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Posted on Apr 27, 2006 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Lost Battalion – Movie Review

By Peter C. Hipple

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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.

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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.

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About the Author

Peter Hipple is a Submariner with the US Navy and is currently stationed in Groton, CT.

 

3 Comments

  1. I thought lostbatallion was a great movie for ricky s.
    anybody see saints and soldiers, and a midnight clear.?
    these were some excellent movies that never get
    shown on tv.

  2. This movie was an abomination and a farce. It doesn’t even come close to telling the truth of what happened, how it happened, or anything about the actual men that were there. Despite the flashy special effects, it drops the ball at every turn and creates far too much fantasy and uses too much of the myth to tell a story that needs no ‘dressing up’. I will grant that it is highly entertaining and that it has helped raise awareness of the event – and that it would be hard to pack all the details of what happened during those FIVE days in the Charlevaux Ravine (NOT three) and the preceding two weeks of combat into a bare hour and a half. However, entertaining or not, it simply skews the truth too far to be considered a serious work. Rick S. does not do a convincing job of portraying Major Whittlesey and they tried too hard to focus on the ‘social’ aspects of the units that made up the Lost Battalion. Further, they insist on referring to the unit as part of the 308th BATTALION, which it was not – it was portions of battalions from the 307th and 308th Infantry REGIMENTS, as well as nine machine guns and their teams from the 306th machine Gun Battalion. If the writer (who was responsible for writing ‘Hamburger Hill’ – a great Vietnam movie) could not even get his military nomanclature correct, then one can imagine how badly the rest of the details and facts of the movie have been bungled as well.
    Overall this movie can be considered a dismal failure for relaying a true rendering of what the Lost Battalion actually went through. However, if you’re looking for a flashy period of entertainment with no resemblance to the facts of what truly happened, then this is the movie for you.

    Robert J. Laplander
    Author of ‘Finding the Lost Battalion: Beyond the Rumors, Myths and Legends of America’s famous WW1 Epic’.

  3. If someone really wants to see where the movie deviates from reality they should at a minimum read L.C. McCollum’s work “History and Rhymes of the Lost Battalion.” I also found it interesting during a recent showing of the movie on the MHC, the commentators discussed how accurate the movie was.

    Kevin Leask
    MA American Military History
    AMU

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