Thomas Prusinowski served in the U.S. Navy for 28 years, but the recently retired Saratoga Springs man also spent two days pretending to be a sailor this October. He was one of 12 Navy members chosen to be in the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie Lost Valentine, which debuted on CBS Sunday, Jan. 30, and starred Jennifer Love Hewitt and Betty White.
`I was very blessed to pretty much be standing next to Betty White all day long. She’s a fantastic person, very kind and generous,` said Prusinowski. `She did an amazing job, cried very believable and hard every time.`
Prusinowski and his fellow sailors traveled from King Bay Naval Base in Georgia to Atlanta for shooting. They were put up in a hotel, had one day of rehearsal and then spent 16 hours shooting their scene.
`They wanted to shoot from every different angle; top, bottom, left, side, right, up and down,` said Prusinowski. `We worked with the production company and did everything they wanted us to do. They were all very happy with us.`
`Lost Valentine` is about a woman (White) who’s husband goes off to war and is shot down. For the next 65 years, she goes back to the same train station platform she dropped him off at to see if he will come home. After enlisting the help of a local reporter (Hewitt), the remains of her husband are found and the Navy brings them back for a proper military burial.
Prusinowski said the acting he did in the movie was a role familiar to him, as it truly did mirror true life.
`We brought in the American and Navy flags, went to the casket and brought it up to Betty White, who bent down, kissed the casket and flag and hugged it,` said Prusinowski. `Earlier in my Navy career I was on the funeral detail for veterans when they passed away, I’d be asked to attend the funeral, carry the casket, fold the flag. `
Even portions of the movie he wasn’t involved in were reminiscent of his Navy life.
`I’ll always remember after I got married and left on deployment, I remember seeing my wife on the pier by herself waving goodbye and it’s a very difficult time for a Navy guy when you have to leave your family and friends for six months at a time,` said Prusinowski.
The sailors wore actual Navy uniforms for filming and Prusinowski said at first, everyone just thought the group of men clad in pristine white `costumes` were extras.
`They didn’t know we were real true American Navy sailors, and they finally saw that, they were really excited to have us there and opened their arms to welcome us and thank us for everything we do,` said Prusinowski.
While the `Hollywood` experience and meeting famous actors was exciting, Prusinowski said it’s what the sailors got to do for their new celebrity friends after shooting wrapped, that was special.
`About a month prior [to shooting] the Navy announced it would allow women on board submarines. So, we bought two female submarine insignias you wear on your uniforms and presented them to Betty White and Jennifer Love Hewitt and made them honorary female submariners,` said Prusinowski. `They really loved that and we wanted to show we cared about them and they were nice enough to allow us to come up there for the movie.`
The television premiere of `Lost Valentine` created such a stir that Prusinowski said he’s been getting calls and emails from family and friends around the country wanting to see his clip or praising him for his work.
`It was just exciting to hear different things from different people,` said Prusinowski. `One of the greatest things was it was an honor to represent the U.S. Navy in a very positive manner this is the 60th year for the Hallmark Hall of Fame so it’s a big deal and made it even more special.`
Watching himself on television was like reliving the October day of filming all over again, he said.
`When I saw myself it was very exciting in the fact that I remembered every second of the day, it was so intense,` said Prusinowski. `I felt a bit of personal pride too.`
During his 28 years in the Navy, Prusinowski spent time on cruisers, aircraft carriers and submarines. He said one of his fondest and dramatic memories is being aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the first American warship to leave the shores of America after 9/11.
`We left exactly nine days after 9/11, hurried it up because we weren’t supposed to leave until Christmas time. We steamed across over there and once we got on station, we were out to sea for 159s and never saw land,` said Prusinowski. `We had our planes in the air bombing Iraq for 18 hours a day, it was very exciting.`
Prusinowski said driving a ship was also one of his favorite naval tasks.
`It’s most exciting when you drive a $5 billion aircraft carrier and are the single guy in charge of taking care of that ship and everyone on board,` said Prusinowski.
He’s retired from the Navy, but still finds himself involved with the lifestyle through his new job working for Oto Melara, a corporation that is preparing to build a production line for guns and ammunition at the Watervliet Arsenal.