With each passing Memorial Day, we do our best to remember our veterans who gave their life and those are still living to tell their experiences. We do our best to remember those who have gone to war, and we do our best to be receptive to the changes in their personality and behavior after they have come home. But, for some, like Akron native, Linda Fetchu Slider, many are not even given the opportunity, as they are lost to the wars they have fought, as her father was lost in the Korean War. For her and many like her, it is about keeping the memory alive and to not forget their sacrifice.
Film has been able to act like a time capsule, capturing attitudes and experiences of those who have experienced war, and classic film has attested to that. But, at the end of the day, film can only capture so much as the soldiers who are brave enough to tell their stories honestly, which is hard to do because there is always a fear of judgment. A civilian can only do so much besides turning it into a partisan battle cry. But, with respect to the soldier, there are ways to respect and not cause them to fear judgment. A film that manages to look at a soldier’s experiences without judgment is 1949’s Twelve O’Clock High.
The film stars Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill, Millard Mitchell, and Dean Jagger. The film starts with Harvey Stovall (Jagger), an American attorney and former U.S. Army Air Forces officer, who is vacationing in England and sees a Toby jug in a store window, buys it, rents a bicycle, and rides to an abandoned airfield. As he reminisces, we are taken in to his memory of the same airfield in 1942. Col. Keith Davenport (Merrill) is the commander of the 918th Heavy Bombardment Group, based on R.A.F. Archbury, and his unit has suffered heavy losses, gaining a disreputable reputation. Davenport has taken these losses personally, as he has gotten too close to his unit. When he is ordered to perform a mission at low altitude, he goes to headquarters and confronts his friend, Brigadier General Frank Savage (Peck), who is the A-3 of the VIII Bomber Command. This visit prompts both their superior, Major General Patrick Pritchard (Mitchell) to visit the 918th, and he finds the unit in complete disreputable disarray, with Davenport to blame. Pritchard relieves Davenport and reassigns him elsewhere while Savage is given new command of the unit. Savage begins to address these problems head-on, leading his men to detest him, due to the treatment he gives Lt. Col. Ben Gately (Marlowe) for being AWOL during a Command Change. The pilots apply for transfers, but through Stovall’s support of Savage’s disciplinary actions, gives Savage enough “red tape” to allow the pilots to be disciplined enough to fly again. Will Savage’s unit respect him? Will they go on a mission again and do so successfully? Watch the film and find out.
The best thing about this film is that it simply tells a story and nothing more. The story told, based on actual accounts of Air Force soldier’s experiences, does so without judgment. The film offers an interesting look at military life, and the perspective of Harvey Stovall gives us a relative sense of the memories veterans have. There are only so many veterans left, and its time we let them tell their stories.