Longtime Newhall resident and Navy veteran George Keene was featured in “Journey to Royal: A WWII Rescue Mission,” a World War II documentary released earlier this year.
The film tells the true story of the 4th Emergency Rescue Squadron, whose mission was to save the lives of downed airmen floating in the waters of the South Pacific, flying unarmed into the enemy’s path to make enough room in the aircraft for the airmen.
One of the nearly 900 rescue missions flown by the squadron was the attack on Pearl Harbor, of which Keene was a survivor.
Keene was assigned to the island base after enlisting just nine months prior, he told The Signal in a previous interview.
The film comes alive through the voices of veterans who shared their firsthand accounts of the war, such as Keene, who while injured, survived the attack.
The film’s producer Mariana Tosca recalled Keene telling her the story of when he saw his assigned ship, USS Hopkins, for the first time and noticed that it was No. 13, which “didn’t sit very well with him.”
“The ship went through the entire Pacific campaign and … only lost one man — and he saw a lot of action out there — so he said that after the war, 13 became his lucky number,” Tosca said.
While each veteran’s story was touching, a couple stood out, one of which was Keene’s, Tosca said, adding that she vividly remembers interviewing him with his entire family in the room.
Tosca found it was a common thread that the majority of these veterans hadn’t previously shared their war experiences with their families before the interview, making those moments all the more special.
“We had this double blessing of being able to archive their stories, and also be a catalyst for the family members to be able to hear of their father or grandfather’s service during war,” Tosca added. “Across the board, when we were finished with the interviews, the family members of these veterans would all come up to us, and thank us, which was so extraordinary. … It’s something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Recreating the story told in the film through declassified military records and crash reports took more than a decade, but was more than worth it to Tosca and writer-director Christopher Johnson, whose goal was to preserve these veterans’ legacy.
“Becoming the custodians of their stories has been an honor, privilege and responsibility we’ve done our best to fulfill,” Tosca said.
Keene recently celebrated his 98th birthday, and looks forward to repeating one of his biggest thrills: visiting Pearl Harbor for the 80th anniversary commemoration, as he did for the 75th, according to Tosca.
“Journey to Royal” is available on most platforms worldwide. For more information, visit JourneyToRoyal.com.