‘Beyond glory’

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By Ken Begley

“Beyond Glory is as stirring as taps at dusk.”
- Wall Street Journal Review

You know I come from a family that has a long history of serving in the military.

My grandfather served in France during World War I.

My father and six uncles served in both the Pacific and European theaters during World War II. One of those uncles was captured during the Battle of Kasserine Pass in North Africa and spent the next 26 months as a prisoner of war.

Another uncle was in the Battle of Pork Chop Hill in Korea and part of his company was overrun by the Chinese while he gave fire support as a mortar platoon leader.

Another uncle served as a career officer and was in Vietnam.
My wife’s cousin died in Vietnam.

My niece’s husband has completed two tours in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division, where he received the Bronze Star for finding and disabling over 26 improvised explosive devices. One of his men was shot during his second tour and he has lost some of his hearing from the action that he saw.

I’ve served over 38 years on active and reserve duty.

I really don’t like war movies and find most of them stupid and ludicrous.

So, if there is a show that I feel most tells about war then it has to be good and is a real “must see.”

Stephan Lang’s stage production of “Beyond Glory” at Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts on Nov. 18 is not a show; it’s an event. The Pentagon had “Beyond Glory” at just about every military base we have at one time or another over the past few years. There is a reason for that. Stephan Lang will leave you drained when it is over with a new appreciation of bravery and combat.

Let me tell you about it.

Have you ever heard of the “Medal of Honor?”

You should.

We all should.

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for bravery in combat that a grateful nation can bestow upon a member of our military. Seventy percent of the time, the medal is awarded posthumously, as most recipients have died in combat.

A few years ago, a book was written by a man named Larry Smith called “Beyond Glory.”

It was a real coup.

You see most combat veterans really don’t want to relive what they have seen. But Mr. Smith prevailed in interviewing 24 Medal of Honor recipients, our greatest veterans, from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He captured in their own words, their stories, about the fateful day that resulted in them being so honored. Not many folks could accomplish that feat and Mr. Smith must be a rare person himself.

Later, in 2003, an actor and playwright named Stephen Lang took that book and turned it into a one-man stage performance where he relived those horrible days in the words of eight of those Medal of Honor winners.

It is an unbelievably powerful 75 minutes that will suck you in and leave you drained by the time you leave. Like I said, it’s not a show, it’s an event. That is the reason that the military thought so highly of this production and wanted so many of our people to see it.

You younger folks in particular might have heard of Mr. Lang. He was a major character playing Colonel Miles Quaritch in the 2009 movie “Avatar.” Avatar is the No. 1 grossing movie of all time and produced world-wide gross receipts of $2,782,000,000. It beat the next highest grossing film, “Titanic,” by almost $600,000,000. Mr. Lang has been in a multitude of other stage and movie productions that have also brought him acclaim as well.

That’s an incredible amount of success isn’t it?

Now what is funny about all this is Mr. Lang’s stage production of “Beyond Glory,” which has been performed over 300 times, was not a success in the beginning.

In fact, Mr. Lang has said himself that in his first renditions of the play, many times only three to six people even showed up in the audience.

Can you imagine?

He went from this, to a starring role in the top grossing film of all time.

Yet Mr. Lang’s “Beyond Glory” is not just a job to him. It’s the love of his life, where he puts every single ounce of his talent and sweat into making the stories of Medal of Honor winners, better persons than ourselves, come alive right before our eyes. He tells those days of “courage, bravery, chance, luck, life and death” that make up these tales of epic proportion.

It’s a story of men that didn’t think of themselves as heroes, and frequently scoff at the word, but were put in horrific situations where somebody had to do something or everyone would die.

This production is his way of honoring those men, living and now dead, and reminding us that war always comes with great cost that no balance sheet can tally up.

So I end this column by asking you to seriously think about seeing “Beyond Glory” at Centre College in Danville and remember that you don’t have to be a veteran to see it. In fact, those that aren’t have all the more reason for seeing it and maybe taking a veteran with you.

See you at Norton’s Center for the Arts!

You won’t regret it.

(Writer’s note: “Beyond Glory” will be at the Norton Center for the Arts on November 18th at Centre College in Danville. Tickets can be purchased by calling (859)236-4692 or 1-877-HIT-SHOW (1-877-448-7469). You can read more about the production and see a clip of the show at www.nortoncenter.com.)