ROCK SPRINGS — Just how well do we truly know someone? Sometimes even our closest family members keep things to themselves. Who knows why? It could be because they don’t want to be seen differently or because it’s just too painful to relive an awful experience by telling someone and they’d rather just forget.
For Mark Pedri and his family, they only knew grandpa Silvio Pedri as “the miner”. They didn’t know Silvio as “the solider” until after he passed away and some of his World War II medals, letters, photos, and other memorabilia were discovered in his Rock Springs home.
Little did Mark know that the discovery of his grandfather’s WW II service would lead him and his wife, Carrie, on a 500-mile biking trip across Europe to retrace his grandfather’s steps through all his experiences during the war, which led to the creation of the documentary “Dear Sirs.” This documentary went on to receive an award at this year’s Best Documentary Feature at the GI Film Festival in San Diego. While Mark is humbled and honored to have received the award, that’s not why the documentary was created.
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Mark only wanted to find out Silvio’s story and preserve it on film for family and friends, but after showing screenings of the documentary, more and more people wanted to see it. That’s when he realized it was time to not only share Silvio’s story with family and friends, but with the world.
Even though Mark and Silvio spent nearly every day together for around 10 years prior to his grandfather’s passing, Silvio never spoke about his time in the war. Mark discovered it can be hard for family members to speak about their experience with other family members, especially a son or daughter. They can sometimes speak about the war with fellow veterans and sometimes grandkids.
However, some never speak of their service at all.
Some time after Silvio passed away, Mark and Carrie moved into his Rock Springs home. Shortly after moving in, they started to find letters, photos, medals, dog tags, and other World War II memorabilia. They first discovered a knife, photos and letters and thought that was it, but as they started reading through document after document and looking through some photos a story about Silvio started to appear.
While some of the items were organized, others were discovered in random spots. The photos were in a photo album, while the government documents were all together and the letters were in another place. However, Silvio’s dog tags were discovered in an old coffee can in a cupboard with cleaning supplies.
The facts Mark and Carrie discovered included:
- Silvio was a World War II United States Army veteran.
- 95th Infantry Division, 1st Battalion, 377th Regiment, Company B, 4th platoon, leader of first squad (machine-gun section),
- Rank: Sergeant
- The 95th Infantry Division entered combat on October, 20, 1944, west of Metz, France.
- Silvio was captured near Metz, France, on November 13, 1944.
- He was transported and marched to three different Prisoner of War (POW) camps one POW hospital.
- Silvio was liberated on April 28, 1945, from a POW camp in Northern Germany.
- He was awarded the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.
“All the stuff on paper were just facts,” Mark said.
While the letters found did show some of the emotions felt by Silvio, the whole story still wasn’t coming out. That’s when Mark and Carrie decided a trip to Europe to discover Silvio’s story was needed.
The couple gave themselves 6 weeks to travel across Europe to retrace Silvio’s journey. As they continued to travel, some days they were left with more questions than answers, however on other days, they were overwhelmed with the amount of information they discovered and would have to extend their stay in that area to obtain all of the relevant information.
“There were some places like that where there was really not much left or we couldn’t find anybody to really tell us too much. But then there were some places that, you know, one thing led to another and and we had to stay an extra couple of days or a part of the story would come forth that we had no idea about,” Mark explained.
Mark and Carrie chose to travel to Europe around the same time Silvio arrived there during the war. This way they could experience the weather and scenery as close as possible to how Silvio would have experienced it.
While filming the documentary, Mark and Carrie encountered below freezing temperatures along with rain, snow, and other weather-related conditions while biking through Europe. They also had to make a few bike repairs along the way. However, that didn’t stop them from continuing the journey. Just as Silvio had to keep going, they also felt the need to continue.
“I think that we had enough support behind us on the bike ride that I think giving up wasn’t an option,” Mark said.
The couple faced many challenges while filming, but nothing compared to what Silvio faced. They quickly learned where Silvio arrived, where he was captured, which POW hospital he visited, which POW camps he stayed in, and what camp he was in when he was finally liberated.
“I don’t think my grandpa would have thought anyone from his family would go there,” Mark said about one of the POW camps.
The story finally came together and it took Mark and Carrie three years to complete the documentary after all the information was gathered.
Prior to showing the film at the GI Film Festival last week, “Dear Sirs” had screenings in France, Germany, and roughly 20 cities throughout the United States. The screenings in Germany and France took place in the cities his grandfather traveled through.
“I definitely did not think we’d ever win an award,” Mark said. “I think the original goal, you know, after finding the stuff and deciding to make a movie was to preserve his story and and honor that story.”
Mark set out with the goal to find out what his grandfather went through and create a documentary to preserve Silvio’s story for close family and friends. The whole theme of the festival was allowing for veterans’ stories to be shared. He said the festival truly honored veterans and it was a great way to meet veterans and their families who are doing the same thing he is: trying to keep veterans’ stories alive.
“What we didn’t realize is that (Silvio’s) story would be universal with other people that see the film,” Mark said. “I guess, that’s what resonates with them.”
Mark quickly learned a lot of people attend the GI Film Festival year after year to not only share their stories, but learn about others. It’s a way for them to honor veterans.
To go to something like the GI Film Festival and be recognized for the work, that was really a pretty amazing experience that we had.~ Mark Pedri
Mark said had they not come across all of the information about the war his grandfather had saved, the story never would have been told, and like many across the country, lost forever.
What started out as a small Wyoming story, turned into a documentary shown on the big screen with other powerful films. Mark not only learned a lot about Silvio, but about other veterans who served with his grandfather and their families.
He said no matter how much research you do, you will never know everything about a person or the experience they went through. After the screenings started, Mark said people approached him with information about Silvio or the war. However, he felt the additional information he learned would not have changed the documentary.
“The whole process is a journey and I don’t think it will ever end,” Mark said.
The GI Film Festival has made the “Dear Sirs” documentary film and others presented at the 2022 festival available to watch through Monday, May 30, for a small fee. To access the videos on demand, click here. After May 30, residents will have to attend events across Wyoming to watch the screenings of “Dear Sir.” Click here to see the current Wyoming screening schedule.