When Trumpets Fade (1998)

 

 

Director:     John Irvin.

Starring:     Ron Eldard (Pvt. David Manning),  Frank Whaley (medic), Martin Donovan (Capt. Roy Pritchett), Dwight Yoakam (Lieutenant Colonel), Jeffrey Donovan (Bobby).

During the battle of Hurtgen Forest, fall 1944, American forces bloodied while trying to take a bridge. Soon they are down to only four soldiers.

 

 

Terrifically entertaining war story.  The main story is the amazingly fast rise through the ranks of Pvt. David Manning (Rond Eldard).  Pvt. Manning is a very cynical man, who believes in watching out for number one, himself.  His motto is that he will help you as long as it does not risk his own life.  (The medic, played by Frank Whaley, gives a terrific response to Private Manning: if you get wounded, I'll help you, as long as I don't have to risk my own life.  We all know that many medics were killed in the war risking their lives to save the wounded.)

Private Manning just wants to get through the war without having to put out any extra effort more than the minimum.  His problem, however, is that he is a natural military leader.  He has the amazing ability to size up any military situation and almost always take the right action.   His other problem is that so many American soldiers have been wounded or killed that almost no one in the unit has military experience.  Private Manning is the obvious choice for sergeant, a promotion that the private tries to reject with all his strength.  He declares that he is the wrong man, not suited for the job and that he just is not capable of doing it.    He wants a section 8 (mental incapacity) to get out of the assignment.  Captain Roy Pritchett (Martin Donovan) has to bargain with him: Manning will get his section 8 if he takes out the German artillery that is raining so much death upon the American troops.  

And when Manning performs magnificently and the lieutenant suffers from shell shock (post-traumatic stress disorder) and the captain is wounded, again he is the obvious candidate to be lieutenant.  And once again, Manning fights this promotion.

Because Manning has such a selfish approach to life, he underestimates his own abilities and exaggerates his faults.  Will Manning be able to handle the promotion or will his selfishness actually cause him to fail in this new assignment?

Ron Eldar does a great job in playing the part of the cynical, selfish sergeant that performs too well for "his" own good.  He keeps the audience wondering if he is ever going to wake up to the foolishness of his own philosophy and approach to life.   

The title of the movie refers to the fact that the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest did not get the glory they deserved because the Battle of the Bulge started and completely overshadowed their battle accomplishments. 

The film is shot in the new trend to bring greater realism to war films.  Many of the men are so petrified that they endanger their own safety and that of their comrades. And there is a lot to be afraid of, as well shown in the more realistic movie about war.   

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

The Battle of Hurtgen Forest (September 19, 1944 to February 10, 1945) was fought in two main phases.  The area was a corridor of about 50 square miles east of the Belgian-German border.

This part deals with the second phase.

Responsibility for Hurtgen Forest fluctuated between the V Corps and VII Corps.  VII Corps was given the responsibility for the November offensive.  

The American 4th Div had the task of clearing the northern half of the Hurtgen forest between Schevenheutte and Huertgen, capture Huertgen and advance to the Roer south of Duren.  The 4th Division had just 2 fully effective regiments (the 8th and 22nd) to achieve these divisional objectives.

1944 (November 10)  --  the battle began.  The 8th regiment attacked along the northern edge of the forest (toward Duren), while the 22nd attacked farther south.  They were opposed by the well dug-in German 275th Division with 6500 men and 150 artillery pieces.

The 8th's offensive was defeated with heavy losses. The 22nd's offensive also failed.  Losses totaled 300. 

1944 (November 18)  --  engineers blasted tank routes through the forest.

1944 (November 19)  --  the attack paused for re-supply. (German reinforcements arrived.)

1944 (November 20)  --  responsibility returned to V Corps.  By this date the 4th Division had suffered 1500 battle casualties. 

1944 (November 21)  --  8th Divison attacked slowly against heavy defensive positions.

1944 (November 29)  --  Hurtgen taken.  The troops fought on to Kleinhau, one mile north.  (The Americans took Merode only to lose it in a German counter-attack.)

Parts of the 8th and the 28th Infantry Divisions advanced on Brandenberg. 

1944 (December 6)  --  the 2nd Ranger Battalion moved on Bergstein.

1944 (December 12)  --  American forces took the towns of Gey and Strass. 

 

 

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