The Achievement of Darius and Girėnas, an Emigrants‘ Expression of Love
A visit to Chicago Lithuanian Heritage School, student quiz show, in commemorating 80th anniversary of the flight of Darius and Girėnas.
“What are you always looking for, human, as though a bird? What are you waiting for, at the end of the long road? You cannot live without the sky, but you also cannot live without the earth!” These words were coming from the speakers, accompanying a visual display of documentary slides, describing the historic and tragic flight of pilots Darius and Girenas. The presentation was director R. Verbas’ 1983 documentary film made in Lithuania, “The Wings of Lituanica”; the audience, 9th and 10th graders from Chicago Lithuanian Cultural School, and Maironis Lithuanian School; the location, Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture. This 30 year old film, produced for the 50th anniversary of the Lituanica disaster, may have appeared antiquated to these young viewers, its content and subject matter, of an event ocurring 80 years ago, of little interest. The film shows the happy, proud faces accompanying the two pilots to their departure. How long ago it seemed, and yet, in the history of time, just a short while. As pointed out by the narrator, at the time of the translatlantic flight attempt by Darius and Girenas, there were less people who had successfully accomplished this flight than there are people today who have walked on the moon. At the conclusion of the movie, Stanley Balzekas, museum founder, born and raised in Chicago, remembered this flight. He was 8 years old, and would frequently sneak off from home to Midway airfield to watch the planes take off and land. Who could have predicted that in a relatively short period of time, flights across the Atlantic were common, and a robot had been placed on Mars. Can today’s youth envision a world without computer technology? Darius and Girenas would probably have embraced all of these advancements. A closeup of the widow of Darius (Jaunutė Škėmaitė Darienė) shows her crying while watching slides of the young pilots, because “it is sad, so sad for this old lady”. Hopefully, the teens in the audience felt this sadness as well. Darius and Girenas were heroes and patriots. The goal of this field trip for the students was to emphasize these aspects of the anniversary. The trip included a variety of experiences: a tour of the 80th commemorative Darius and Girenas “biographical excursion” exhibit at the museum (prepared by Rita Janz and Karile Vaitkute), viewing the documentary film, and participating in the quiz event (viktorina).
Rita Janz, museum director, described the life of the pilots: youth, emigration to US, education and work, Darius’ return to Lithuania, attending air force academy, marriage, daughter’s birth, participation in the Klaipėda revolution and its return to belonging to Lithuania, support of sports, return to US with his family, vowing to return to Kaunas by air. She described the friendship of these two pilots, their desire to make Lithuania famous, purchase and preparation of the airplane, the flight, and the crash, the deep mourning in Lithuania and US, the monuments built for them.
During the movie, students were able to see Darius and Girenas as young men, preparing for the flight. The movie also included details about the investigation of the crash, interviews with investigators.
The final portion of the field trip, the quiz show, which provided an opportunity for the 9th and 10th graders to display their knowledge of these American/Lithuanian heroes. The quiz show began with an introductory speech from Marijus Gudynas, General Counsel of the Republic of Lithuania in Chicago, and Gintė Damušyte, Lithuania’s Secretary of State Ambassador for Special Events. This was followed by student poetry recitation, dedicated to Darius and Girėnas.
Quiz questions were prepared by history teacher Juozas Malickas. The judges were Juozas Malickas, Rita Janz and Karilė Vaitkutė. Votes were tabulated by Loreta Timukienė, assistant principal of Chicago Lithuanian Cultural School. Questions included factual information about the flight, the pilots, and some that none of the teams could answer. However, as the General Counsel, Marijus Gudynas observed, there are no losers here – all are winners in enriching their knowledge about these two incredible, heroic Lithuanians. One of the questions was: “What do we ( the students) and Darius and Girėnas have in common?” Answer: We are Lithuanian, and many of us are emigrants of Lithuania.
Darius and Girėnas are examples of Lithuanian patriotism, and also heroic citizens of their adopted home, the country they emigrated to, the US. They are the role models for new emigrants to emulate.