On May 24, 2019, viewers made their way down to Chicago’s Navy Pier, eager to learn more about the history beneath their feet. Most people know the Pier for what it is today; a landmark destination of discovery and delight. But what most people don’t know is the Pier’s noble past and contribution to World War II, a contribution that would prove to shape history.
Heroes on Deck is a documentary committed to telling just that story. During WWII, the Pier was transformed into a naval training center, quickly and efficiently qualifying thousands of pilots over the course of just three years. However, not all the planes completed a successful landing.
Today, somewhere around one hundred WWII fighter and bomber planes rest at the bottom of Lake Michigan.
As the viewers listen to the voice of Bill Kurtis narrate, they witness the beginnings of a recovery and restoration process for one of the planes beneath their own feet. Deep divers Bruce Bittner and Paul Ehorn slip beneath the surface into the eerie green depths. They locate their target—a Grumman Wildcat—and attach the cables to bring her back to the top.
The event is sponsored by the Chicago Navy Memorial Foundation, a cause formed around the Pier. After the screening of the documentary is finished, they treat the audience to something more; a preview for the memorial they hope to build. The completed project will serve as a space to contemplate and celebrate Chicago’s contribution to WWII. They view this as both an opportunity to honor the legacy of Chicago in the Navy, and to inspire the next generation of Sailors and pilots.
As viewers left the Pier that night, they walked with a new reverence and deep appreciation for the history in the water beneath them. Through efforts of documentaries such as Heroes on Deck and organizations like the Chicago Navy Memorial Foundation, the stories of the deep will soon be uncovered, and the story of Chicago’s impact on the war will finally reach the surface.
Missed the viewing? Watch the trailer for Heroes on Deck, or find out about purchasing a copy of your own.