Nick Lorch’s home office in Andover is overrun with boxes of baseball cards. But his most precious possessions are the photos and newspaper clippings featuring his grandfather, a World War II hero he barely knew. For the past decade, it’s been Lorch’s mission to share his late relative’s story with the world. He’s now getting a mighty assist from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
“Masters of the Air,” produced by the Oscar winning pair, chronicles the contributions of the 100th Bomb Group. Pilots included Lt. Kenneth Lorch, a St. Paul native who was shot down in 1943 during an aerial attack on Regensburg, Germany.
“These are stories that need to be told,” said Nick, handing over pictures of his grandfather with the families that kept him hidden from the Nazis for nearly eight months. He was eventually captured and spent nearly two years in a prison camp. “They are being forgotten.”
Ken Lorch is a minor character in the nine-part series, now streaming on Apple TV+. But that didn’t stop the actor who portrayed him from doing extensive research.
In addition to reading Donald L. Miller’s book, “Masters of the Air” and participating in an actors’ boot camp, James Meunier reached out to Nick, who shared his collection over the internet.
“Every little detail helps to influence the process,” Meunier said in an email from his home in England. “You listen to music from the period, watch the films they would have watched. And then of course you let that seep in and influence you naturally on set, when you’re in the moment.”
Among Nick Lorch’s most prized pieces is a 1943 letter to Ken Lorch’s parents from his commander, Gale Cleven, played by “Elvis” star Austin Butler. At the time, Lorch was missing in action.
“I have flown with Ken on numerous occasions and know his capabilities,” it reads. “His skill and reserve make it a certainty that he can more than adjust himself to and cope with whatever might be required of him.”
Ken’s dad would die not knowing that his son had survived.
Ken went on to serve as a consultant on the 1953 film “Stalag 17” and work at St. Paul’s Brown & Bigelow. He died in 1986, when Nick was 10 years old.
“He was a very quiet kind of guy,” said Nick, a building contractor, sitting in front of a B-17 propeller that hangs above his desk. “He never really said anything about the war. You would have never known.”
Nick has learned a lot more about his granddad since the series went into production. He attended a reunion in Dallas where Hanks thanked families via Zoom. He also attended a screening last month in New York.
“Security was so tight,” said Nick, who snagged a front-row seat. “The girls were all over Austin Butler.”
Last week, Nick was preparing to watch the first episode for the fourth time, this time with his teenage son.
“It means everything,” he said. “It’s brought me to tears that there’s an actor portraying Ken.”
Meunier said it’s an honor to be part of a World War II project that started with “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”
“I think that Spielberg, Hanks and all the incredible team who’ve worked on this trilogy have created a compendium of epic war dramas that really make us think about the sacrifices that generation made for our freedom,” he said. “These epic dramas will serve as a reminder of all that and will help us to remember the dedication of all the men and women involved in the war effort, and the bravery and sacrifices of men like Lt. Kenneth Lorch.”
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