Tag Archives: WWII

Des Nuages, Un Parapluie, et quoi d’autres

I used to take a lot of photos with disposable cameras, then a digital camera, and then my phone and share them via this blog, bookface, or emails.  But in the last many years, I haven’t felt the need or desire to take quite so many pictures of things I saw that I thought were cool or to document that I did this thing or I went to this place.  A few recent scattered rainstorms in the metro area have, however, compelled me to capture the moment.

I pulled over to the shoulder to take this one:
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This photo was taken in a shopping center:
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I happened to look over to the corner of the room the other night during sunset when I saw a rectangular swath of light shining on the handle of this samurai umbrella.  It looks like a tired and lonely samurai, doesn’t it?
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~!~

I picked up the September 2021 issue of Military History Magazine and learned about flamethrowers in this interview that Dave Kindy did with Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams.  As of August 2021, he is “the last living World War II recipient of [the Medal of Honor]” (14).  Woody Williams relayed to Kindy that it took practice and trial and error to figure out how to use a flamethrower.  When the wind wasn’t blowing in the desired directions, it was highly likely if not certain that he’d lose his eyebrows on account of the flame.  He and his fellow Marines “used 82-octane gasoline in that thing, the same as [they] used in their jeeps and trucks” and because the nozzle sat on the hip, there was no way to aim it (14).

See the man talk about receiving the Medal of Honor:

Read more about him here.

Last Mission to Tokyo

I’d read about Last Mission to Tokyo by Michel Paradis in Military History Magazine in late 2020 and absolutely had to get my hands on it.  I did but didn’t start reading it until earlier this year.  I finished it a few weeks ago and loved it.  I was about halfway through Jake Tapper’s The Outpost when I started reading Last Mission to Tokyo and by the time I had read just over half of the latter, I’d developed a deep admiration for how necessarily different are the voices, tones, and styles of Jake Tapper’s journalistic/investigative writing and that of Michel Paradis’s creative non-fiction.

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Paradis points out in the Author’s Note that he had intended originally to “write a more scholarly examination of the case of United States v. Sawada, et al. and the lessons it has for contemporary international and national security law,” but the more he researched and worked on it, the more he realized that this history would appeal to a wider audience, not just law professors, students, and experts (343).

Upon reading just a few chapters of Paradis’s book, I kept thinking to myself, “Did I learn about the US military bombing Tokyo before the atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima?  Why is this piece of knowledge so shocking?  The Doolittle Raid is referenced and briefly depicted in Roland Emmerich’s war film Midway?”  Honestly, je ne me souviens pas.

Last Mission to Tokyo chronicles the aftermath of The Doolittle Raid and what happened to the crew of two planes, the Green Hornet and the Bat Out of Hell, when they made their way to China (hoping they’d found themselves in US-friendly, Chiang Kai-Shek-backed communities).  Captured, tortured, executed (but not all of them); bringing a trial against those responsible for ordering the deaths of American airmen, having to navigate through not just Japanese military bureacracy to get names but also post-war socio-political stability in the region, and finding yourself having to serve as defense counsel for the accused Japanese officers?  There was so much to compile, consider, and process to find a modicum of justice.

If you like reading books on history in general, military history in particular, international law, World War II, or creative non-fiction overall, please give this book a try.  If you want to learn things you never knew you’d derive pleasure from learning, read this book.  For example, did you know that “the Philippines had been the United States’ largest colony for more than forty years” until the Japanese kicked them out in WWII for three years, at which time “MacArthur had made good on his promise to return and wiped out the Japanese forces in the Battle of Manila” (85)?

Part of me is under the impression that the Philippines being an American colony was in the AP US history textbook, but when I came across this passage in Last Mission to Tokyo, my response was not of “oh, yeah, I knew that,” but rather, “what?!”

It goes without saying that I want to read more about Asian countries during WWII.  Anyone have recommendations?

D-Day was 77 years ago

If you’ve been alive for more than a quarter of a century and think back on learning about World War II in high school; if you’ve known people who served in the military during WWII and have heard first-hand stories about life during the 1940s, then the memory of D-Day may not seem that long ago.  Upon doing the math, however, seventy-seven years actually does impress one has a long time.  A twenty-year-old soldier, medic, intelligence analyst, or translator would be pushing a century of living now.  Moreover, nearly eighty years ago, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe were both still alive.

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I came across this article that Military.com originally published by John Orloff for Task & Purpose that delves into some of the details on how the TV mini-series Band of Brothers (2001) came together.  I found this passage particularly relevant to present-day work collaborations — and they did it without all the virtual collaboration devices, software programs, and high-speed internet that many people have been relying upon in the last year:

And then there was the concern (by the writers) of a certain unevenness in the show. There were seven writers, and surprisingly little communication between us. One lived in Paris, another on a boat in San Francisco, another in Carmel, and the rest in Los Angeles. We had exactly one “all hands” meeting, and barely talked story during any of it. We pretty much each focused on our own episodes, trusting that Tom [Hanks] and Steven [Spielberg] would make sure it all fit together.

Just like the freely moving camera of ER (1994-2009) forever altered how producers and audiences envisioned the possible behavior of TV cameras, Band of Brothers rewrote the visual conventions for both cable and broadcast TV programming:

Band of Brothers was one of the very first TV shows to be shot and broadcast in widescreen — at a time when very few televisions were made that way (most people originally saw the show with black bars on the top and bottom of their square TV screens). Same thing with the sound. Tom and Steven insisted that it be mixed like a movie, in surround sound, when very few people had home surround systems. I am convinced that if we had not done these things — at Steven’s insistence, by the way — that today, the show would look and hear antiquated, as if from another era. Instead, technically, it still holds its own against any movie or TV show made today.

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Pic creds: Amazon, Art.com

Memorably Midway

I remarked in my last entry that I didn’t feel the need to see Midway (Roland Emmerich, 2019) anymore after having watched Nick Hodges’s (aka History Buffs) videos on the film.  But then, after learning there was a 1976 version produced by Walter Mirisch and starring Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Hal Holbrook, Glenn Ford, James Coburn (in one scene), Robert Mitchum (in one scene), Toshiro Mifune, James Shigeta, Pat Morita (yes, as in Mr. Miyagi), and Tom Selleck (yes, as in Magnum PI) among others, I felt I owed it to myself to watch both of the films on Memorial Day 2021.

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I wasn’t interested in evaluating them in terms of which I thought was “better,” but I was curious to know which film would resonate with me more or would leave a stronger impression.  The 1976 version begins with this onscreen text:

This is the way it was — the story of the battle that was the turning point of the War in the Pacific, told wherever possible with actual film shot during combat.  It exemplifies the combination of planning, courage, error and pure chance by which great events are often decided.

It then proceeds to “USS Hornet April 18, 1942” and footage of planes dropping bombs on a city.  As a car speeds into the frame, onscreen text indicates that we’re in “Hiroshima, April 18, 1942.”  The film introduces Admiral Yamamoto (Toshiro Mifune) as the first major character.  Rear Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka (Pat Morita) has arrived to inform Yamamoto that “Tokyo has been bombed…Yokohama, Kawasaki, and Yosuka were also bombed.”  Along with the audience, Yamamoto learns that the US “launched long-range land-based bombs from their carriers…B-25’s.  They came at treetop level and weren’t seen until they were over the city.”

Next, there’s a voice-over with Pearl Harbor as the backdrop, “Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle led the raid with a force of sixteen B-25’s…and an all-volunteer crew of airmen.  Most of the planes carried three 500-pound demolition bombs…and single incendiary clusters, which were dropped on oil stores, factory areas, and some of the military installations of Tokyo.  A few planes went on to make minor strikes on Kobe and Yokohama, one bomb hitting the Japanese aircraft carrier, Niyuko.

The film ends with this onscreen text:

The annals of war at sea present no more intense, heart-shaking shock than this battle, in which the qualities of the United States Navy and Air Force and the American race shone forth in splendour.  The bravery and self-devotion of the American airmen and sailors and the nerve and skill of their leaders was the foundation of all. — Winston Churchill

The filmmakers’ thank you note: We desire to express grateful appreciation to the Department of Defense and the United States Navy for the cooperation which was extended on the production of this picture.  We especially salute the officers and men of the U.S.S. Lexington on whose ship many of the sequences were filmed.

Technical Advisor: Vice Admiral Bernard M. Strean, US Navy (retired)

Hal Holbrook was a scene-stealer as Commander Joseph Rochefort.
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The 2019 version begins with this onscreen text: This is a true account of the events that led to the most important naval battle in American history.  One single day that turned the tide of the War in the Pacific.

The opening sequence establishes the “reason” for why the Japanese military felt it necessary to attack Pearl Harbor.  As Admiral Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa) explains to then assistant naval attaché Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) on December 4, 1937 in Tokyo, Japan’s invasion of China gave them a strong appetite to become a world power.  The majority of their oil came from the United States and if that supply were to be threatened, there would be consequences.

The next set of onscreen text: Four years later, the world is at war.  Japan has invaded China and Hitler’s blitzkrieg has overrun Europe.  The United States has remained officially neutral.

And then Pearl Harbor happens.

The 2019 Midway ends with this onscreen text: This film is dedicated to the American and Japanese sailors who fought at Midway.  The sea remembers its own.

Miltary expertise:
Harlan Glenn — Military Wardrobe Master, Senior Military Technical Adviser, key military costumer
Ed Fox — consultant, military, Battle of Midway veteran (as Sgt. Ed Fox)
John F. Miniclier — consultant, military, Battle of Midway veteran (as Col. John F. Miniclier)
Rob Scratch Mitchell — aerial coordinator/pilot advisor (as Robert ‘Scratch’ Mitchell)
Chuck Myers — technical advisor: aircraft carrier
James Neuman — naval historian
Chika Onyekanne — historian: US Naval (as Lt. Chika Onyekanne U LT NHHC)
Thom Walla — consultant: military, host of The Battle of Midway roundtable

Brennan Brown‘s screentime as Rochefort is not as plentiful as Hal Holbrook’s.

Rather than get into the storyline differences or even similarities (because I think you should watch both films if you have the slightest interest in military history or war films), I’ll share a few of the things I learned from the making-of featurettes for both films.

1976 version:
~ Charlton Heston was at Northwestern studying acting in 1942.  Rather than wait to be drafted, he enlisted in the Air Force because he liked planes.
~ Walter Mirisch had seen John Ford‘s documentary, produced by the Navy, The Battle of Midway (which the 2019 version humorously alludes to in a couple of scenes where the director [played by Geoffrey Blake] is shown location-scouting).  And later he saw The Fighting Lady, produced by Louis De Rochefort, which inspired the background story of the film.
~ Mirisch gave director Jack Smight (who’d just directed Airport 1975) three books on Midway to read.
~ Mirisch used archival footage for many of the battle scenes and had to blow up 16mm film into 35mm film.
~ All battle footage cost $60,000 to repurpose from the Navy.  Per editor Frank J. Urioste, the opening sequence was black and white footage from Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo that they turned sepia; footage from Tora! Tora! Tora! was used for the attack on Midway; some footage from a Japanese film was used for the POV of their planes taking off.
~ Mirisch insisted on including the opening text indicating that there would be a lot of actual battle footage.  He’d started out wanting to make a documentary about Midway but realized that he needed starpower to get it made.
~ Mirisch and Charlton Heston had worked on The Hawaiians and were both World War II enthusiasts.  Captain Matt Garth (Heston) was a fictional character.
~ On why casting is so important.  Mirisch reflects, “It was always my intention, if I could possibly succeed in doing it, to people the picture with an all-star cast because I felt that the star, the personality brings something to a role. It allows for more economical writing because the audience fills it in for you when they see actors of a stripe of a James Coburn or Henry Fonda or Robert Mitchum playing roles.”
~ Toshiro Mifune had all of his costumes made in Japan to ensure historical accuracy.  He brought the director a samurai sword on the first day of shooting.
~ The film did really well in Japan.
~ About forty minutes of additional footage was filmed for the TV broadcast, including some scenes of Garth’s domestic life.
Production Notes:
~ Filming locations: Pensacola, FL; Universal Studios, Point Mugu naval facilities, Fort MacArthur, and Terminal Island.
~ Technical advisor Vice Admiral Bernard M. Strean had led a squadron in the first attack on the Japanese fleet army during the Battle of the Philippines.
~ Toshiro Mifune’s first Hollywood film and second portrayal of Yamamoto, whom was not a favorite historical figure of his.
~ Robert Mitchum only agreed to play Admiral Halsey because there would only be one day of shooting … in bed.
~ Henry Fonda served under Nimitz in Guam (whom he played in the film).  Glenn Ford served under Admiral Spruance (whom he played in the film).  Robert Mitchum met Halsey after the war.

2019 version:
~ The writer Wes Tooke has always had a fascination with military history, specifically the Pacific in WWII.  Tooke’s grandfather was in the Navy (Capt. Charles M. Tooke).  Roland Emmerich had always wanted to make a movie about Midway.
~ B-25’s were not rebuilt, but everything else was.
~ Emmerich notes the importance of casting because the actors are the ones on the screen.  Screenplay is the most important, then casting, then directing.

Which film did I enjoy more?  Which film would I watch again first?  The 1976 version.   Et pourquoi?  It’s more about battle, especially at sea, as a series of chess moves.  It’s a slightly more cerebral movie.  I also like the way it started with the bombing of Tokyo.  And yet, I like the 2019’s depiction of the discord between the Japanese army and navy (as Nick Hodges mentions in one of his videos).  As for general subject matter, Roland Emmerich’s Midway is a much more satisfying experience than Michael Bay‘s Pearl Harbor (2001).  I remember getting a bit snotty while watching it in the theatre and thinking it wasn’t very good, but I don’t recall why.  It’s turning twenty this year.  I’m considering watching it again to see if I still get snotty and if it jogs my memory on why I didn’t like it.

Of course, after watching both Midways back-to-back, I decided to start reading Michel Paradis‘s book Last Mission to Tokyo (which I’ve had for months).  I’m not done reading Jake Tapper’s The Outpost yet either.  But, I’m in the final leg.