Tourists often look at the grand memorials in Washington, D.C., with a sense of awe that quickly fades as they try and get the perfect Instagram picture or Snapchat selfie. But standing in the shadow of these great monuments fades in comparison to the individuals who witnessed the wars they represent. News media alumna Sarah Martin discovered the stories that built the nation’s monuments and memorials while working on her senior capstone project.
Deciding on a capstone project is a daunting task for even the most qualified of students. Martin covered the 2016 election cycle for ElevenNEWS, the School of Communication’s student-run broadcast news program, and was interested in telling the story of America, both past and present. When communications professor Robert Walz pitched the idea of producing a documentary following the four brothers on their journey with the Utah Honor Flight, Martin eagerly enlisted.
The Utah Honor Flight takes veterans on an incredible trip to visit the war memorials and monuments in Washington, D.C. Accompanied by BYU nursing students who see to their medical needs, veterans have an action-packed week that brings back the painful, triumphant and powerful emotions they felt while carrying the heavy burden of freedom.
The Davis brothers, Walter (96), Jim (93), Warren (91) and Ralph (89), all served in the military during WWII and the Korean war. Their youngest brother, Jerry, was also in the service but died at age 75 due to Parkinson’s disease. All the brothers miraculously returned home without serious injury from their intense battles overseas.
Before heading to D.C., Martin sat down and interviewed each brother. The brothers recalled the hardships of training camp, the feelings of coming home and the devastating loss of friends killed in action. Once the band of brothers touched down in D.C, they hit the ground running— or rolling, in the case of a few veterans. Martin and communications faculty Othello Richards captured the tears, cheers and memories as the veterans remembered the sacrifice of freedom.
Thinking back on the project, Martin said, “You spend a lot of mental energy trying to capture the moment because that’s your job. I was constantly trying to make sure I got the right shots and got enough footage to complete the project. But the moments we could put down the camera and be still impacted me the most.”
Documentary capstone projects, like Martin’s, happen every semester in the News Media program, but Martin’s project produced a story that did not stop when her documentary was complete. Before leaving for D.C., Martin contacted local news station KTVX to tell them about her project. The station asked Martin to compile a story that they could air in the newscast. The finished product turned out so well that Martin was offered a job as a reporter with the station.
“This is exactly what the capstone is for— to really help prepare students for their careers,” said Walz. “Through this project, Sarah demonstrated that she knew how to collect information, how to voice and write a story and how to do quality work that is intriguing and impactful. It couldn’t have worked out better.”
Walz said this project was more than just a senior graduation project. His father-in-law, Walter Davis, seemed 10 years younger after the experience. He said that there was such an outpouring of appreciation for their service it was almost overwhelming. The fact that they now have the whole journey documented is a blessing their family will cherish forever.
When Martin finished her 40-minute documentary, “The Ones that Survived”, she gained a better understanding of her potential as a reporter and gratitude for the skills she had been taught. “I also learned to let myself love the people I’m working with. You think there has to be a distance between you and the subject, but I felt like the most humbling part was being close with them and learning from them. That will definitely motivate me in the future to do more projects like this.”
Writer: Sarah Matheson