02/02/05 — Film based on LaGrange soldier wins awards

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Film based on LaGrange soldier wins awards

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on February 2, 2005 2:01 PM

A documentary film based on the death of a LaGrange soldier in World War II won two Emmy awards last month at the Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards ceremony in Nashville, Tenn.

"Thank You, Eddie Hart," is the story of the death of the LaGrange man in Belgium and the Dutch brother and sister who have cared for his grave for the past 60 years as a way of thanking their American liberators.

The film was broadcast nationwide last year on Public Television.

The awards were for Best Historical Documentary and Best Music Composer. The film was produced and directed by Brenda Hughes of Wet Bird Productions. She is a graduate of East Carolina University. Fred Story wrote the music.

Hart's sister, Hattie Holloman, still lives in LaGrange and is featured in the film. She traveled to Belgium to visit her brother's grave and to meet Betty Habets-Vrancken and Johan Vrancken, who have maintained the gravesite for decades.

"When I first heard the story," Hughes told reporters, "I knew that somehow, I had to tell it. As Americans, we forget how precious freedom is. When you meet Betty and her brother, Johan, and hear them speak with such conviction about their lives under Nazi occupation and their appreciation for freedom after being liberated -- still palatable after 60 years -- it's a much-needed reminder of how fortunate we really are."

After the war, Dutch landowners donated land for a cemetery for the fallen Allied soldiers. Dutch families were encouraged to "adopt" a grave to maintain. Betty Habets-Vrancken and her brother drew Hart's name.

Private Hart, 22, was killed in April 1945, during the closing days of the war. In the film, several of Hart's comrades, including LaFayette Smith of Kinston, share their memories of the conflict and of Hart.

Habets-Vrancken now lives in New York. Her brother continues to maintain the gravesite. She said the sacrifices of Hart and his fellow soldiers can never be forgotten.

"That he had to give his life so young, over there," she said. "Many times I think about that, especially when I'm in North Carolina. It's a beautiful state, and then I think about that he could have lived here. And he wasn't able to."