Field of Honor (1986)

 

 

 

 

Directors:  Dae-hie Kim and Hans Scheepmaker.

Starring:  Everett McGill (Sergeant 'Sire' De Koning), Ron Brandsteder (Tiny), Bart Rmer (Lieutenant), Anis de Jong (Taihutu), Hae-young Lee (Sun Yi), Dong-hyeon Kim (Applesan), Min Yu (Kim), Mark Van Eeghem (Brammetje), Frank Schaafsma (Wiel), Guus van der Made (Leen), Jae-ho Choi (Chinese Medic), Mike Mooney (Journalist), Jon Bluming (Platoon Sergeant), Fritz Homann (Truck Driver), David Hartung (Radioman).

a Dutch sergeant in 1951 in the Korean War

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"After World War II the Asian peninsula of Korea was placed under the guardianship of both Russia and the United States of America.  They divided the so-called Land of the Morning Calm in halves.  In the North the Russians set up a communist regime.  In the South the Americans tried to found a democracy.  After which the two world powers withdrew.  The result was disastrous.  On e June 25, 1950, North Korean troops invaded a weak South Korea.  The United Nations immediately came to the rescue.  Sixteen U.N. Members supported the South, in its war against an aggressor who, subsequently, was supported by Red China.  Those 16 U.N. Members were: USA, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, South Africa, the Philippines, Thailand, Ethiopia, Colombia, Turkey, Greece, France, Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands.  After more than three terrible years the Korean War came to an end, on July 27, 1953.  It remains an almost forgotten war.  3,418 men served in the Dutch Infantry Battalion in Korea.  This is the true story of one of them."

Korea 1951.  Refugees are heading south.  A line of soldiers walks north.  A young boy stops to see if he can't find some food.  He looks around the huts and sees a white, naked soldier called Sire with an orange bow tied around his penis come out of one of the huts.  The soldier asks if the boy speaks English?  No.  Is he a shoe-shine boy?  No.  So the soldier says the boy is stupid because he can make a lot of money as a shoe-shine boy.  Sire gives the rest of what he is eating to the boy, who now takes off.

Three soldiers come running around the corner and Sire prepares to shoot.  One of the guys tells Sire not to shoot, it's Tiny.  The other two soldiers call the naked man Sire and he tells them that he is still Sgt. De Koning to them.  The two soldiers,( Brammetje, a European, and Leen, a Korean) don't like hearing that.  Sire jumps into the huge oil can in which he just urinated and dunks his whole body into the water. He then tells Brammetje and Leen to go into the whore house and bring out another soldier named Wiel.  Wiel is drunk, so Sire tells Brammetje and Leen to walk him around until he sobers up.

Tiny says they have to move out in just 30 minutes.  Sire hasn't paid the pimp yet and he shouts for the guy to come out.  The pimp is holding Sire's uniform and helmet hostage until he gets his $30 dollars.  Sire tells Tiny to pay him.  Tiny asks if the pimp said $40 dollars and the pimp says yes it is $40 dollars.  This makes Sire mad so he knocks the pimp down with the butt of his rifle.  Then he hits him again. The women scream, but Sire ignores them and takes what money the pimp has and gives it to the women.  They give him his uniform and helmet.

Tiny tells Sire that they have served a year here and he wants to go home now.  Sire says he himself is not going home.  He finishes getting dressed and they move out to join their unit.     

The unit is in the hills looking down upon a Korean village.  Sire and part of the unit go down to investigate it, while the rest of the unit covers them from the hill.  The guys reach the village, but still don't see anyone around.  They go into quite a few of the residences, but don't find anyone.  Weil yells for the sergeant to watch out and Sire whips around and fires.  He hits a girl and the mother runs over to her daughter.  She cries and cries.  Sire roughs up Wiel a bit for shouting as if the enemy were upon them. He tells one of the Koreans with them to tell the mother that it was an accident. 

The Lieutenant comes around the corner and catches Sire taking a dump right there in the village.  After the Lieutenant recovers his poise, he tells Sire that he would like to pass the hat around to get some money for the woman who lost her daughter.  The woman recently lost her husband.  Sire says:  "That's war."  The Lieutenant then asks him why is he here in Korea?  Sarge says basically that he doesn't know anything other than soldiering. 

The Lieutenant sees the dog named Chippy and tells Sarge to kill it for no dogs are allowed.   Sire tells the Lieutenant to do it since he has a rifle and ammunition.  The Lieutenant has his excuses, so Sire takes the dog over to an isolated area.  He fires his weapon, but takes Chippy with him in the back of a truck headed back to town.  In the back with Sire is a journalist.  He asks Sarge if it's true that all the Dutch soldiers here are volunteers?  Yes.  Sire tells the journalist that this dog Chippy would be a good story for him.  This dog can sniff out any whore house in town.  He then says he is going to trade the dog.  The journalist says he would like to take the dog.  Sire asks the journalist what does he have to trade?  He shows Sire his type writer, but Sire says he has no use for a type writer.  The journalist tells him to look inside the case. 

The little boy that Sire met earlier is now busy shining shoes.  The boy named Kim sees Sire and goes over to him.  He asks Sire to have a shoe-shine and Sire says okay. The boy also tries to sell his sister's sexual services to Sire.  So Sire takes the whole family over to his barracks and the mother and the daughter will service the men.  So the men take turns having sex with mother and daughter.  Sire now tells one of the men to go out and spread the word about the women being here.  He says he is doing this for the women, the victims of war, who desperately need money.  The fellow goes.  Soon enough men start pouring into the barracks. 

A group of enemy soldiers tries to kill the lookout guard and proceed forward.  The guard has enough energy to fire his weapon to warn the troops.  Just then another guard enters Sire's barracks and shouts that the Chinese are in the camp.  Sire starts getting his clothes on and shouts:  "Everyman for himself."  The Chinese are blowing up building after building.  Some Allied soldiers are lucky just  to get out of their burning barracks.  Sire is one of those lucky ones. 

In the morning after the battle Chinese soldiers go around finishing off any Allied soldier still left alive.  Sire is saved from death because the weapon of his executioner just goes click, click.  The sergeant just pretends that he is dead and the Chinese fellow moves on.  Somehow Tiny survives.  He screams out for Sire.  He is so badly hurt that he wants Sire to kill him.  Sire puts the rifle barrel near Tiny's mouth and Tiny puts the barrel into his mouth.  Sire fires and Tiny dies as he wished. 

Sire washes his face and hair to get the blood out and puts the orange silk ribbon around his head to stop the bleeding.  Sire has another wound in the inner side of his right thigh.  He heats up his knife to sterilize it, then digs the blade into his wound and pulls the bullet out.  He then puts a gauze bandage on it and ties the bandage in place. 

Sire hears someone singing.  It's one of his Korean men.  He is badly shot in the gut.  Sire pushes the man's hands away from the wound and forces his helmet up against the wound.  He then ties it in place.  A little later Sire pulls the man under a truck.  The sergeant now wonders what he is going to do.  The place is surrounded by Chinese and he doesn't know where any of the other guys are.  A small group of Chinese troops now start blowing up the engines of the trucks that are not destroyed.  A grenade is dropped into the engine of the truck under which Sire is laying.  Luckily for him, it's a dud and doesn't go off.  But Sire's foot is caught underneath a tire of the truck.  He tries to dig his free but doesn't have much luck.  In fact, the tire moves farther up onto his foot.  The wounded Korean dies.  In the night Chippy returns to Sire.  Also during the night, rats come out to feed on the dead bodies.  One rat even climbs up onto Sire's chest and gives him quite a shock. 

Two Chinese soldiers stop at the battlefield to rob the dead bodies of anything valuable.  Sire plays dead again.  They take his lucky locket. 

Sire starts singing and it draws the attention of an older Chinese soldier.  The Chinese discovers the location of the singing man.  The sergeant tells the fellow to go ahead and finish him off.  But, instead, the fellow starts talking to him in English.  He is actually a medic in the Chinese army.  He pushes the truck off of Sire's foot, sets it straight and puts a bandage on it.  The fellow seems to think it would be better if Sire would become a prisoner of war.  Sire doesn't want that and he says he will fight not to be a prisoner.  He then looks over at the dud grenade and pretends he is going for it. When the Chinese medic sees the grenade he throws himself onto it.  The grenade goes off killing the man. 

Sire starts walking with the help of a rifle as a crutch.  A pair of eyes watches him as he slowly walks away.  He goes into a building and the dog stays with him.  At night the dog starts barking.  Sire gets up to see what is going on and believes the dog was only barking at a rat. 

In the morning he sees truck loads of Chinese soldiers coming his way.  He hides.  When the trucks passes by he comes out of hiding.  He notices that his blanket is missing and tells his dog that he was right after all.  They have a neighbor.  He starts looking around   He doesn't find his neighbor.  He buries the Chinese medic.  He goes to eat his hidden turnips, but now he sees that his turnips are missing.  He ties up his dog and starts walking, saying to the dog that he will be back before lunch.  

Sire finds a place that was probably used as an observation station.  He can see the whole village from there.  He goes inside to investigate and finds a container with lots of grenades in it.  He takes the grenades and puts them on his belt.  On the wall is a picture of Jean Harlow.  From his post he sees a Chinese soldier beating his dog.  He yells ands starts firing his rifle at the man, but can't hit him.  He's too far away.  Sire goes down to the village, but finds the dog missing.  He does see the dog's blood there, however. 

He finds a harmonica, sits down and starts playing a tune. Someone comes up behind him with a stick to hit him with, but Sire realizes this and starts struggling with the person.  The guy's hat falls off in the struggle, revealing the person to be the sister of the shoe-shine boy.   Sire talks to the girl saying she knows him.  He is not her enemy.  She finally recognizes Sire.  They go over to check on the shoe-shine boy.  Sire tries to get the boy to talk, but he just stares into the distance.  In broken English his sister says he is sick and does not talk.  Then Sire sees his dog dead hanging by the neck.  He asks why did she have to kill his dog?  She says they were hungry.  The girl take off a piece of the dog's flesh with a knife.  She tries to give a piece of flesh to Sire, but he does not take it.  Sister tries to give the food to her brother, but he just pushes it out of his mouth.  Sire says they have to chew the meat for her brother.  He shows her how to do it and then puts the chewed meat into the boy's mouth.  Now the boy eats the meat.

Sire asks the sister where is her mother?  She is buried outside.  Sire looks around and sees the grave, which has a load of rocks piled on top of it.  Sister now comes over to him with some more of the food.  He tells her and shows her that he has a splinter in his face that he can't get out.  So sister takes it out.

A battle rages in a valley quite a distance from them.  The three survivors move up to the observation post.  Sire takes several rifles with him.  He finally asks the name of sister.  It's Sun Yi. 

The Chinese start running away from the battle.  Two retreating Chinese soldiers try to get into the observation post.  Sire shoots one of them.  A type of bomb is lit and thrown into the building.  Sire grabs it and tosses it out.  It explodes.  Two more men try to get in and Sire shoots one of them.  Now a soldier fires an automatic weapon into the little space of the observation post, while another soldier drops another bomb.  This time the bomb goes off.  Sun Yi is killed and Kim is scared out of his mind and really screaming. 

The Allied troops come marching up the road.  Sire's men have rejoined the Allied troops.  The Dutchmen march down the road and are shocked to see Sire come walking toward them accompanied by the shoe-shine boy. They say hello, but then have to keep moving along with the other troops.  So Sire and the boy keep moving along the road going in the opposite direction.  Now Sire's Lieutenant sees him and has his driver stop.  He tells Sire that he thought he had been killed.  he then assures Sire that he will send somebody to look after him. 

So Sire and Kim keep moving down the road.

 

Spoiler Warning:  This war story is a little tough to watch at times, not because of the bloody scenes, but because of the tragic scenes.  The war has been hard on the South Korean people as they are forced to become refugees heading farther south to stay away from the enemy.  And these refugees are very poor with little to eat.  One refugee boy attaches himself to a rough Dutch soldier named Sire.  Sire tells the boy to become a shoe-shine boy and he will earn money.  The boy does so, but his family is still in great peril.  The boy tries to sell his sister's sexual services.  Sire goes to see the family and then takes them to the barracks where the mother and pretty daughter can make money through prostitution.  Sire sees himself as a real humanitarian with this move.  And then Chinese troops descend on the Allied barracks and things even get worse for the Korean family and the Dutchman. 

The Dutchman changes over time while trying to help the Korean family.  He gets attached to the family and it starts to soften the rough exterior of Sire. Sire goes through a lot of suffering after the Chinese attack and this too helps makes him better by making him less arrogant and more respectful to people. 

There are some other scenes that were rough to watch.  I didn't like what happened to the dog in the film.  It was a bit upsetting to me.  Also bad was what happened to the Chinese medic.  Sire as a character is definitely a little too tough for his own good.

Sire is transformed from just a tough man who kills for a living to a father who watches out for and cares for his son. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:

 

1945 (June)  --  an indigenous, left-wing government had formed in Korea.

1945 (August 6)  --  the Soviet Union declared war on the Japanese Empire.

1945 (August 8)  --  the Soviet Union  invaded Korea from the north. President Harry S Truman ordered U.S. troops into south Korea.

1945 (August 10)  --  with the Japanese soon to surrender, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to divide Korea along the 38th parallel.

1945 (December)  --  the US and the Soviet Union agreed to administer the country temporarily.

U.S.-run elections supervised by the U.N. ended with the victory of the right-wing politician and anti-Communist Syngman Rhee. (The left-wing had boycotted the elections.)

The Soviet Union set up a Communist government led by Kim Il-Sung.

1949  --  both Soviet and American forces withdrew.

South Korean President Syngman Rhee and North Korean General Secretary Kim Il-sung both were willing to use force to reunite the peninsula under their own system.

1949-1950  --  both sides launched a number of limited military attacks across the 38th parallel.  This was leading to a full blown civil war.

1950 (March-April)  --  Stalin approves a North Korean attack on South Korea. 

1950 (June 25) 135,000 North Korean troops struck across the 38th parallel. They caught the South Koreans by total surprise. Within just a few days, the South Korean forces (of around 38,000) were in full retreat.

1950 (June 28) capture of Seoul by the North Koreans.

President Harry S. Truman orders General MacArthur to transfer munitions to the South Korean Army and to use air cover to protect the evacuation of US citizens. The U.S. Eighth Army was sent to help South Korea in its struggle.

Nevertheless, the South Koreans and Americans were pushed into a small area in the southeastern corner of the Korean peninsula around the city of Pusan. Along the Nakdong River, the allied forces set up what became known as the Pusan Perimeter.

1950 (September 15-28)  --  in a bold move, MacArthur landed troops at Inchon just south of the 38th parallel.  The UN forces were able to quickly retake Seoul.  The North Koreans had to fall back north of the 38th parallel. 

The decision was then made to take all of Korea from the communists. 

1950 (October 8) as the Americans drew closer to the border with China, Chairman Mao ordered the Chinese People's Volunteer Army to move to the Yalu River, the border with North Korea.

1950 (October 15)  --   on Wake Island, Truman conveyed to MacArthur his desire to limit the scope of the Korean War and to avoid Chinese entry into the war. 

1950 (October 19)  -- Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, fell to UN forces.

1950 (October 25)  --   the Chinese attack into North Korea with 270,000 troops under General Peng Dehuai.  The Russians agreed to provide air support 60 miles behind the front.  They held air superiority against the F-80 Shooting Stars until the arrival of the newer F-86 Sabres. The Chinese took the UN Forces by surprise and pushed them back.  They then retired to the mountainous areas.  The UN interpreted this as a sign that the Chinese were relatively weak. 

1950 (late November) the Chinese attack again. They force the U.S. Eighth Army to make the longest retreat of an American unit in history.

1950 (November 26-December 13) in one of the largest defeats in American history, at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, the US 7th Infantry Division is surrounded and has to fight their way out. In the process, they lost 2000 of their 3000 men killed or captured.

1950 (late December) UN forces in northeast Korea had to make a Dunkirk-style evacuation from the port city of Hungnam.

1951 (January 4) Chinese and North Korean forces recapture Seoul.

The American General Walker of the 8th army is killed in an accident and is replaced by Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgway.

1951 (March) after having restored the moral of the 8th army, in Operation Ripper the Americans expelled the enemy from Seoul.

1951 (April 11) Truman removed MacArthur from his command. Ridgway took his place. The Americans then pushed the enemy several miles north of the 38th parallel.

1951 (July)  -- stalemate. 

1951 (July 10) peace negotiations begin in Kaesong (while fighting continued).

1952 (November 29) U.S. President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower travels to Korea to find out what could be done to end the conflict.

1953 (July 27) a cease-fire is established. A demilitarized zone (DMZ) is established around the 38th parallel.

A peace treaty has yet to be signed.

 

 

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