Friday, October 19, 2012

Best War movie... EVER!

My Way, “Inspired by a true story”


From what I gather this is a Korean film shot in Latvia. Let’s see if you can follow the plot. It follows two kids in Japanese occupied Korean (pre war) one Japanese- one Korean. Korean family is poor, Japanese family is rich. Kids do not get along as they are marathon rivals. Japanese kid becomes colonel in Japanese Army, Koran lowly private in his unit. They fight the Russians in Manchuria (some really fun suicide missions blowing up tanks here), but are captured and sent to Siberian POW work Camp.


Germany invades Russia and they get drafted as privates (remember, one was a colonel of the Japanese army). The fight a mad charge against German machine guns (taken almost verbatim from “Enemy at the Gates,” and somehow they desert and are found by the Germans. So they  get drafted by the Germans into an Ost Battalion. Where are they sent to work? You got it- Normandy. Omaha Beach to be exact.


Now comes what has to be the greatest, most amazing and spectacular D-Day scene EVER!!!!!

(note: five exclamation points rating). A fighter crashes into their trench following them running down it towards the camera and they are narrowly missed by the wreckage.  Explosions!! Bombers (Memphis Belle). Massive Allied fleet. GI’s run in in landing craft (SPR), and we find out two friends held at gunpoint by an evil Nazi officer to fire machine guns at the Americans. Americans land and fire Ranger style grappling hooks to climb up to the concrete bunker (no cliff here, just a beach with a ridge of sand behind it). They seem to not see the tourist wooden stairway going to the top of the sand dune. More big explosions and the two guys escape their bunker and run away across a field. 16” Naval guns pound around them, with explosions like small hand grenades.


Even though it is daylight, paratroopers start landing, and surround the two guys in a circle. Sadly, the Korean is wounded (in the  heart) so he gives his dog tag to the Japanese guy saying if the Americans find out he is a Jap they will kill him. Korean Dies, Jap cries, and we see later on the Japanese guy has assumed the Koreans identity and WINS the Olympic marathon in his name.  Hooray! War is Bad! Human spirit triumphs over badness.


Now, what is really weird is that most of the props and uniforms and CGI are really pretty good. It’s the story that makes it a near laughable film. I admit I enjoyed the first half pretty much, but then when they join the German army all credibility goes away and it was more astonishment that someone actually wrote this, and more so that they actually made it. Even more so that have the balls to say it is “Inspired by a true story.”


Seriously, the ending D-day sequence is pretty hysterical to watch as it is a combination of decent uniforms and equipment, but horrendous plot. As if someone looked at the pictures in books but was unable to read the text.  That and they bought any CGI items that had already been programmed. In fact for a while I wondered if they had just purchased clips from other war films to use.  I can only assume the "inspired by" means "Inspired by all the WW2 war films the author went to see and realized made lots of money."



Thursday, October 18, 2012

review: How I met Ike, by James M. Cagle

The Forest Gump of WW2
Having read and written about WW2 for a great many years I snatch up memoirs of soldiers. This one I haven't really figured out. I can't decide if this is total fiction, an honest start that slips into a fantasy, or someone trying to write a great WW2 book in a novel style thinking no one will notice. In any event- it ain't a true story.

It starts off as what I expect from a typical pre-war member of the Army. The tough sergeants and such. And then the author gets into the whole importance of the regimental boxing team, and I think "oh no, someone's seen From Here to Eternity." But I give him the benefit of a doubt as a similar story played out in many regiments around the country. I even forgive the author's claim of being on a "61mm" mortar crew as perhaps a `not his fault` typo (make up your mind: 60mm or 81mm). Then, modern military terminology starts to creep in and explainations showing a lack of understanding of how things were done in WW2. Ok, so maybe he got confused as he stayed in 20 years. But they would not have searched 201 files for a secretary for Ike, they would have used the IBM card files and hew should have known that boy wunderkin that he is. Once he meets Ike things start to go downhill fast.

The author reportedly becomes Ike's pet project who decides not to get him a commission, but have him become a warrant officer. The author, forgetting for a moment that there were TWO grades of warrant officers (not four) at the time, while waiting for his warrant officer paperwork to clear goes to airborne school. He then goes to Ranger school. Now his Ranger school description is totally incorrect. He uses the modern three phase training, when the two Ranger battalions for the ETO were done in a totally different way at a camp he never mentions. BUSTED! He also claims to have been flown to Scotland to help train the 29th Rangers. Now, I know a lot about the 29th Rangers and have interviewed many. I even know the Millholland family. The tale of his time with the 29th Rangers is massively full of holes. I suspect he got his information on this unit from Black's WW2 Ranger book, but then I can't explain his total screw up on the whole training issue.

But wait, there's more. Even with a terrible shortage of trained paratroopers, he is not sucked up by the 101st as were many 29th Rangers, but goes to the Mediterranean to hang with Darby's Rangers- only to be pulled back to Washington (priority air again- he never takes a boat anyplace due to his special missions) by Ike to become some sort of super-secret intelligence specialist and trained by the OSS. He then, as code name JAX, runs OSS agents in a manner that makes no sense in terms of what any of the histories of those units indicate. For someone 'in the know' he is dead wrong on a massive rubber army, and seems to have been bogoted but still allowed ot go to France to boost morale of the OSS and resistance. He claims to have been In Normandy when the invasion happens, He links up with the 101st, and is told by Ike to compile a report on the invasion. He then proceeds to spit back what can be read in any number of books on the Normandy landings (some material proved incorrect since it was published) as his investigative report.

He then gets to basically go all over the place for the rest of the war spending time with unit after unit that happened to be in some spot of interest. Some of his stories are so ridiculous as to make me want to throw this book against a wall. He boards a C-47 for Market Garden by telling the jumpmaster he was on a "special assignment" with no paperwork or advance direction of what craft to board. He just shows up. BUt then there is no eyewittness description fo the actual fight. Some of the other events I happen to know quite well, and have talked to men who were there- if he was there, he was way back at some command post drinking coffee and listing to things 4th hand.

Now,IF the one in a million chance that all this really did happen, and all those things that defy logic, historical records, and the testimony of other men just happens to be true, I will gladly work all-out to promote this book as the most important thing work since The Longest Day, if only I can see his official military record. Copies of his original observer notes would also do. This is a case of prove it, or shut up. The claim of records being secret won't cut it. If he did this, the evidence would be in his record.

My best guess is that someone in his family took his smattering of stories (and he may well have actually been an aide to Ike for a few days), and concocted this great exploit and filled everything in with material from other books and movies.

So, do not buy this book unless you want to be amazed at what someone publioshed. Due to the obvious errors nothing. NOT ONE THING in it can be taken as fact. It does a terrible disservice to the men who were actually there, and took part. It also does a terrible disservice to James Cagle himself, who may have done his part like millions of other men, but he, or someone else, felt they had to elaborate the story.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Book Review:

Dog Tags: The History, Personal Stories, Cultural Impact, and Future of Military Identification  by Ginger Cucolo.Allen House Publishing 2012.,346 pages, ISBN 978-0983305705.

One of the ways I rate a book is by looking at what has come before on the subject, and asking if the author has indeed added anything to the body of knowledge.  In this case the answer is: not really.  From a historical tangible artifact standpoint the research on the history of dogtags is just not that great.   Paul Braddock’s 2003 book on dog tag history is just so much better.  I make my case with pointing out that this book does not go into the detail of the various small changes made to the tags during WW1.
Seeing as how the book is about tags, I would expect any actual fact about them to be presented.  I pretty much lost interest when the square tags of WW1 were totally glossed over and the reason for using them was not explained. To correct the book: they were not issued, they were a field expedient.  There is a difference. Moving into WW2 I picked up a lot of omissions, such as the plastic tags used in the Pacific, and an apparent misunderstanding of the green bottle used by the Graves Registration guys.

What totally baffled me was the inclusion of fictional stories of men in the various wars. I’m sorry, but in my opinion (and yours may vary) fiction has no place in a historical work.  Especially when there are genuine stories that could be found.   

An awful lot of the book is just fluff: photos of souvenirs that look like dogtags, stories of tags returned to the original owners, letters apparently written to the author in a request for dog tag material, and.. well… fluff - Nice filler that adds little.  I got the feeling that much of the book came from searching “dogtags” on Google and re-reporting stories reported by others.  

Yes, I am biased. I’ve collected dogtags for a long time. I wrote my first article about them in the late 80’s.  I’ve been privileged to be able to read the dog tag work of Paul Braddock, and the Graves Registration research of Steve West.  A casual reader may find the book cute and interesting, but as a work of history it falls short of the mark.  

Just don't waste your time, and find a copy of Paul's Book.  It is still the best out there.

addendum:  I just noticed that you buy a used copy for less than a buck. OK, for that cheap maybe something in it is worthwhile. Just be sure to double check the historical facts.

Book Review: Intact, a First-hand Account of the D-day Invasion from a Fifth Rangers Company Commander by General John C. Raaen, Jr. Reedy Press. 2012. 184 pages. ISBN 978-1935806271.

On D-Day, John Raaen was the company commander of the 5th Ranger Battalion’s Headquarters’ Company. He also wrote his unit’s after action report for the early days in June, and thus is an invaluable witness to the confusion of the invasion.

Now, almost 70 years later, he has written his memories of the invasion the following few days. What makes this memoir somewhat different is that he had actually written down his memoires shortly after the event, and set them aside. Years later, when he attempted to document what the 5th Rangers had been through, he compared his one memory and the official histories, with his period notes; he found them at odds with one another. He worked to figure out which was the truth, and here we have a marvelous picture of what happened.

This may be one of the most detailed memoirs I have seen of that day. You can follow his movements past road, hedgerow and farm by his periodic use of grid coordinates. As such this is not only a terribly important record of D-Day, but of the following post invasion days as well. Anyone with an interest in the Rangers, or in Omaha really should read this book.

Many WW2 memoirs are a bit disappointing; this one is not. I have one main complaint about the book: it’s too short. I hope that the author can find the time to expand it to include some of the D-Day training, as well, the post invasion period up to Brest, or into Germany.

A suggestion (and I guess a minor note) is that the map of the area with grid lines is not well reproduced in the book.  (I think they grayscaled it rather than black and white). I would suggest you have one of the many reprints of that Omaha map and its environs by your hand as you read. Heck, stick it under plastic and trace his route with a gease pencil!

Purchase Intact from Amazon.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Reviews

Someone just came up with a figure that 60% of all book reviews on Amazon are fake, and paid for. You can send a guy some money, and he will round up people on his list (or find more on Craig's list) to add in a good review for a small fee. He makes a ton of money doing this. I know, criticize most books. That's because they are either bad, needless, or could be so much more if done right. Too many books in the military history field are done with little editorial comment, so that the author's have no real feedback on what they could do to make their book really shine. It's just sad. But, for everyone with a book out, they can always find a dozen or so people to post 5 star glowing reviews of it on Amazon. I need to get back to reviewing books. You may not agree with what I say, but at least I am honest about it. Now, whom to torture first?