Paul Pogue's two children have overcome more in their young lives than most people will ever face. To honor them, he's created a G.I. Joe-themed video that's a tribute to a father's love for his children. And he did it with a little help from some new friends: two of the original voice actors from the classic 1980s "G.I. Joe" cartoon.
In 2009, Paul and Katrina Pogue noticed their 2-year-old son Armand was lethargic and thought he might have a chronic ear infection. After several tests, doctors discovered a large neuroblastoma, a solid tumor most commonly found in children, in his stomach. He underwent surgery to remove the tumor and started aggressive chemotherapy a few days later.
“The doctor showed me the tumor on the MRI and it was just astounding. And that is when I first lost my breath,” says Pogue.
That same weekend, the Pogues learned that Katrina was pregnant with their second child.
“We were like, ‘of course this will be when we find out,’” he says. “There was a very happy [discovery] combined with an incredible pain.”
Armand didn’t let surgery and chemo stop him from being a kid. He forced himself to the playroom in the hospital. Pogue recalls watching his son lying in a hospital bed, then reaching a tiny hand up to a table to finish a puzzle he was working on.
“He was an unbelievable trooper,” Pogue says.
Katrina gave birth to a daughter, Autumn Rose, and Armand finished his treatment. Chemo left Armand’s body weak and he lost about two-thirds of his hearing, but he still remained active, climbing and running as much as he could.
His parents tried to give him a normal childhood. When Halloween came around, a newly bald Armand went as Lex Luthor. The costume inspired Pogue, a writer for Angie's List, to honor his son’s cancer battle with a poster. The simple design features a photo of Armand with the simple message “Vote Lex.” He wanted his son to realize he was as cool as a superhero and as strong as a super villain.
As Armand became stronger, the Pogues noticed that Autumn Rose was bumping into walls and furniture. An eye exam revealed that the toddler was severely vision impaired.
“She wasn’t even 2 years old when she had been diagnosed with terrible vision,” he says.
Despite Armand's hearing loss and Autumn Rose's limited vision, the two are happy, active kids. As the fifth anniversary of Armand’s battle with cancer approached, his dad got the idea to create a video inspired by the children’s new favorite movie, "G.I. Joe." Pogue grew up watching the cartoon and his kids loved the live-action films.
“I can envision their lives as a movie trailer and that was rattling around in my brain,” Pogue says.
When the kids practiced archery or horseback riding, Pogue shot video. As they ran around outside, he recorded more footage. Armand, now 7, got the code name "Relentless," because his parents believe his willpower helped him survive the cancer. Autumn Rose, 5, received the code name "Blink" because despite severe vision impairment, she still thrives and manages to pull off "stealth operations" underneath her parents' noses.
“Even with her glasses off, she could make her way around pretty well ... she is a horseback rider and does archery,” Pogue says.
Pogue titled his video "The Silence and the Darkness," a reference to his son's hearing loss and his daughter's impaired vision. The name "is both appropriate and ironic," he wrote on their YouTube page. "It reflects our running inside joke that the kids have one good set of senses between the two of them... He may not hear very well and she may not see very well, but they are anything but silent and dark. That's the thing about these kids — no matter the challenge in front of them, they always seem to find a way to work around it!"
Everything was coming together; then Pogue visited G.I. Joe Con, a gathering of fans in his hometown of Indianapolis, and took his idea to the next level.
While at the convention, he met two voice actors who were in the G.I. Joe cartoon in the 1980s. Bill Ratner voiced Flint and Mary McDonald-Lewis voiced Lady Jaye.
Both are very successful actors who have been busy since then: McDonald-Lewis is the voice of, among many other things, the OnStar car system; and if you've seen a movie trailer or car commercial lately, you've probably heard Ratner's voice.
Pogue emailed them, asking: Would you narrate this video about my kids?
“It was an unusual [request],” says McDonald-Lewis. “Usually what folks are asking for is an autograph.”
But she and Ratner immediately agreed that recording the narration for the video was a mission they couldn't refuse.
“Of course this was a natural yes … I can’t imagine treating a request like that any differently,” she says, adding that the Pogue children's courage and strength, and their father's request, exemplified the "Joe ethos."
Ratner says Pogue's video moved him.
“I was deeply touched by the piece … it was a great story,” he says.
“I have no doubt that he sat up late at night shedding many many tears as he was editing … This was a real cathartic and victorious thing for people to watch,” he says.
Pogue says that some days his children think the video — and their dad — are pretty cool. Other days, he's just another dad. But he says the important part is, he wants them to see their own strength.
"They have some vague sense that other kids are not like them. Armand has no idea how much he has overcome,” Pogue said. "They are not fully aware of how awesome they are."