THE MILLIONAIRES’ UNIT (2018, doc)


 Greetings again from the darkness. Imagine, if you will, a world where the one-percenters view their privileged life as carrying more responsibility towards civic duty, not less. While that’s difficult to conceive these days, the film takes us back 100 years to the beginning of WWI, and introduces a group of Yale students who believed exactly that. Co-directors Darroch Greer and Ron King provide the best kind of history lesson – one told through personal stories.

WWI, “the war to end all wars”, lasted about 4 years and featured new technology such as machine guns, tanks, and airplanes (Wright brothers first flight was 1903). Though U.S. President Woodrow Wilson stated the country would remain “neutral”, a young visionary named Trubee Davison saw things a bit differently. Trubee was a student at Yale University and the son of HP Davison, a powerful JP Morgan executive. Trubee was also a natural-born leader and inspired a group of his classmates to join the First Yale Unit … a flying club dubbed The Millionaire’s Unit by the media.

The film tracks their training and subsequent call to service during the war. They became the first Naval aviators in WWI, and the Naval Reserve Flying Corps actually preceded the US Air Force. We see spectacular clips from the era, along with reenactments (dogfights!), photos, and letters/correspondence to/from the men. Actor Bruce Dern enthusiastically narrates, and it’s interesting to note that he is the grandnephew of one of these Yale pilots.

Profiles of a hand full of these men are remarkably well done and help us understand that each were defined by their service and dedication to the cause and to each other. Much of the focus is on Trubee, a fascinating guy who later spent time as Assistant Secretary of Defense and Director of Personnel at the CIA; however, we also get to know Robert Lovett, Kenney MacLeish, “Di” Gates, and Dave Ingalls – each an interesting story, and in combination, stunning in that so few of us have been exposed to their courage.

The 2006 book, “The Millionaire’s Unit”, written by Marc Wortman, was the basis of this documentary that took longer to complete than WWI actually lasted. These young men were volunteers who, despite their elite social and financial standing, believed so strongly in “fighting for the ideals we hold sacred”, that they risked it all – some paying the ultimate price. As you might expect, after the November 11, 1918 Armistice was signed, most of these Elis continued serving their beloved country in some capacity. Theirs is a story that deserves to be told with the respect and personal aspect afforded by the film.

watch the trailer:

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