Lost Battalion – Movie Review
War is hell – the “Great War” was perhaps the most hellish of them all. Lost Battalion captures some of the misery of fighting in that titanic conflict by featuring the men of the 77/308th Battalion who found themselves surrounded by the Germans in the Argonne Forest. The date was 2 October 1918, and it seemed as if fate was determined that this group of mostly American immigrants should never live to see another day. But due to the decisions and actions of Major Charles Whittlesey, he made sure those men (at least a good portion) would walk out of the forest alive.
It is one of the bravest stories of American courage and steadfast devotion to duty. On that fateful day, a force of nearly 500 men under Major Whittlesey went out into the French forest seeking to push the Germans back and end the war. Assuming that the French were on one flank and Americans on the other, they commenced their attack only to find themselves alone –far ahead of each flanking force. For nearly three days they found themselves driving back continuous German attacks, friendly fire, and scrounging for food, water, and ammunition. Their only means of communication was carrier pigeon. The Germans offered the Americans the opportunity to surrender and end their suffering, but Whittlesey stood his ground, rallied his troops, and called their terms “unacceptable.” When it was over, less than 200 men were rescued by reinforcements, and they walked out heroes. Indeed Major Whittlesey and several officers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The movie is a an excellent reconstruction of this intense struggle to survive. Russell Mulcahy (who directed Ricochet and Highlander) brings out the character of the leadership and determination of Whittlesey (played by Rick Schroder). The movie also depicts the civilian-turned-soldiers like some Italian immigrants from New York City as well as the low morale these men suffered while being dirt covered, starving, hurt, and homesick. Although this movie was made for television, it is sad that more films of this nature are not out in theaters for the masses. Too many war movies end up getting ruined by Hollywood by changing what really happened and adding unneeded romantic mushiness. This film sticks to history.
About the Author
Peter Hipple is a Submariner with the US Navy and is currently stationed in Groton, CT.