Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg: Mission Accomplished

A Review by Brad Patton

Dr. Tony Mussari, Sr. and Kitch Loftus-Mussari are remarkable storytellers, and they may have saved some of their best stories for their final chapters.

The husband-and-wife documentary filmmakers from Dallas, Pa. consider themselves “teachers with a camera.” Their projects include the regional-television series “Windsor Park Stories,” which ran for 12 years, an 11-part film series on West Point, a series of films focused on Shanksville, Pa. (the site of the 9/11 crash of Flight 93), and a series on the 25th anniversary of the “Miracle On Ice” from the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic games.

Their latest series, which has taken them to all 48 contiguous states, began in 2010 and seeks to find “the Face of America on its best day,” according to Dr. Mussari. The newest film in this series, “Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg,” premiered in Gettysburg .

I was invited to a special screening of the film just days after the rough cut was assembled.

Anyone who knows Dr. Mussari knows he likes to ask people to sum up an experience in just a few words, so in that spirit here are my first impressions of the new film: a stunning achievement in storytelling, a well-paced film that is equal parts educational and entertaining.

The new film came about following a chance meeting with a photographer, which led to an introduction to Robert Monahan, Jr., President & CEO of the Medal of Honor Convention in Gettysburg to mark the 150th anniversary of the decisive Civil War battle. Monahan gave the Mussaris carte blanche at the convention, and they used it to film the latest installment of their “Face of America” series.

“Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg” uses five thematic arcs to tell its story: 1) the convention as a whole; 2) the significance of the Battle of Gettysburg; 3) the values of the Medal of Honor recipients; 4) the transformation of six students from No. Plainfield (New Jersey) High School learning about those values; and 5) to find the Face of America on its best day (the series’ underlying theme).

The film is successful because it doesn’t try to do too much. It sets up both the Medal of Honor and Civil War pieces by introducing Bvt. Maj. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. In the opening scenes, his story is re-enacted by his great-great nephew, then his exploits at Gettysburg with the 20th Maine regiment are recounted. Instead of trying to squeeze everything about the three-day battle into the film, the Mussaris use Chamberlain’s story to effectively encapsulate it all in an easily-digestible portion.

The scenes of the students interacting with the Medal of Honor recipients are illuminating. You are so engrossed in the conversations, you hardly realize you are learning something about honor and valor right there along with the students.

To a man, the Medal of Honor recipients do not think they did anything extraordinary. They just did what needed to be done. Yet, they have so much to teach the students — and the viewers by extension – and those lessons are sorely needed at this time.

Perhaps the film’s most accomplished feat is putting a conversation about values on the table in a non-threatening way and opening it up for discussion.

The climactic scenes at the concert with the United States Marine Corps Band (known as “The President’s Own”) and the West Point Cadet Glee Club are awe-inspiring, making you feel like you have a front-row seat for this spectacular show.

It is a treat to see the convention and the Medal of Honor recipients through the eyes of the six ROTC cadets from No. Plainfield. To witness them going from shy students in the opening scenes, not really knowing what to expect from this slice of experiential learning, to the thoughtful, determined and eloquently-spoken young adults in the final scenes is truly amazing.

Dr. Mussari mentioned one of the goals of the “Face of America” series is to shine a light on the good things happening in our country to try to counter the barrage of negativity with which we seem to be inundated on a daily basis.

With “Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg,” consider it a mission accomplished.