fathers caring for their children - wounded warriors -- who were left paralyzed, some with traumatic brain injuries and unable to speak. I'll never forget Gail Ulerie's closing words at the end of her interview when she said "a mother's love never gives up" as she wheeled her son Shurvon Phillips down the hall of Cleveland's  V.A. hospital  for treatment.

Jane Pauley also found the take on this stories quite unique - it's what drew her to agree to host the program. At the time, no one else was reporting on this unique phenomena  of aging parents putting their own retirements on hold to become care givers to their severally wounded sons and daughters. I was proud to work for AARP at this time alongside  all of my committed colleagues in print, radio and on-line who were also working hard to integrate this same message into their work.  Ironically, I'm convinced this program also led Jane Pauley out of her impending retirement and back on the air.

Jane interviewed ABC News Anchor Bob Woodruff and his wife Lee as part of the TV Special. We wanted Bob and Lee's perspective on a variety of fronts. We thought Lee could speak to the care giving side of things most especially since she experienced first-hand the challenges of caring for Bob when he returned  home after a traumatic head injury while covering the war in Iraq. This was the first time I had ever heard the phrase "the new normal" as Lee proceeded to describe how one gauged a loved one's ability to heal from these kinds of life-altering wounds. She told Jane, "You can't look back" - otherwise you'll not move ahead."  I also marveled at Lee's own ability to take care of herself. She said the crew could set up as early as 5:30 a.m. because she was leaving the house to go swimming!

When I look back, producing this program changed and humbled me. Since then I haven't been able to even go through an airport and see a group of soldiers without a profound sense of respect and awe for them and their families. The men and woman serving in these wars for the past 10 years are all  heroes.  No matter what one's political bent might be -- the thousands of men and woman who leave their families and lives behind to serve us in so may ways must be honored and appreciated. So, sometime this coming weekend when you're out and about I encourage you to drop by your local VFW, or even the home of a  veteran and simply say thank you!  It will mean the world to them, and I have a feeling even more to us!

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