Rock Springs, Wyo., isn’t normally known for movie premieres. But on Sept. 25, members of the community gathered to hear the story of one of their own. Archie Hays American Legion Post 24 hosted a documentary film screening that details the horrifying journey of a World War II POW.
It wasn’t until 10 years after his grandfather's passing that Mark Pedri began to discover a man he had never known. A native of Rock Springs and member of Sons of The American Legion Squadron 24, Mark uses film to chronicle what it took to finally and truly know his late grandfather.
Mark spent most of his formative years alongside Silvio Pedri, who passed down to his grandson a love of the accordion. He never, however, spoke of his military service.
“We knew he was in the war,” Mark explains. “We knew he was a prisoner of war, but anything other than that was just uncharted territory. So, when I found that out, it was like meeting the most impactful person in my life, for the first time because it was a side of him that I never really had the opportunity to meet.”
Through the discovery of photos, letters and documents, Mark learned of his grandfather’s ordeal in the war. Mark and his wife Carrie McCarthy had been working on documentary films for years, but they were always telling other people's stories. This project would be different.
“We both decided that this is our story,” he says. “We need to take the initiative and tell it. So, we both left our day jobs, and that’s when we decided to put together the pieces, to bike across Germany, to tell Silvio’s story.” By bicycle, they retraced Silvio’s steps through Germany to produce the film, “Dear Sirs.”
After two years of production, Mark and Carrie didn’t want to simply post the film on YouTube. They wanted it to make a personal impact and connect with people who would appreciate it most. That’s when they reached out to The American Legion.
Mike Cooke, a member of Archie Hays Post 24 and an Alternate National Executive Committeeman for the Department of Wyoming, remembers when Mark first asked about some assistance.
“I got an email from him, a couple phone calls,” Cooke says. “From there, I started reaching out to local veterans and the post. From there, it kind of snowballed. I notified a bunch of people I know within The American Legion, and it kind of rolled.”
With the help of Archie Hays Post 24, Mark and Carrie were able to bring Silvio’s story to the screen. The post hosted the premier at the Broadway Theater in downtown Rock Springs. Several local community leaders, including the mayor, police chief and fire chief attended the event alongside several members of the American Legion Family in the community.
Some of Silvio’s mementos, including a patch he wore in the POW camp, handwritten notes about his experience, and orders for his Silver Star were laid out for display at the theater. Prior to curtain, Mark and his uncle Dave Pedri gave a patriotic performance on their accordions. And afterwards, members of the Post 24 American Legion Family presented the filmmakers with checks to help in their efforts.
“I want to thank Archie Hays Post 24,” Mark told the crowd. “This night wouldn’t be possible without them.”
Mark’s goal is to connect with other American Legion posts around the country and make “Dear Sirs” a community event where members of the American Legion Family and the public can see and appreciate the story of a man who came home from World War II and, like so many others, didn’t talk much about it.