June 6th, 1944. D-Day.
Fast forward 76 years and on June 6th, 2020, we’ll chat with author and historian Marty Morgan to separate fact from fiction in one of the most popular movies depicting D-Day, Saving Private Ryan.
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:02:34] Let’s start this off on D-Day. June 6th, 1944. In the movie, we find out from some text on the screen that we’re at dog green sector, Omaha beach, and this is where we join Tom Hanks, his character, captain John Miller, and the other soldiers as they’re heading toward the beaches in landing vehicles. This is an interesting look at what it might’ve been like for soldiers as they were nearing the shores.
They can’t see over the sides of the vehicles. All they can hear are the guns and explosions getting closer. There are splashes from the explosions that rain water down on top of them. Then as it’s time to go, we see the front ramp lowered and the front soldiers are almost immediately mowed down by machine gun fire.
Miller starts yelling for his men to jump over the side, which causes even more problems because as they do, they’re weighed down by their packs. Some of the men managed to get out of their gear underwater and make it back to the surface. Others don’t. Can you give us a little more insight into the location that we get in the movie of Don green sector, Omaha beach and these moments up until landing on the beach.
Marty Morgan: [00:03:45] Yeah. What they’re depicting is the moment of the greatest intensity during the battle for Omaha beach. I would just mention that Omaha beach, it was really six separate battles, each battle functioning separate and almost entirely autonomous and disconnected from one another for the first half of the day on D-Day.
And what the screenplay writer did was he chose the battle that provided the greatest amount of drama because. Me, U S army, fifth Corps landings, and the dark green sector of Omaha beach. And those are landings primarily carried out by, two times of the 29th infantry division. And then with a few Rangers shown in, that is where the entire assault goes entirely wrong.
The historical quote that I think most effective when communicates how bad it was there is what happens to a company of the 129th division. A company landed with 164 officers, men, and within five minutes of combat in front of the German master Bucher complex, Ray had suffered 91 killed and 65 wounded.
Wow. So that literally in the span of five minutes and entire infantry company was reduced to complete an effectiveness. And that’s significant Decaux because the first way that Omaha beach consistent of mine, infantry companies spread out over the entire length of the beach and Omaha beach is five miles wide.
Out of the nine infantry companies that conducted that, I want to marry assault. One of them is destroyed entirely. In front of the defenses adopting sector.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:05:30] How many people overall would have been going a, I know you mentioned the number of a division, but just getting a sense of how many people there are.
Storming the beaches is five miles stretch of beach. How many people were there overall that were involved in the invasion there? Well, if
Marty Morgan: [00:05:45] you consider just the first wave, and of course there were, or more than just one way during the day on June 6th but if you consider just the first wave nine infantry companies as approaching.
1800 to 2000 men, they’re going up against Germans and basically 13 resistance nests or bunker complexes, and the total number of Germans that were immediately in the side of positions ready to resist the landings at right after Dawn on D day, total number of Germans is about 600 so our assault force, even with just the first wave.
Possesses numerical superiority. Well, the German defending force was behind concrete. And then also, in positions that were built into terrain so that they had elevation over the battlefield. Bluff at Omaha beach is about a hundred feet tall. Gender positions were at the water level and they were on top of the bluff.
The effect of the elevation, terrain, concrete finding positions, punching as a force multiplier that made it possible for those German defenders to inflict heavy casual jeans for a brief period of time or point. I love to make when discussing the movie saving private Ryan, is that you can go just a few hundred meters to the East down the length of Omaha beach.
Where you’re encountering us fruits that are landing first ways and they’re receiving a little bit of harassing buyer at long ranges to where the fire is not entirely effective. In other words, you could, you had Americans that landed that were just a few hundred meters to the East of sector and almost everyone gets out of the landing craft, gets through the beach obstacles and makes it to this thing called the shingle.
With light casualties that stands in strong contrast to what happens at dark green sector, which is of course what’s depicted in the opening scene of the movie where you have effectively cataclysmic casualties.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:07:49] Yeah. The impression I got was that was essentially what was going on everywhere, because of course, that’s the only thing that we see is this just mass rain of of fire as these people are getting out of the landing vehicles, and so I just assumed that.
That was happening everywhere on the beach, but it sounds like very, very different experiences.
Marty Morgan: [00:08:10] That’s absolutely correct because the movie will lead you the impression that it was a five mile wide slaughterhouse and it simply was not that. It just wasn’t that at all. I make the larger macro argument that the depiction of the moment of greatest chaos and casualties, it sort of fit something that’s been.
Going on in the overall narrative of the war movie as a genre and cinema for at least 50 years now. And I argue that the era of Vietnam introduced certain levels of disenchantment and cynicism to the way that Americans comprehend the experience before, and that the Vietnam era changed the way that we understand war and that we always think of it as.
Being led by fools being bureaucratically led to the point of producing massive in effectiveness. A point I like to make too is that it depicts the victimization of the lowest ranking people. And so in other words, since the era of Vietnam, we like to imagine fast cash corrupted, high ranking officers that are when far removed from the experience and fighting on the front who are planning about Oles in which.
The best and brightest of American youth are slaughtered needlessly on the battlefield and private. Ryan, I find is a movie that at its core is very patriotic, which is why it came as such a surprise to you when the movie came out and I caught it for the first time in the theaters, I really felt like a change of gears because it’s a movie that in the end is very patriotic, very, very romanticized, but at the same time.
Yeah. I find that it selects some, some of the tropes that really characterize the era of the Vietnam war movie. Interesting.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:10:04] Well, after. The soldiers land on the beach. Again, going back to the movie, we get a look at how they advance inland first. There’s some mental obstacles that the Germans set up to prevent vehicles from landing on the beach, but they use that as cover much cover, but it’s better than nothing.
One of the lines of dialogue as they’re getting shot at there kind of struck me as interesting. And there’s a soldier that yells to Tom Hanks, his character, captain Miller says something like, what are your orders, sir? And he replies, get your men off the beach. Like they had to be told not to just hang out there as they’re being slaughtered.
The next step of this advanced inland here is. Barry Pepper’s character Jackson. He’s a sniper, so they use covering fire to get him into position to take out the men and machine gun nest. And then from there, the American soldiers make their way to the German bunker. They use a mixture of grenades and a flame throwers to clear out the bunker.
And of course, you know, we see the, the soldiers on the other side tell the other soldiers not to shoot them because they want him to burn up with the flame thrower. After this, we see captain Miller sit down to survey the beach. And it’s just a very high level overview of how the movie shows basically the troops getting a foothold on D day.
How accurate is that depiction of how the soldiers advanced from their landing craft to establish a foothold? How accurate was that?
Marty Morgan: [00:11:33] Let me put it this way. It is the most accurate today. That’s as nice as I can be. Because once you begin to pick this scene apart, like with an advanced course and knowledge and the history of DNA invasion, it’s hard not to acknowledge the fact that there are some substantial errors in authenticity and the way the scene is depicted.
It feels almost wrong for me to Hart on those, and I try to stay away from them as much as possible, but because I believe that the scene. I think that’s the most memorable takeaway of the entire motion picture. That whole first 20 minutes of that film is what galvanize everyone. It’s what grabs you by the throat and pulls you into that story.
It’s such an effective moment and so making, you know, I remember the first time I sat through it, I mean, it was, it took my breath away. It’s such an impactful moment in cinema. With that said, it’s got lots of problems and let’s just start with the flame thrower. Don’t shoot. Let them burn. There is absolutely no use whatsoever of the flame thrower on Omaha beach on Tuesday, June six 1944 so right there, we’ve got a big problem.
Because as a person who leads tours to Normandy many, many times, every year has been doing so far for 20 years. I have basically been doing so and the era since the movie private Ryan came out because it came out, what was July 24th, 1998 it’s been almost 22 years since the movie came out. I’ve been leading tours during that era.
That’s sort of something that comes up basically with every tour. And I’m not saying that we did not conduct the amphibious landing without play, but it was, there were, flanker was used on D-Day, just not on Omaha beach. They’re used in the British Canadian sectors, for example, with for the fact they were used on armored fighting vehicles, particularly with great effect, but not in the American sector, and definitely not on Omaha beach.
So a moment that provides a lasting impact for the viewer is built around a core level of historical INAX mercy. I personally have to spend kind of a lot of time dealing with when I’m on the scene on Omaha beach, taking people through the advanced course of what actually happened on D day. Because what I’m finding is that people have maybe read a little bit about June six they’ve watched the movies, they’ve watched private Ryan, and they come to Normandy and it’s almost like when they get to Normandy, then the actuality of the learning experience can begin.
Again, I feel like saving private Ryan did wonders for this subject. I think it created the era where there’s an enormous thirst for knowledge about DDA. It puts normally kind of back on the map as a tourist destination for Americans. I can speak to that because I might not have that tour guide work we’re at, not for that movie.
In other words, Steven Spielberg had not decided that this was his next passion project. I might be working at the post office, but instead I spend, I get to spend a great deal of time on Omaha beach every year, and I absolutely love every bit of it. And I have to acknowledge and thank the movie saving private Ryan for making all that possible, because these movies really offer such a powerful tool for getting people interested in the subject matter and getting people enthusiastic about subject matter.
So it feels, I feel bad when I harp on things like no flame throwers on Omaha beach forces landed on Omaha beach with flippers, but a major moment for the landings of the us army fifth Corps on Omaha beach is that the troops are, for the most part, landed the troops of the first wave or landed for the most part on a sandbar offshore.
That compelled them as a way to ensure to Wade through water that got deeper and deeper. You can see this in this famous photograph that was taken by us. So Sergeant Sergeant and the Sergeant photos show a group of men from 16th infantry regiment, first infantry division, landing in front of the easy red sector of Amal beach.
There’s a photograph that shows them on the landing craft right before they land, and then there’s a photo of the ramp down on the yellow CVP and the men are waiting for water that comes all the way up to their chest. That I think provides a really powerful piece of evidence. As to why things went wrong with things like flank borrowers and also radios based where pieces of equipment that were never matched to be submerged in salt water.
And yet they weren’t immersed in salt water on DDA, which is why for the most part, radios and plank borrowers do not work on Omaha beach. So you’ve got a big problem there with the slang. Something that attaches nicely. Then the plan for one point is just the depiction of the bunker from the don’t shoot, let them burn moments.
That bunker is not something that appears anywhere on the landing gear in a 50 mile wide stretch of beaches in Northern France where the multinational coalition landed on D-Day. There is no bunker like that. Really? There are none. Absolutely not. It’s a complete false. There are bunkers that look like that, that are in the overall German system.
Oh, prefabricated design. But you don’t have one like that on Omaha beach. So that when you see the flank or come into the back of the position and then he gets the plane and you see, a hardened position that’s on the face of the bluff looking straight out to the water. What that looks more like an observation position than anything.
You don’t have that on Omaha beach. What you have are a series of fighting positions that present a much more modest profile. And when I say that, I mean a profile that’s a little bit harder to shoot and destroy. There basically are two types, I should say, three types of fighting positions on them. All beach.
There are fighting positions or heavy weapons like anti-tank guns. 88 millimeter guns, 75 millimeter guns. Those positions are for the most part oriented, not out to sea or oriented to direct insulated fire gumbo length of the beach, and all of them have a traverse wall that protects the ombre show, which is the opening through which the gun points.
Then there are a series of fighting positions for automatic weapons. They’re much smaller and overall scale. And those fighting positions in some cases do point out to see, but the Germans also on Omaha beach had a large number of fighting positions that were basically improvise, meaning they were dumped positions that use launch sandbags to reinforce them.
Then you also have positions that concrete underground positions for mortars, and since I just spoke that word, I feel like I should jump ahead real quick and just address one other subject. There’s a very arresting moment in that opening scene of private Ryan where you see an LCD being Glenda grafts on the beach.
The camera perspective is over the right shoulder of a German mg, 42 gunner, and that gunner is just dumping a built of eight millimeter ammunition straight down through the ramp into the landing craft, slaughtering everybody on board the land craft. I’m not saying that there’s. A basic problem with that depiction, but I would say this, it has led people to believe that there were a very large number of mg 42 machine guns on Omaha beach on D day, and it has led people to the further misapprehension that the mg 42 was a decisive weapon against Americans landing on Omaha beach.
It certainly was not. That is definitely not what happened. There was an assortment of different types of automatic weapons on Omaha beach. Not all of them were empty 40 twos in fact, the minority of them were in G 40 twos and the mg 42 well, I should say this, the mg 0.2 and all of the other different types of automatic weapons, many of which were foreign.
By the way, those weapons were far less effective than the opening scene of private Ryan would have you believe. What that leads you to believe is that. The entire area. Everyone’s being slaughtered because the entire area is being swept by machine gun fire, and it makes you furthermore think that the entire Omaha beach area was being swept with machine gun fire from engine 42 there were empty 40 they were the minority of all of the different diverse types of automatic weapons that were there, and automatic weapons fire did not produce anywhere close to the total number of casualties that the actual big killer on D they did.
And the big killer on Omaha beach was the German model, 1934 80 millimeter mortar. That weapon does most of the dirty work against American forces landing during those early hours of June six. There
Dan LeFebvre: [00:20:45] was a moment there, I think it was Tom Hanks, his character when out, remember the soldier’s name that was talking to him, asking him what the orders were, but he made a comment where they’ve cited in every inch of this beach, and I’m assuming that was referring to the mortars.
Would that be correct?
Marty Morgan: [00:21:00] That would be correct, and I should just mention this, that the one cool thing that private Ryan does is that it borrows from stories from a number of actual living people, because. I could see why Spielberg made a movie the way that he did. And I appreciate the movie that he made and I liked the movie, but he didn’t want to make a 100% sure and actuality based documentary the way that the longest day was.
For example, he wanted to create a story that he had some freedom to be flexible with, to create circumstances, to create tension between characters. He did the things that storytellers. And it was all based on the story of Tuesday, June six 1944 and a few days thereafter for the Tom Hanks character. He borrows from a few different people.
I’ll probably mention them as we continue speaking, but since you mentioned the quote of getting your men off the beach, I would just say that in that moment, they borrowed from the story of the man who come back to Amanda, the us army 16th infantry regimen on DNA. His name was Colonel George Taylor.
Colonel Taylor. And landing. Notice that there were, the assaults towards the beach had largely lost momentum, and the reason that that momentum was lost was because that as men came off of their land and grass, they found that they were vulnerable to enemy small arms fire. And more importantly, in our fragmentation from enemy mortar fire, the men then moved quickly through the belt where the obstacles were located.
And they found that when they reach the beach itself, not, I’m not talking about the water line, but they’re reaching the, basically the high water line because we landed at low tide as the tide was beginning to come in and at the high water line on Omaha beach back then, it’s not like this today, but 75 years ago there was this thing they call the shingle and the shingle was ripped rafts.
They were, they were river rocks about the size of your fist. By the millions, they were poured right at the water’s edge to prevent scouring of the beach from seasonal winter storms. The shingle will, as a result of wave action, it will take the form of a little bit of a ledge. And there are only two places that I know of today.
the overall length of Omaha beach where there’s a little bit of shingle still left, the shingle has largely been removed. So the Omaha beach should you see today, looks quite a bit different than the Omaha beach. On June 6th, 1944 what Jordan Colonel Taylor was finding was that as men came off the land and graft as they made it up to the beach obstacles, they were being picked by smaller fire and fragmentation promoters.
The men press forward from there, and when they reached the shingle, they found that this ledge created in the shingle by wave action provided a degree of shelter, meaning that when the men reached that ledge at the shingle. That the enemy, automatic weapons fire could no longer get to them. And the only way that we’re going to get to them would be to drop mortars and right on top of them.
And so what Colonel Taylor noticed was that the men had gotten off the landing craft guidance through the obstacles, reached the shingle, and then the entire drive inland lost momentum right there because the troops had had cover and concealment. And I can’t say that I blame those men for stopping at the point where they were at least out of those small arms fire and the mortar fire.
The only problem was that the enemy could then begin dropping mortar fire in all of them. And Colonel Taylor realize that, so that when Colonel Taylor came off of his landing craft, as he moved across the beach through the obstacles, and when he reached the shingle and looked around and saw that nobody was moving in, once he realized, okay, we can’t stay here.
Because if we stay here, they’re going to get us, they’re going to stop, start dropping mortar fire on us. And that’s where you see the first moment, the Tom Hanks character, John Miller is inspired by something that was done by an actual historical character. In this case, Colonel George Taylor and kind of Taylor.
We provided this quote right then that became memorable and is often cited in the quote was, there are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach. Those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here. And that quote, as time goes by has changed and merged a little bit and to a certain degree, it informs the captain Miller character’s quote when he instruct Sergeant Horvath to get your men off the beach.
But there you have a moment where his experience is based on someone who actually survived day. There will be a few more before the scene’s over with.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:25:47] What about the way the movie shows Bangalore’s cause there’s a scene there where after the soldiers get off the beach, after Miller tells his men to get off the beach, they make it to a berm in the sand.
And then using that as cover, they use Bangalore’s, which in the movie looked like long metal tubes. They put an explosive in one end and basically they just throw the whole thing over. The sand berm. And then a massive explosion later and the men are able to advance closer to the machine gun nest. And that almost seems like a bit of Hollywood magic there.
How well did the movie do depicting those.
Marty Morgan: [00:26:22] I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Samuel F Fuller’s big red one from 1977
Dan LeFebvre: [00:26:29] that does not ring a bell. No. How to look that up.
Marty Morgan: [00:26:32] Do you ever get a chance to have a look at it? Samuel Fuller is an actual person who actually lived, who actually wrote this. He became a filmmaker and then he made a film that was autobiographical because it was a film documenting his wartime experience and North Africa, and then on day, and they have an entire set piece.
And the DJ scene where they’re talking about the vendor, Laura torpedo, and it’s all extremely negative and it if by itself, most people don’t remember this film, but they remember the Bangalore torpedoes sequence in the film because he delivers it in this very Vietnam era. Deep sedatives, cynicism of everything’s corrupted, and it’s something like the dialogue is something like the Bangalore Tokyo fiendish invention that somebody, some bureaucrats sitting behind a desk came up with.
They thought it was good idea about how to blow your way through barbed wire, and then it goes on and with a similar tone and it’s very negative. And then it depicts like the troops. Nobody wants to come forward. To push the Bangalore torpedo through the barbwire, and it’s almost, it’s very Vietnam and that, it’s sort of a, it’s like the officer, you go up there and die, and then the men, like, I don’t want to do it.
I’m not going to be the man that dies. And I believe that that doesn’t identify world war two at all. But, he’s a great deal of criticism on the Bangor torpedo win. Bangalore torpedo was a pretty cast weapon system that was really good at blowing stuff up and we use it all over the place. We used it not just on beaches, we used it in street battles.
We used it all the time, and it was the best way of blowing a big gap through far more entanglements. And that’s why for the first lame on Omaha beach, we have these embedded with the benign infantry companies. Each, each company had what they call the gap team. And the gap teams were equipped with poll charges and vendor torpedoes and the gap teams.
Their mission was, get off the boat, get up to the, she’ll get up to the barbwire, assemble your Bangalore’s below gaps, and they were, for the most part, successful. It’s just that it was never anticipated that they would have to assemble Bangalore torpedo segments under fire from the enemy because a bunch of things had gone wrong.
Me. Preliminary enabled from, it was supposed to have taken care of the opposition and then the troops were supposed to land with tech support and they did. And the result was that you have guys trying to assemble Bangalore torpedoes under automatic weapons, fire and mortar fire. And so there were casualties and there was a delay and getting the Bangalore torpedoes up and online.
But that doesn’t mean that the Bangalore torpedo was a bad weapon because each section has nine fricking pounds of composition to be high explosive. And it was, and it was not even just the composition fee. It was a combination of 80% composition, B T and T and 20% ammonium nitrate. That’s right. It’s 80 20 80% TMT, 20% sodium ammonium nitrate, and nine pounds of embed is one hell of a big explosion.
And, and it absolutely shredded those barbed wire entanglements. So the weapons system is completely successful. And so when you see it in private Ryan, luckily they didn’t go down the route that they did and the big red one, the moving big one, but private Ryan, you see him, they’ve gotten the sections assembled, and then you see somebody attaches to you section to the back end, and then he pulls the friction primer on the fuse wire.
I wanted to mention it because that is a level of technical authenticity that I really respect that they did that because they show him do that, and then the explosion that follows that is like an Armageddon, which is what it would’ve been, because consider the standard. I think there’s sections that like gap team number 10 on Omaha beach.
They have five sections connected together where they blew their gap. And that’s five times nine, that’s 45 pounds of high explosive. That’ll blow them out of anything. I mean, that’s, that’s why I’m I, that was a level of authenticity in detail and private prior on that I thought was really cool that they would pick them that so effectively.
And it’s a moment then if you blink, you miss.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:30:49] Would you say it’s fair to say that. What they did and dog green sector in the movie was basically take all of these different experiences that were happening on D day and compress them into as if they all happened in this one location. Would that be a fair assessment?
Marty Morgan: [00:31:06] It is a fair assessment. In fact, I would say that what happened there is I live in Louisiana and everything gets compared to a gumbo. It is a gumbo. That’s everything all mixed together. To create a scene that provides the absolute greatest possible tension, suspense, action, and drama. I mean, and that’s the sign of good storytelling and therefore filmmaking, but we should also be careful.
Yeah. When someone tells story well and provides excellent filmmaking, we should understand it’s not a documentary
Dan LeFebvre: [00:31:42] for sure. You mentioned the first 20 minutes or so, and it was about 20, 21 minutes or so, depending on where you start and stop, from when the landing craft drops the ramp to when captain Miller is surveying the beach, how long did it actually take for them to establish that foothold?
Marty Morgan: [00:32:00] It changes from place to place. I hate to give you typical story and answers because it’s a story. It’s like to qualify things, but I recognize basically six battles for Omaha beach and in those six battles you can Mark how in each one of these pods of action. Men land, get off the beach, get up to the top of the bluff, and typically the point where we acknowledge that they’ve reached the end of the line is when they reached the top of the bluff, the first force to make it off the beach to the top of the bluff on D day.
That was a period of time. I’d say a little over two hours approaching three, which says something powerful about what happened on Omaha beach. Because the plan was not that we would spend almost three hours bogged down by enemy machine guns, mortars. The plan was that we would land overwhelmed the enemy and move quickly into the interior, bypassing the enemies beach defenses because we knew that once you’ve moved beyond the beach and you moved into the interior, the enemy’s ability to defend was greatly undermined by density of defensive forces and terrain.
In other words, we were not planning to lose a lot of great people trying to punch through the beach defenses. And that’s, that’s what happened. So the first force is up and off the beach, way down at the far left far Eastern end of Omaha beach. And that is a forest that was led for the most part by a Lieutenant, by the name of Jimmy Montes.
It’s an Avanti. It gets his man off the beach. He actually leads to. Sherman tanks up the cardboard draw. They engage in intense action against a German bunker complex at the top of the couple of draw the far Eastern end of Omaha beach and the Fox sector, a place called WN and they’re up some point between nine and 9:30 AM they’re the first off the beach, the place where you get the men the last to get off the beach to the top of the bluff.
That’s happening in the area of the 16th infantry regiment and the aging per country. That’s just to the East of Dawn green sector. So then by 10 o’clock. Basically the entire objective of getting off the beach.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:34:27] Okay, so it sounds like not only did they compress everything as far as the events themselves, but also the timeline was compressed to some as well.
Like you said, end of the day, it’s not a documentary, but to tell the story.
Marty Morgan: [00:34:41] Precisely a great example of how it’s done in another project. That’s where quite famous people love to talk about episode two of the HBO mini series band of brothers, and in that episode it depicts this battle of personal break or manner where.
Jeanette’s Dick winters leads his man and an assault on a gentleman gun battery, and that’s two of the ATO series. That attack unfolds over about a 20 minute time period when in actuality the battle of record manner goes on for almost six hours during the day on June six don’t make it requires you to strip down timelines and compress facts.
And that process of progression is something that exerted itself. the movie saving private Ryan in a powerful way, and that early scene. But I would, I would just say this because as much as I like to go actually bud, and then point out a bunch of obscure facts that nobody cares about, the fact that you do get a scene that is effectively 20 minutes of nothing but a combat and action.
For all of its shortcomings. I would say that there is no living filmmaker on this planet that could get away with doing that except Steven Spielberg. Because any other filmmaker would be under the supervision of executives and studio executives. One would want the film to conform to a more traditional action movie format.
You can look at other movies that came out in the aftermath of private line movies that I always like to say, you live in the shadow of private Ryan movies. Movies that just didn’t perform like that. Film movies that didn’t create the legacy, that private rides. I think this movies, like a movie that I actually really liked the send red line, it just didn’t live up to the press.
Brian legend, the movie wind talkers. I think it’s a great example. That’s a film where the director was under a lot of studio pressure to conform to certain tropes of what an action movie, what they believe in action movie is supposed to be, and the movies. It’s not memorable. It’s got a lot of problems with it and it’s kind of not a good movie on every level.
Private Ryan, on the other hand, when. Spielberg sat down to make that movie. He was at a point in his career where he could do whatever the hell he wanted to do, and it’s, it’s good to be the King and I’m thankful for that because be over. He did not have studio executives pressuring him to make the movie that they wanted to make.
He was making the movie he wanted to make and he wanted that 20 minutes to do something to the viewer. And I think just seems magnificent.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:37:22] It throws you in the action and if nothing else at the end of it, it makes you want to find out more about what actually happened.
Marty Morgan: [00:37:29] If I had to indicate an overall greater good serve by the movie that’s got some historical accuracy problems, I think you’ve just identified it and that is that.
That will be cause. Interest and enthusiastic. Just flip it to life at a time when interest and enthusiasm and the second world war was dying off pretty quickly. That movie brief, the new breasts of LUNGevity and two enthusiasts for world war two history. I just wish. And Steven Spielberg would make another world war two movie that gave me 20 solid years of work.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:38:04] He’d go, well, it’s Steven. If you’re listening to this,
Marty Morgan: [00:38:09] get up there and get to work for me. There you go.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:38:12] All right. As well. Speaking of the movie, going back to it after the invasion, we. See these events lead to what does that, what is the main storyline and the title of the movie? Saving private Ryan. And it starts when we see some of the bodies of the soldiers lying on the beach, and one of them, the camera focuses in on is S Ryan.
From there, we’re taken two rows of desks where women are typing away on typewriters. They’re writing letters to families back home, letting them know that their loved ones are gone. One of the women notices something, and then before long, she’s heading with three letters to one of the offices and we see some of the names here.
It’s, it goes up the chain to, Colonel LW, Bryce to general George C. Marshall, who is the United States Army’s chief of staff. And then we find out that there are three Ryan brothers who have died. Two of them died at Normandy, one in new Guinea. Colonel Bryce explains to general Marshall that the four Ryan brothers, three of them have passed, but they were all used to be in the same company in the 29th division.
But then when the Sullivan brothers died on the Juno, the Ryan brothers were split up. We don’t get a lot more context around that. He just mentioned that a line of dialogue there. And then he says that the last one left alive, or maybe he’s alive, we don’t really know. It’s James Ryan and he’s part of the hundred first airborne.
He was dropped about 15 miles inland near Newville, which is behind German lines, and then that sets in motion the whole. Plot of the movie, which general Marshall pulls out a letter from president Abraham Lincoln, addressed to a woman named mrs Bigsby in Boston. And after reading the letter, he decides they’re going to go on this mission and try to bring private Ryan home.
So that’s how the movie sets up this entire mission. How much of that actually happened?
Marty Morgan: [00:40:01] All of that is based on effectively two tragic stories. And that’s the stories of the Niland brothers and the Sullivan brothers. It’s most closely associated with what happens to them islands because the Island brothers family story has pretty significant rendezvous with destiny.
And the Normandy invasion nylons were four brothers, Edward Preston, Robert and Fritz. Those four brothers were all serving in uniform. Edward was serving with the crew in the Pacific. Preston was serving as a platoon leader and the fourth infantry division, he landed on D-Day. Bob Niland was serving in the, you got me in the 505th parachute infantry regimen, 82nd airborne ignition, and Fritz was serving and the 501st parachute infantry regimen, a hundred first airborne division, the four brothers.
Their story comes to the significant point on June six and that’s because. Edward was thought to have been killed in action is be 25 we’ll shut down news captured on May 16th, 1944 right for D day. Preston myelin has landed on Utah beach with the fourth division was actually killed in action in the fighting in front of the Chris Beck battery, the largest of the German artillery batteries in the Normandy invasion area.
He was killed in action on June 7th Bob Niland. Robert in jumped in with D company in the five Oh fifth he was killed in action on June six I mentioned the three of them because mrs Nyland was therefore in a position to receive three telegrams informing her of how Edward was missing. Preston was dead and Robert was dead.
Fritz was initially missing an action because when he jumped into Normandy, the experience of scattering of airborne units were such that not everyone reported in quickly. And so there was a period of several days during which Fritz was not even finding what the 130 in it ended up mixed in with the 82nd airborne division.
And if he was therefore carried as missing an action briefly. And so what was therefore potentially going to happen was that. Mrs. Martin islands back in Tonawanda New York. Just the receipt port telegrams announcing the death of her four sons. Although as it turns out, Edward survived eventually, but Preston and Bob were both killed in action and for a brief period of time it looked like French was also missing, just like Edward was.
The story is loosely based on that. That story was told. It was a story that was well known. Before the 50th anniversary of D day, but the story was recounted and Steven Ambrose’s book day, the climactic battle of world war two and it was that book which compiled the stories of a large number of people from the German side, from the USI, from the British side, from the Canadian side.
It was sad book that Steven Spielberg gave to his frankly, writer Robert wrote and said, I want you to give me a screenplay that incorporates all of the elements that make this book great. And ms Filbert and Rodette both recognize that the Nyland story was powerful. It has some parallels with, and it is influenced by also the story of what happened to the five Solomon brothers and those five brothers, George Francis, Joseph Madison, and Albert or Al.
Those brothers were all serving a board. The Atlanta class like cruiser USS Juneau. And that ship was sunk on November 13th, 1942 during the Naval battle of Guadalcanal and all five of those brothers were lost with the sinking of the Juno. It was permitted and us Naval service prior to that moment, or brothers or family members to serve together.
In fact, there were fathers and sons serving on board the USS Arizona, for example. And here you have five brothers serving on the same light cruiser. It’s lost inaction and all five brothers are lost. They become something that patriotic spirit spirit in the United States in the aftermath of the navel metal glove now rally side, now the country against the recognize that that was an especially precious sacrifice for our family to have made for the war effort.
And that’s why you see, we see posters that feature the Sullivan brothers during the war, and the combination of the story of the Sullivans and the story of the come together to form the story of Orion and the movie saving private Ryan.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:44:59] Wow. I can’t imagine what that would be like to received telegrams like that.
I mean, that is such a. Any loss is horrible, but if you think of losing five brothers at the same time, yeah,
Marty Morgan: [00:45:11] I agree with you because I love to meditate on this idea. Oh, how times today are very, very different. Today are Wars that are characterized by significantly lower Moss. You have steaks now has 50 years of Wars, better thought with relatively like casualties.
And with effectively no interruption of the civilian economy. So it’s possible to be an American living during a time of war from 1969 to present. There’s a warming thought and you can live your life experiencing any effect from that war. It’s possible to live in the United States today without knowing anyone currently serving in the United States military.
In other words, the experience of the modern era has insulated us from. A powerful truism, the experience, the American home front experience, and that is that almost every single family in this country, during that conflict, they experienced loss on some level. It was either a husband, brother, father, or son, or it was someone who was a part of your extended family or husband, brother, father, son.
Oh, the next door neighbor. To some level. I don’t believe anyone in this was not lost during the second world war. That’s something that Americans here on the 21st century. I believe that we have to struggle to attempt to empathize with that and to comprehend that
Dan LeFebvre: [00:46:48] there are Wars going on right now that don’t affect us.
Back here in the United States,
Marty Morgan: [00:46:54] we have people killed in action last week. But I’m trying not to be cynical, but it gets, I believe a Oh passing mentioned in the news cycle only to be very quickly by the other palace intrigues high drama that goes on on a daily basis in this country. I mentioned the point only because I, I spend most of my time trying to comprehend as best I can do American experience in world war two and the American experience conflict today is completely different.
Because it’s possible to live your life today. Being totally detached from the fact that the United States is fighting a war.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:47:33] Yeah. You have to put yourself in a different mindset in order to really understand the time. Back then,
Marty Morgan: [00:47:40] everyone was affected to some extent, and if you didn’t lose someone in your family or or among your friends, you were affected by gas rationing, food rationing, or you were part of the wartime economy to some extent.
Everyone. No one was overwhelmed and being affected by that conflict. And I believe that saving private Ryan powerfully by creating the fictional Ryan family based on Manila and inspired partly by the Solomons.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:48:08] Speaking of the characters there. I’m curious about some of the other characters that we see in the movie.
You mentioned captain John Miller. Tom Hanks, his character, being based on a few different people, but there are eight men in the squad that are sent out to find Ryan. There is captain John Miller. Then there’s Sergeant Horvath. There’s private Ryman, private Jackson, private Mellish, private Capozzo, and the T4 medic Wade and corporal Upham.
Are those characters based on real people? I
Marty Morgan: [00:48:39] would say they’re influenced by real people to certain extent. For example, in the film, the BAAR gunner, private ride, Ben, not Ryan, but right. Ben Robin has painted on the back of his model, 1941 field jacket. The words, I think it’s Brooklyn, New York, USA, and that was partly inspired by.
A man who actually thought on June 6th and survived the day, and the late Cheryl Baumgarten, the painted a big star of David on the back of his jacket and put Brooklyn USA on it and reading Steven Ambrose’s book, Robert Rodin, and I believe mr Spielberg had noticed it as well, had noticed that in the Baumgarten story, that there was that, hang on there.
There are elements of these characters that draw inspiration from people who actually lived. And then I should just mention an interesting series of choices that they chose to represent the American melting pot an hour, primary Catholic characters and private Ryan. They also chose to provide some to serve certain Hollywood war movie tropes and that you’ve got.
But Jewish guy, and you’ve got an a town and you’ve got a guy that’s a mild mannered school teacher, and then you’ve got guys that are kind of at each other’s throats, but they’ll risk their lives to save each other in combat. It’s, those are some core Hollywood war movie trunks in and of themselves. And then you’ve got, since we’re talking about private, right, then the VAR gunner, you’d get the wisecrack and lousy loud mouth.
Which is something that, I mean, you can recognize that same character in just about every war movie that’s ever been made to serve to a certain extent. And so this core group of us army Rangers with corporate up on the clerk type of serotonin, the unlikely character among Rangers, none of them looked very ranger in my opinion, but whatever, they’re all serving some standard Hollywood tropes about characterization.
And they’re also simultaneously partially inspired by actual events, by actual characters who lived as a part of the DNA invasion.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:50:56] Hmm. So again, similar to the opening sequence, we have characters that are essentially composite characters that are trying to capture the essence of what it might have been like.
Not necessarily these, this was an actual squad of soldiers that were tasked to do this actual thing.
Marty Morgan: [00:51:15] Right. Because the process of compositing those characters gives the filmmaker so much more freedom because if you try to tell the actual story, you will get mired down endlessly and actuality and being held to people, holding up the ruler of historical authenticity against your story.
And that’s why I respect the filmmaker’s decision to create a fictitious storyline that’s inspired by actual events. Well,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:51:42] there’s two events I want to ask you about, and this is after this squad makes the way to Newville in search of private Ryan. The first is VIN diesel’s character when private Capozzo, he’s hit by a sniper and then Barry Jack, sorry.
Barry Pepper’s character private Jackson. He sneaks around to get an angle on the German sniper and. Which can see from the Germans perspective, we see him looking for the American soldiers among the rubble, and he sees private Jackson’s rifle. Justin’s time to see him fire and the shot goes right through the German snipers scope and hits him in the eye.
That’s one. And then the other event is when Paul Giamatti’s character Sergeant Hill, he’s sitting down to try to get something out of his boot and he accidentally knocked over a board, hits a brick wall, knocks down the entire wall, and then surprise, there’s a room full of German soldiers there. They’re yelling at each other back and forth before then the Germans are shot by Ted Danson’s version of captain Hammel and some other soldiers there.
Both of those events. To me when I was watching this, it just seemed like these are movie moments that could never have actually happened. It seemingly impossible shot and then a surprise stalemate between two groups of enemy soldiers on either sides of the wall. Are there any stories of things like that actually happening?
Marty Morgan: [00:52:58] There are a few instances being hopelessly mixed in together. I’m thinking of a story that was told to me by a veteran, the five Oh seven parachute infantry 82nd airborne division who was trying to cross a hedge row and hedgerows and normally are very dense. They’re there. Six branches. There are a lot of storms and hedgerows making it quite difficult to push through.
Push your way through the bedrail. And this soldier named Johnny Marr was, was a Lieutenant and G got me by the seventh he was trying to push his way through the hedgerow and his hay was pushing his way through coming from the right side and the left side there was German trying to push through at the same spot from the left side of the right side, and the two of them met each other right in the middle of the Centro.
I think about sometimes because that provides the kind of. Combat tension that I think war, movies, love. They feed on that sort of a combat tension. The random moment where something like that happens as you see depicted with that moment in the film. When Sergeant Hill, he, I think he says he’s got a bird in his boot and that’s why he leans up against the wall and take his food off.
A giggle sometimes when I think about that CAS, that tasks is so wildly exceptional and great and weird ways. Ted Danson as an airborne officer, Ted dancing, who was, I don’t know how old he was at the time, but he was too old to portray a us army airborne officer, but whatever. Maybe a division commander, original commander or a division commander maybe.
But certainly not a company commander. Nevertheless, Ted Danson plays the role very nicely. I think that you’ve gotten in there with the person who I think is one of the finest living actors today, Paul Giamatti, because it has this throw role. He’s in there. I have to remind myself, at times, Paul Giamatti wasn’t saving private Ryan, and he doesn’t really fit the form of your average airborne infantry men.
He looks a little bit too. Well served at the dinner table, took that, that role, but then again, almost all of them kind of do in the movie. Nevertheless, Giamatti dancing is good. It’s all weird. The whole scene. It provides something that Spielberg needs. I mean, there’s, there’s literally a formula to making the perfect action film.
And I don’t know that it’s fair to describe private Ryan is just being pure. Actually delve into more than that. Somehow. It’s suspense, it’s action, it’s drama. It’s a different genre than just your standard action. The cornerstone that we always point to perfection and action film making. This movie aliens the sequel from 1986 and there’s pacing to the way that you deliver action within that formula.
And you can see how in private Ryan. They were living according to that formula where you open with a bang with the big Omaha beach scene. Then you pull back and you begin the process of exposition. You begin laying out your story and then, and you lay out what you need. So you divide a movie into three things and the beginning presents what’s needed, what has to happen.
The CenterPoint provides tension and drama, and you get to see that clearly in private Ryan and the scene we’re discussing right now fits into that center phase when drama is needed and it gives you a nice big fat battle sequence that’s totally different than the opening battle sequence in the movie.
And it’s also showing you how combat more money is often at close quarters, that the quality and character that combat is often under unpredictable circumstances. The evidence of wishes to Paul Giamatti moment when the wall collapses and there are Germans on the other side. We’re now at the point where I have to address the elephant in the room because you mentioned the Barry pepper sniper sequence where the bullet comes through his rifle scale, which is based, in fact, it’s based in something that’s reportedly happened, although it didn’t happen during the second world war.
That is a story that is well remembered from a sniper versus sniper duel that occurred in Vietnam. There was a sniper by the name of Carlos Hancock who wrote a book called Marine sniper, and Handcock related that exact story of being stalked by an opposing North Vietnamese sniper who might’ve been a Russian sniper.
It’s just never entirely clear, but he’s being stopped by an opponent’s sniper. And he catches a Glint off of his sniper cell and fires a shot and travels right down to the scope two and strikes the opponent’s snipers through his eye socket. So they borrowed something from Vietnam to make that moment in a world war.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:57:42] Wow. I would have just assumed it was completely made up.
Marty Morgan: [00:57:45] No, it’s not. There are some questions about whether or not it actually happened the way that it was reported. I read Carlos half Cox book when I was a kid and I loved it, and I don’t want to question anything that that man wrote, but the problem with the Jackson character and private Ryan is that there’s a, it’s believed that it would be a one in a million shot for the bullet’s trajectory to align perfectly with that scope too.
And also glass very effectively, right? Glass, particularly Ben glass is not good at stopping them, but it’s really good at decelerating bullets. And so there’s a lingering question about whether or not a bullet would be able to travel down the entire length of this tube of a sniper scope with objective and occupy pieces on it.
I would just refer anybody listening to have a look at. MythBusters tested this twice. As one of the cooler episodes of MythBusters and their conclusion was the board couldn’t get all the way through a sniper skill. Who knows whether or not both circumstances played themselves out and heart Carville, Hescox Cox experience.
That’s less important. What I think is important to this discussion though, is to say that incident is based on something that happened in Vietnam and. I now have to address this issue of the sniper and private Ryan because Barry Pepper’s character Jackson is a complete abuse and a misrepresentation on every level of the way that diapers function within the United States army, in the European theater of operations or in the second world war.
And in addition to that. He’s carrying effectively a Frankenstein of a rifle that did not actually exist during world war II.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:59:38] So there really would not have been a way that he could have shot that cause the rifle didn’t exist to begin with.
Marty Morgan: [00:59:45] Yeah. Right. Well, Jackson’s rifle and private Ryan is the perfect metaphor for private Ryan because the rifle kind of exists, but it doesn’t exist in the way that it’s depicted in the movie.
And it doesn’t. Function. The way that it’s depicted is functioning in the movie. First of all, the U S military really didn’t have a formal sniper program during world war II. Snipers were treated more of as a squad designated marksman more than anything with the a level of informality that you didn’t see during world war one.
During world war II, we had actual sniper training and we dissolved all of that cyber training in the interwar period. And when world war two started, we didn’t. Actually create a sniper program, and that doesn’t really even exist until Vietnam. We had sniper rifles, yes, but we didn’t have a formal program during, by which we trained people to be these precise marksman as they’re depicted in their clients.
All the rifle did was provide a tool that was capable of delivering improved levels of local marksmanship. Now onto the rifle. So the way that the rifle is depicted in the movie for most of the scenes, because if you look closely in the movie, you will see the Jackson character carrying two different rifles with two different scopes.
There’s basically one continuity error. I think my, maybe even two, two moments where they show him carrying a different rifle. And I think that’s just a little continuity or on the pill. So that’s not really an issue. That’s depicting him carrying the model 1903 eight four sniper rifle, which existed during world war two and was used by the U S army, but it depicts him using it with an Mav to scope.
That’s soap was not used by the U S army during world war II, but that’s the rifle that only shows up twice that I can think of during the movie. The scope that is on the rifle and 90% of the shots of the movie. Is your Myrtle eight power scope, which was not used by the United States army during the second world war.
It was used by the United States Marine Corps and the Pacific theater of operations only. And then when it was used by the Marine Corps, it was used on a totally different version of the 1903 rifle. So the 1903 rifle was adopted by us military forces. And your 1903 it served in world war one. It served importantly throughout world war two and it had a big role on D-Day.
The Marine Corps and the army use that as their platform for sniper rifles. But the two guns were. Quite a bit different. They use different stones first and foremost, and the army version was different. Just the rifle, not even talking about scope. The Army’s rifle was quite a bit different than the Marine Corps rifle and the arms rights.
We’ll use the totally different scope. And the the right in the army soap was the , which was only a four power stove was was a little bit weak in terms of magnification. The scope tube itself is pretty modest and dimension. I think it’s one inch in diameter as well. It has an ocular IPS when you would look through, but it doesn’t have the objective.
IPS is not bigger, whereas the Marine Corps version. There’s a big long objective IPS on the stove, and it looks gratuitously a lot more like a powerful sniper. So, and my understanding is that on the set, when they brought out an actual version of the us Army’s in 1903 a four sniper rifle equipped with the appropriate and correct in 73 B one soap.
That apparently mr Spielberg looked at it and went, that doesn’t look very much like a sniper rifle. They looked at some photographs and that he saw the Marine Corps version, which is the 1903 rifle equipped with the eight power new nurdle scope. Anyway, that’s a sniper rifle. We can’t, we get that scope.
So they took that, so put it on the army version of the sniper rifle, which was for the record, different than the Marine Corps version. Cyber April. And that’s the scope that you see Jackson hunting and shooting with throughout the movie, except for two occasions that I call it. And that is of course a version of the Oak Ridge sniper rifle that did not exist at all anywhere during the second world war.
And the scope that he’s using is something that did not exist being used by us army forces in the European theater of operations during the second world war. So for the teen I did student of world war II history and small arms, things like that. The Jackson character is something you kind of have to shrug your shoulders and just learn to live with because he’s wielding this rifle that is a fantasy.
And then come on guys. Lefthanded sniper and world war II, that’s not the way the world works. 75 years ago. If you were a left-handed shooter 75 years ago and you entered the army, you suddenly overnight became a right hand. They really didn’t provide accommodations for people shooting left-handed, but you’ve got Jackson there with the sniper rifle that didn’t exist during world war II shooting.
It is a lefthanded marksman, and so those are little bumps in the road of authenticity that create heartburn for the purists of world war two history.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:05:12] I loved what you said, where like, it’s just a great example of the movie overall. It’s, it’s all a composite. Everything kind of thrown together, and that character is just a great, it just continues the tradition
Marty Morgan: [01:05:25] based on a true story.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:05:28] There you go. Yeah, exactly.
Marty Morgan: [01:05:32] I love the sniper rifle thing. I like the fact that they were at least paying attention enough to depict the diversity of weapons, arming everyone, so within the squad of Rangers to include them, the clerk type of stuff. I’m tagging along. You’ve got the diversity of firepower represented, and then when you bring in, like when the Matt Damon Ryan character comes in, the a hundred first airborne division, paratroopers are brought in, you seeing in other weapons come in, and that’s the 19 1930 caliber machine gun.
In other words, you’re seeing this diversity of the firearms that were used by us forces on today, and I kind of liked that because. I find that a lot of work number, the people that come on my chores, for example, that they imagine that all Americans landed on June 6th carrying the Mon Nate shot rifle and that everybody fought with that.
But in private Ryan, instead you get, you have someone with a sniper rifle. I’ll be at home. You have Sergeant Horvath carrying me in one car meet. Although the Sergeant probably would’ve carried something different. You’ve got captain Miller carrying . You’ve got Robin carrying the MIT 18 Browning automatic rifle, and then you have three men armed with the M one rifle.
You’ve got Carrizo, Upham scaring, and then one rifle, and then Mellish is carrying them on iPhone. And I like the fact that they’re representing the diversity of firearms that were being used during the era of a D day invasion. I just wish that captain Miller and Sergeant Horvath had to switch weapons.
Because you would typically see an officer carrying carby and you would typically see a technical Sergeant, Karen Thompson submachine gun.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:07:12] Really? Why is that?
Marty Morgan: [01:07:13] That’s just basically the way that the T owning the table of organization and equipment for us army fighting units and European theater authorized who would carry what weapon and it differed according to the type of unit you were in, whether you were an infantry unit or a supply unit, or for example, a ranger unit.
And it’s typically authorized officers and ground units, non airborne carrying the Amman Carvey. But yeah, Tom Hanks, his character, John Miller carrying the Thompson and then the Sergeant Horvath character armed with the Thompson Horvath is carrying the Carvey Miller’s carrying adoption.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:07:53] Huh. That’s interesting.
I would never have thought about who’s carrying what and whether or not that would have been correct or not. I do like that you pointed out the diversity there.
Marty Morgan: [01:08:02] Yeah, I absolutely love the fact that the movie did that because if there’s one larger point that I could make about saving private Ryan, that is that I believe that it is today, but greatest achievement and the authentic presentation of a world war two subject.
Perfect. Excellent. But it’s the best that I’ve seen yet.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:08:28] End of the day, it is still a movie. It’s not a documentary. So you’re never going to have something that’s going to be 100% authentic. It’s not what movies are.
Marty Morgan: [01:08:37] Right. And I believe that what they did achieve in that film, in terms of authenticity was on such a higher plane than movies that were around it that came before it came accurate.
I think that what they achieved in terms of authenticity spoke powerfully too, a certain audience, people that the world of world war II reenacting basically. It basically came alive after that movie was released, and I think it’s because there were people that appreciated the effort that they put into creating.
And authenticity that you haven’t seen in previous selves. And that is, I have to acknowledge respectfully the fact that mr Spielberg, you terms over issues of authenticity to someone in the film business that has a pretty good track record of delivering authenticity. And that’s Kevin Dale dye. He was in charge of training.
The accuracy was in charge of helping create the atmosphere of authenticity that. Generally accompanies the film. And while that atmosphere is not perfect, it’s pretty darn good. And I think that the, the goodness of that created a lot of enthusiasm among a younger audience that probably would not have been reached by world war II history otherwise.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:09:55] Now, there are a lot of iconic scenes from the movie, but I want to ask you about one of the scenes that really stood out to me, and that was the dog tag scene. The men in the squad are given a bag of dog tags to see if Ryan’s name is in there. And we see the men sitting down, they start going through them before long, they’re joking around and almost being playful about it as they’re going through the dog tags.
And then meanwhile, you can see other members of the airborne are watching on, and it’s Wade the medic who stops the other men. He reminds them they’re not poker chip. Each dog tag represents a fallen comrade in arms. And this scene really stood out to me because I saw it as a turning point. You could clearly see that these soldiers were becoming, or already word, desensitized to the events that were going on around them as they’re joking around with these dog tags.
I can’t help but think maybe just, you know, a few days earlier. Before D day, they might’ve had a very different reaction to sifting through a bag of dog tags, and it kind of shows how the events that they went through in those few days changed them as
Marty Morgan: [01:11:10] people.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:11:11] Was this sort of desensitization common among soldiers in the days after D day?
Marty Morgan: [01:11:20] I’ve also, although I’ve not been in the military, I feel like I have an understanding of it to a certain level in that I am seeing how gallows humor typically, a companies, military units as they experienced combat, and that the deeper they get into it, the more the gallows humor tends to come out.
And that scene does something very powerful in that it humanizes the loss and come back on June 6th, 1944 and it also sets the stage for this, this daunting task of trying to find one person. If I can sidetrack for one quick moment. I would say that if that scene had been turned over to a lesser actor, I think the scene would have fallen over flat.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who’s the best actor in this film, saving private Ryan, and I believe it might actually be Giovanni Ribisi because that scene. He, he just expressed his subtlety in the way that he realizes that the guys are laughing and joking a little bit too much and that they’re being a little inappropriate for the circumstances and the way that he rushes over and snatches it from them.
I just feel like his acting performance in that scene is excellent. I feel like the second performance in the entire movie is excellence and acting. He’s just a really good actor. I really felt like he brought that scene to life and private. Ryan. Although the scene is completely historically an attribute on every level, and it really gets under my skin and drives me nuts.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:12:53] That was a big turn there.
Marty Morgan: [01:12:56] Well, wasn’t it? You can see how conflicted I am about this film because it’s so great. And at the same time I’m like, where would you ever have one guy that just like, I’ve got 50 dog tags in this bag. People I’ve just been picking up over the last few days.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:13:11] Oh yeah. The pilot, I think it was, was the one that that.
Threw him the bag.
Marty Morgan: [01:13:15] A glider pilot. Yeah, and he’s like, yeah, you’re a bunch of dog tags. There was a general order in place that for combat casualties, you would not separate the dog taxes and casualties because the moment everyone has two dog bags, but this was before the military was practicing this, this tradition of wearing one around your neck and one time their license of your boots got a world war two thing.
So everyone had two tags suspended from the chain around their neck. It didn’t separate the tags from the body, and that’s because the Sachs very specific purpose and that those texts guaranteed that when the unit that came in that was responsible from the point that you would, you were killed on the battlefield from that point forward, another unit was responsible for it.
The unit you were assigned to up to your death. That unit was responsible for you while you were alive, and if you were killed, they were responsible for processing some paperwork about you, but your body then became, fell into the responsibility of mortuary services and graves registration unit, and those units had to collect, remains, identify, remains, and then keep the identification with those remains.
And in order to do that. You had to have both tags with the remains. There are extenuating circumstances. There were times when when human bodies were so shattered as sort of the use of modern weapons that you no longer had a net for the dog tech to hang from, or you had body parts that were separated from the home.
And under those circumstances, yes, you would lose track of the tags, but when you had a complete set of remains, the tags botax stayed with those remains. And that’s why that scene. It makes me kind of roll my eyes a little bit because I can see how that scene gave them a moment of tension and the story that they needed, but I also have to go, they were, that would never happen.
Those tags had to stay with the bodies because they stayed with the bodies and the grace, Reginald registration, mortuary services guys then knew what to do with the body and to identify that
Dan LeFebvre: [01:15:25] body. With those divisions basically following the front lines, or that is just a a morbid job, but it’s a massive one to keep track of all that.
Marty Morgan: [01:15:34] Actually, I can’t imagine the nightmares that those men must have had.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:15:39] No, I can’t. I mean, yeah.
Marty Morgan: [01:15:40] Yeah. The man whose jobs it was to collect cash these on the battlefield, take them to a central point where they were being buried and incomplete sets of remains. That must’ve been traumatized and there’s been a great deal written about that experience in the last few years.
That’s all extremely important and compelling. And in my personal work on one story that I’ve dealt with, I’ve had to investigate what happened with a specific graves registration unit and how they, after the fact, recovered the remains of men who were killed in action. And there’s footage associated with it.
There’s footage of the men of the 603rd quarter master registration. You got me collecting bodies. Oh, that had been temporarily Berry and repairing them and the footage. I can barely watch the footage. It’s so gross. And that was the every day experience of uniform service in the United States army from the men of these units.
And and I should just throw in one plug for them. I spend a lot of time tracking people who were killed in normally tracking how they were killed, where they were killed, and where they ended up buried. And what overwhelms me is that the men from the quartermaster graves registration companies and the mortuary services, those men carried out what I consider to be an extremely challenging mission and the carrying it out in analog era.
Of farms with carbon paper and in trouble get and, and, and there was no digital assistance whatsoever. And they carried out that job with so much accuracy that, and studying this subject intentionally for about 20 years now, I have found very few mistakes and I think all respect needs to be given to the men who picked up our war dead, made sure that they were identified and made sure that they had a proper burial.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:17:43] Yeah. That’s a side of it that I had never thought about before.
Marty Morgan: [01:17:47] And that’s so great. Subject makes its way into the grand narrative saving private Ryan. And that’s almost, I hate to criticize the moment because at least addresses the subject. If the subject made it into private lion, that’s basically a guarantee that here we are more than 20 years later, people are still going to be talking about it.
Cause that’s what blows me away about this movie. I remember when I first started tour guiding, I remember thinking like 15 years ago. I remember, I remember thinking that, I think interesting, probably going to begin fading and, and I certainly won’t be able to, I’m fine. Much of a livelihood leading towards the Normandy.
Certainly not after about 2002, 2003 and here I am almost a decade later and there’s more interest now. Then there was 10 years ago. I think saving private Ryan is to blame for a lot of that
Dan LeFebvre: [01:18:44] and to think and, but at the same time, it’s a conflict.
Marty Morgan: [01:18:48] Yeah. That movie did more than any book that has ever been written.
Any book that I will ever write, any book that’s smarter people than me will ever write. That movie did more than any of us ever could to ensure the continuing popularity of that subject. I want
Dan LeFebvre: [01:19:05] to shift a little bit to some of the geographical side because we’re given some names and movie, but we never get a lot of geographical context about the squad’s search for private Ryan.
They start on Omaha beach, and then from there they head to what the movie says is behind enemy lines to Newville where the dog tag scene was. I did a look on online, and as the Crow flies, it’s about 21 miles or 34 kilometers between those two locations. And then from there they go to Rummel, which is on, the murder at river.
And that’s another four miles or six and a half kilometers. Now since the movie makes multiple mentions that new Ville is behind enemy lines and that was their first destination. I can only assume that all of this is taking place behind enemy lines the entire time. Of course, there’s already other soldiers at mu mentioned the airborne who were already at Newville, so it’s not like.
This rescue squad is the only allied soldiers behind enemy lines. But can you give us a little more geographical context about where the German lines were in relation to these places that we see referenced in the movie?
Marty Morgan: [01:20:16] Sure. The reason that they choose Newton for the film, it’s there. What they’re doing is they’re giving a nod to the time plan, which is the place where Bob Niland was killed on June six.
That’s other referencing that which brings us a little bit of a point of convergence where the story, the true story upon which the intersectional story base, but Nashville is to the North and West. It’s a new deal, as you have already calculated, is pretty far from Omaha beach. It is CLO much, much closer to you, Utah each.
It’s only about. 10 miles and one from Utah beach, maybe a little more, maybe like 11 miles inland from Utah beach, but it is not located conveniently close to Omaha, which is why you have to suspend reality a bit just to go with what. Steven Spielberg and Robert wrote at wants you to go with here, and that is that this group of Rangers that land on Omaha beach at Dahlgren sector are far behind the lines behind Utah to look for a missing paratrooper because practical reality at work here is that this would have been a physical impossibility.
The reason I say that is that between Omaha and Utah, there’s this one town called, and Dan. Karen Zan was the point at which the U S army sped Corps landing on Omaha on the U S army seventh Corps landing on Utah. We’re supposed to come together. They were supposed to come together late in the day on June six maybe on June seven they did not come together for almost a week.
It took time. That was not part of the plan, but it’s not until the hundred first airborne division captures Carrington, and it’s not in July or that actually, and that happens on June 11th it’s not until after June 11 that Omaha beach and Utah beach are able to link up on their flanks. So for a group of Rangers who landed on Omaha beach on DDA to make their way to the area, the drop zone area behind Utah beach, I would challenge.
Is a physical impossible because it would have caused, it would have called for them to not go straight as the Crow flies, 20 miles, 30 miles circuitously following terrain, because the terrain in the area between Omaha and Utah is the area where there, it’s a tributary area for several river systems, and in fact, the dove river, the veer river, the tote river.
Those are all flowing into the English channels and the area between Utah and Omaha. So these guys would have not only had to have gone through enemy territory, but they would have had to have covered enemy territory crossing rivers going well out of their way to go to move across flooded Marsh areas was the Germans seem to it that there was.
Flooding that was beyond just the normal seasonal flooding in the area and the tributary of the mouth area, but near the toilet and the gym. And those men would then have had to have made their way without contacting either the enemy or other Americans for mile after mile after mile. And as we know from the film, they do contact other Americans and they do contact enemy.
But. I believe it would have been physically impossible for them to move from an area behind Omaha to the drop area.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:23:53] that helps a lot. It put that into a little more perspective. Again, it sounds like it was a a story decision.
Marty Morgan: [01:24:01] Yeah. It’s just that that’s a storytelling decision. The creation of the fictional village for a mill that is a village that does not exist.
That village was created just for the purposes of storytelling. That’s what happens in that village is to an extent, based on two, maybe three actual events. Oh. But there were no a hundred first airborne division. Divisionary 2% were sent to babysit a bridge at a village called the Mel because there was no, and is no village.
I’m from Illinois. I respect the fact that they wanted to tell a story and they wanted that story to be a DNA story in one of the do it with a level of authenticity that was unprecedented and they did all of that. But to get there, they had to massage the actuality of the D day invasion and they had to create a few things and they had, they ended up, I think, unintentionally distorted a few things.
I’ve not gotten down in the weeds, just picking out minor little authenticity details like how Spielberg have beach obstacles on Omaha beach backwards. They were facing the wrong way. They were facing out to the water when they’re supposed to be facing the bluff. I’m not sure. I’m not carping on minor issues like that.
Well, I mean, I know I mentioned the bunker and have a bucker on Omaha beach was wrong, but there are going to be little unintentional authenticity slip ups from time to time in a film. Oh. But then they also had to make some major decisions where they consciously departed from the actuality of the historical record.
And they certainly did that with the creation of a fictitional village mill.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:25:36] Well, since you mentioned that, cause that was something that I wanted to ask because according to the movie, that’s again where they find private Ryan and captain Miller gives them the bad news about his brothers. But then.
Ryan, Matt Damon plays private Ryan and he refuses to leave. He says something to the effect of, you can tell my mother that when you found me, I was here and with the only brothers I have left, there’s no way I’m abandoning this bridge. And then we find out from the man in charge, corporal Henderson, that allied planes from the 82nd took out all the bridges across the motor at, except for two of them.
One of them at Valone, and then the other one that they’re at now, and their orders are to defend that bridge at all costs. So we’re left with captain Miller making the decision that they’re going to keep this squad there in order to help hold the bridge and then take Ryan back afterwards. Is the assumption, but you mentioned that there were possibly a couple of stories that this was based on.
Marty Morgan: [01:26:38] Yeah.
What’s going on with.
They borrow a little bit from an action, but the 82nd airborne division is involved in where there is a bridge and it is over. The measure river is a place that’s called Lafayette, and that is the 82nd airborne division primary battle for the first three days of the invasion six all the way through the afternoon of June 9th the 82nd airborne division is struggling with German units in the vicinity, no matter I live across excite that last year.
So it’s sort of based on that where there’s an old 1840s Stonebridge and then also on another story of a med or a river crossing that was just about three miles South of there at a place called chef DePaul. And interestingly, private Ryan, you can, when you read a little bit about Lafayette and shit, it all started suddenly starts to make sense how Robert Rodin.
Was inspired by those two stories in addition to another story that I’ll get into later if you want me to, but he’s inspired by Lafayette and shut the box to a certain extent. There is a, there’s a moment that ship recall that makes its way into saving private Ryan powerfully where a battalion commander and the 507 parachute infantry regiment, 82nd airborne division, a man named Edward.
When they move down and they’re ordered to go and capture this branch intact. So they moved through the township, DuPont, the murderer, a river bridge. A stone bridge is just South of town. Lieutenant Colonel Osbourne runs out onto the bridge, and when he’s justice, he’s about to put his foot down on the bridge.
He’s shot, he falls to the ground, rolls off the bridge and splashes into the water, which is something that we’ve seen and the closing scene, the climactic battle scene and Ramelle and Ryan. But then. The next highest ranking officer takes over, and he was a friend of mine, a person I knew quite well. His name was Roy, and Rick was the commander of the 507 parachute infantry regiment and captain Creek took over the fight for the bridge at Schechter Paul, and he takes the bridge.
He has a small force. He receives a note late in the day on June six. Instructing him to hold the bridge, instructs him to specifically hold at all costs. And I find that Roy Creek’s story to an extent expire, inspires the imaginary story of the 101st airborne division here at traverse fictitious village and the middle on the way.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:29:27] Not to shift movies, but there’s the bridge in the longest day that they have to hold as well. And I, I don’t remember the exact line, but it’s, hold until relieved or something like that. Is that the same story
Marty Morgan: [01:29:40] and longest day when you hear hold until we leave, told until relief. That’s Pegasus bridge over the comp canal and the sword beach.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:29:50] Okay, so not related at all with this story. They’re
Marty Morgan: [01:29:53] not really, but I think maybe philosophically and spiritually it may have contributed some inspiration.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:30:01] Well, yeah, I guess since it’s a fictional story and saving private Ryan, I guess there can be a lot of different inspirations there.
Marty Morgan: [01:30:08] Yeah. No, to me, what it looks like is Rhoda in a commendable way.
I’m not criticizing him. He treated the broad story of the day as like a cafeteria. You can’t cram it all into one movie, there’s no way to do it. That might be would be a hundred hours long, and nobody would sit through it. so he had to pick and choose, and as he went down the cafeteria line, he picked, I’ll take a little bit of Lafayette, or I’ll take, I’ll take a little bit of Rangers on Omaha beach.
I’ll take a little bit of George Taylor on Omaha beach. I’ll take a run, but a Jim Rohn TV on Omaha beach, and he picks and chooses all of these sames to create a story. And objective was not to create a documentary, provided a factual representation. His objective was to create a good story, and I think he should say that.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:30:55] Yeah. Would the strategy that they have in the movie around the bridge be correct though, that they were a vital part of the war effort to maintain those or to keep them from being destroyed by the enemy?
Marty Morgan: [01:31:09] This is where it gets a little weird. Yes and no. Again, the annoying historian qualified answer. Yes.
And so far as the two bridge crossing sites of the murder, a lofi the air and shut the ball are elevated to an incredible level of importance. That’s because of the fact, particularly lucky air. And that’s because of the fact that the Germans had purposely exacerbated seasonal flooding. By manipulating rocks on the veer river, the river, and the dove.
By manipulating these locks they track, they trumped a lot of water in the interior of the cookie tin peninsula, which is where the airborne forced landed on the American air force. And that trap water created a big Lake where there normally was not a Lake. And by big Lake, I mean big, I mean, it is almost 10 miles wide from top to bottom.
And a couple of places. It’s two and three miles across, but at one critical point at Lafayette, the flooded area was only about 700 meters wide where there was the bridge over the river and then a raised roadway called the Causeway waiting from the East side of the flooded area to the West side of the flooded area.
And for the force landing on Utah beach, the U S army seventh Corps composed of multiple divisions of force of over 50,000 men. That force was to land on Utah beach, pushing into the interior and continue pushing westward all the way across the peninsula, the peninsula, the coatings, and Vanessa by securing the peninsula, by cutting off the peninsula, it would then become possible for the U S Senate to engage in maneuver warfare with store divisions.
That would then push from the South to the North to envelop and capture the port city. It’s sharable from its landward approach. That was the overall big picture, core level strategy. And in order to carry out that strategy, the core had to land all of its men and vehicles on Utah beach. And then they had to move westward.
And in order to complete that westward movement, they had to get across. This flooded. And there was really only one good place to get across that flooded area, and that was at last year, which is why the battle of Lafayette unfolds on June 9th on two 44 is climactic and important because it opens up that artery.
What was happening in the days before June 9th was effectively a building and growing traffic jam. Think of a traffic jam that’s being counter attacked by the enemy. That’s what was happening. And then. The 82nd airborne was given the task of punching through, recapturing the bridge Causeway, and therefore opening up on route for ground forces to move Westland, which was the overall strategy in the aftermath of the landings.
So the stakes for the battle thought by the 82nd airborne division are extremely high. They carry the field of battle. They are victorious. They open up. No, I’m lucky, Causeway. And those horses begin moving westward in the aftermath of that victory. And so if we assume that Robert wrote at base part of the fictional battle at rebel on what actually happened at Lafayette, or you could say you could elevate the importance of that site to the highest level.
By saying, if we don’t hold this bridge and the enemy takes it and changes the war, it’s those sort of level of dramatic terms typically accompany motion pictures and it’s a little bit of a Hollywood goopy thing. The scene moments like that elevated these incredibly important terms and it’s a little bit goofy and Hollywood to see like the lowest ranking people.
Echoing these visions of grand strategy, but that happens a couple of times in private Ryan, and I think it had to happen, although it might be a little bit goofy and a little bit laughable, I think it had to happen because you had to have certain levels of character exposition. Like there’s a moment where Tom Hanks talking to Ted Danson.
And they’re talking about Montgomery and how Montes sold over there near Khan. And we have to get to con to get to Berlin. We have to get to Berlin to get to the big boat home. I think I’m quoting correctly, and I find it a little bit peculiar that you would have two captains having these discussions of grand strategy.
And also my big challenge to that idea would be how in the world with two U S army captains know all the details of what’s happening. Far away and the area around call where the British was fine. I think that they wouldn’t, maybe captains discussed brand strategy and down moments and normally, but I think they wouldn’t have had like up to date current events in terms of what the British were experiencing around, Oh, and by that same token, when you see the a hundred first airborne division, paratroopers and the fictitional town rebel discussing how we have to hold this bridge, if the enemy takes this bridge, it’s all over with.
I’m not entirely convinced that the ground troops on the lowest possible level are having discussions of grand strategy. I think that they’re. Conversations will probably reflective of more immediate needs and more immediate concerns like this is how much ammunition do we have communications established with anybody else.
I think they would have been discussing that sort of thing rather than we can let this fridge fall to the enemy or else the entire invasion is undermined. Well. It’s
Dan LeFebvre: [01:37:00] interesting you mentioned that because that is something I wanted to ask you about because in the movie, the whole plan to defend the bridge, they do.
There’s a mention where they talk about how they’re low on weapons and low on ammo, and they know the Germans are coming in, they’re going to come with tanks, and so. According to the movies side, Tom Hanks, his character captain Miller suggests that they make sticky bombs and of course they have no idea what those are.
So he has to explain that you take a sock, you cram it with as much comp B as it, hold, coat it with axle grease and then you throw it, it sticks to the tank. Sticky bomb. That’s their best bet to take off a tank tread. And so we see a mixture of that. We see Jackson with his sniper rifle that we’ve talked about earlier.
He set up and there’s a 30 caliber machine guns that they use as well. And then of course there’s hand to hand combat. How well do you think the movie did showing this strategy in this mix of weapons, even though the moon, the bridge itself in the movie is fictional, but how well do you think it did showing that battle?
Marty Morgan: [01:38:04] me get out of the way first.
First of all. Units of the American a hundred first and 82nd airborne division or not in chattering often as pans are going to deers in that area because this area is androgynously along the length of the to Ray river. And I would just point out that there’s no point during the fighting in Normandy where Waffen SS units engage American air born forces along the metric doesn’t happen.
The hundred first airborne division encounters beds are going to jurors of the 17 best in the area of South guarantees beginning on June 9th but not up at the Murray river. That’s just me being a party. And then also let’s talk tanks for a second, because what you see in the concluding climactic battle scene for a mill is an assault gun.
Oh, really? It’s not really an assault gun. It’s actually. pieces of hell suffer. Don’t steal their jewelry. Let’s see. A self-propelled field artillery vehicle, and you see a tank that is supposed to be a tiger, and just for the record, that as a Soviet P four tank that has been modified to look like a German type, it’s not an actual German tiger.
They just need a big tank. And. There’s really only one function tiger anywhere in the world, and that’s an England number one 31 it was depicted in theory. so they took the Soviet T 34 converted it to make it look like a tiger, and it’s their present in the rebel battle. Just for the record, Americans fighting in Normandy do not encounter a German tiger tank until the Mortein counter offensive in August.
So from June four until August. We don’t encounter types. In fact, it’s not until, I think July 29 that we encounter a Panther. It’s not until like July 28th that we encounter a German Mark forte. I’m saying all of this because I think an important point for us to remember is that. American forces, particularly American parachute infantry forces, do not encounter German made battle tanks until late July.
They encounter this special German vehicle that we’ll call or Sturgess. We encountered those around st Eric lease in the afternoon on June 7th we encountered them in a few other places, but that’s not a tent. It’s an assault. It doesn’t have a 360 degree rotating turret and it is tapable quite a bit less than a tiger or a Panther, or even a month or for that matter.
And we’re not seeing what we are seeing though in terms of German armored forces attacking American paratroopers. Shortly after the invasion, what we’re seeing are German armored forces that are attacking American paratroopers with French made tanks that were captured by the Germans in 1940 in fact, there a tank battle on the loftier Causeway in the afternoon on June six and that tank battle consists of one German made Mark three tanks.
And three French maid tanks being used by a German fighting battalion. The battalion was called and it was a training and replacement battalion that was almost completely equipped with these French made texts. So there are no American paratroopers, Nolan, Jada jog. It’s the type that just doesn’t happen.
I’m sorry. It’s a fantasy. It makes for a heck of a good scene, and it makes for a lot of tension. That whole tension associated with that. You know that moment in the movie where they show Rivan and Hanks and they’re in the hole and the ground shaking, and there’s literally like rocks bouncing up and down the rumbling of the approaching tiger that’s suspenseful and almost discern, it’s just too bad.
It didn’t actually happen during the day or any of the days that came immediately thereafter. So Americans are experiencing. German fighting vehicles, German armored fighting vehicles, but they’re not encountering the front, most frightening beast of them all the German title. So there’s another license that the film takes with the reality of combat during the Normandy invasion.
So the idea of the SS carrying out this coordinated infantry and armor assault against the village up on the murder Ray river. It’s, that’s all a fiction created just for the movie, and it’s all based on, once again, a Dumbo, a mixture of battles from different areas, air, Arizona, finding a new European theater from different locations across the European theater.
It introduces some true and it introduces a lot of distortion and, and mythology. And just for the record, there was a sticky bomb during world war II. It doesn’t end up looking like a stock with grace and competence should be stuffed in it. Although the training manuals, Jim, have a chapter on improvised explosive devices where it’s instructing us troops on how to create a bomb.
That was sort of like that, but not entirely. Again, another fiction that was designed to. It was designed, I think, to recognize an American and unique American spirit of being flexible, being innovative, of working with what she’s got. And that is certainly way that people tend to characterize the American army that fights in the European theater.
but you don’t really see a battle where tiger tanks come rumbling into the town. . Airborne infantry man, and just for the record, airborne infantry is by its very nature, they were born infantry with basically one anti-tank weapon, and that’s it. If you remember in the movie, the one anti-tank weapon they have is the one that was carried by, I think it was actually used by the private Ryan character.
That was a model and one, a one anti-tank rocket launch of what we call the bazooka. So you’re supposed to imagine this force of a hundred first airborne division paratroopers with the group of us army Rangers, and then a 29th division clerk type of stone. And on top of it, they have one anti-tank weapon and they’re supposed to hold off this coordinated assault by walking us as pans are going to be supported by armor.
There’s a lot of fantasy going on in that scenario.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:44:42] Yeah, it sounds like it.
Marty Morgan: [01:44:45] I forgot to give a compliment. I shouldn’t give me a count. One compliment that I think it deserves is that. That scene is an intense combat scene, but it’s got a totally different quality to the intense combat scene that comes at the beginning of the movie.
It’s an intense combat scene, but it’s totally different and I think it’s, I mean, it happened the first time I saw it. I had it on the edge of my seat. I mean, it’s visceral. It’s powerful. The hand to hand sequence is a vocative. And I mean, it’s stimulating and all of the negative ways. I mean, you really empathize with the Meloche character when he’s trying, when he’s engaged in hand to hand combat with this couple, again, often assist Andrew are going to be going near.
That involves them beating each other and biting fingers off, and then ultimately German bayonets, the Meloche character. That’s powerful seat and I think it’s powerful and thought provoking as well. That is a part of the exposition of vaccine. It also addresses the idea of someone who is traumatized by the experience of being in the middle of a battle because of the Upham character as atomized by this battle that’s going on around him.
He’s not ready for it because he doesn’t cope with it well, because he hears middle-ish screaming for his life, just up the stairs, problems there with the loaded in one rifle, he could go up and he can say Mellish and he’s so paralyzed by fear that he does do it. And I think that is an interesting thing.
For the movie with the dress, because that is definitely something that was a part of the American experience of fighting in the European theater and combat in world war two because not everybody, but there were Americans who when it came time for him to turn on their bravery and battled, some men were not capable of doing.
There are some people that in the face of combat, their instincts drove them to retreat, whereas there are others. The greatest levels of self sacrificing.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:46:44] He hear all those stories about the heroic side and the people who do that, you know, they, they rise to the challenge. but first time I saw saving private Ryan, that scene really stood out to me with, with Upham.
And because it was one of the first times that it was like, well, yeah, not everybody’s going to rise to that challenge. It’s just, there’s. Not everybody can. And so I think that they addressed that really spoke volumes and and told a completely different side in just those few moments.
Marty Morgan: [01:47:18] And just like you said, not everybody, it’s set out for it and consider what we, what the American military became, what it had become by 1944 and that is that it was a military force that was composed of a large number of people that volunteered. And then also a large number of people who did not volunteer.
A large number of constructs. People who were drafted. And among the draftees. I am fascinated by the way the us army drafty experience a world war two. The volunteers are people who I think knew that they were cut out for it to begin with and then experience basic training and experience during combat.
They were cut out for it. They had been gotten through that evolution and then a large number of. Men are drafted to the U S army putting uniform. They go through accelerated basic training programs. They are delivered to fighting units in Europe, and sometimes they don’t do well. You have the book ends of experience.
You have the complete polar opposite and that I’m fascinated by the number of us army draftees who go to Europe and on the medal of honor and some of the most amazing bravery you can imagine. And then you also have men, like there was a man named Eddie Slavic. It was in the 28th infantry division who was a draftee and
Once the battle of the bulge began and there was this order in chaos created by the German advancing the battle of bulge, Slavic took the opportunity to desert his unit. It was ultimately found and was tried or divert. Desertion was ultimately executed by firing squad. The one in all the U S army, a soldier who is.
Executed for desertion during world war two he was a drafting. He deserted as unit and Luxembourg. There was another U S army soldier in Luxembourg named J J G Turner, who was a draftee, and who by the time he got to Luxembourg for the battle of the bulge, he had already earned a bronze star. And as a draftee, he went on to earn the medal of honor.
And then was engaged in another act of absolutely incredible bravery when he was ultimately killed in combat on divorce seven 45 and he was a draftee. So when you, when you assemble a citizen soldier, army, and of being the American military ultimately becomes seven 16 million people in uniform from world war two, whenever you assemble a force of that scale and you get there by instituting a draft, some of them are going to be people.
That can handle it and some of them are going to be people that can not, and it interested me very much that the movie saving private Ryan address that barrier. Going
Dan LeFebvre: [01:50:02] back to the movie. Despite taking heavy losses at the bridge, the Americans are able to hold back the German assault just long enough, all hope seems lost.
Captain Miller is mortally wounded and he’s shooting at a tank with this pistol and one of the shots results in a massive explosion, and then we see a P 51 fly over it and they come out and take out the German tanks. Other reinforcements arrive and they push back the rest of the German forces. But captain Miller has been shot.
Ryan makes it to him just before he dies and holding him close. Miller tells Ryan two words. Earn this, and then the movie takes us back to the beginning. We have the elderly man in the cemetery from the beginning of the movie, and this is when we find out it’s James Ryan. He’s there with his family visiting captain Miller’s grave.
He’d stand in front, says he never forgot what he said that day on the bridge, and we’re left with tears in her eyes as the movie comes to a close. Now what I gathered from this was that. James Ryan felt the pressure to live his life to the fullest because he came home when so many did not. Of course, in his case, there was a specific mission to save his life that cost the lives of others.
Was this sort of survivor’s guilt that we see in the movie something common among veterans who managed to make it home after the D day invasion when so many did not.
Marty Morgan: [01:51:32] It was. For my first and second books. I interviewed a couple of hundred veterans, almost all of whom are gone now. and they spoke to that.
Right. In addition to that, I was raised in a household by a Vietnam veteran who spent two years, two tours of duty in Vietnam, and he was traumatized. And I was raised by a man who obviously felt cyber seal. my father’s unit was attacked in Vietnam during the Tet offensive at a place called . Right after my father had rotated out to go home.
And his first Sergeant, who was named after was killed. And I saw the way that my father felt guilt all the way until his life ended. And that guilt, I think simultaneously tortured him. And then admonished him to live the fullest possible life that he, and although he wasn’t a survivor of DEA or second world war, I feel like the experience of the combat between these conflicts is the same.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:52:40] Yeah. I’m not a member of the military. My dad was in the army, but I think it’s just a great.
Marty Morgan: [01:52:48] And
Dan LeFebvre: [01:52:48] great message overall, it still hit me, even though I’m not in the military, it’s still hit me like, you know, live, live your life to the fullest because you never know.
Marty Morgan: [01:52:57] You know, Dan, when that movie, when I sat there with first time I watched in Atlanta, Georgia, and when the credits roll, I looked around and I was like, what the hell just happened in the Sierra?
What I did not, when I went into that movie, that was not what I expected. I can expect a, an emotional drama. I did not expect the level’s Fontis. You know, those, they weren’t perfect, and I certainly didn’t expect a film where if you pay close attention to that movie, establishing shot number one is in waving American flag, it fades up from credits to the Southern flagpole.
Oh, not the Northern flagpole at the Normandy American cemetery. And when I saw that my first thought was like waving American flag, what am, what’s about to happen to me? And this year and then two and a half hours later, I came out going, this is not what I expected. Because keep in mind the era with my, maybe I’m just unique in timing because my era of movie watching was the war movies that I got addicted to when I was young or stuff like longest day stuff like Tora, Tora, Tora rich too far.
From an era when war movies were a bit different, but they were about to change. And then the movies that were new released that dealt with world war two subject matter for movies like big red one and then moved into the 1980s and the movies that came out in the 1980s really the one standout world war two movie, the 1980s from me is meant to spell and missed this bill kind of.
I believed it wasn’t celebratory. and romanticized in the way that private Ryan was. I felt like Memphis Belle was a little bit of of world war II Vietnam movie. And of course, in the 80s, that’s when. The big Vietnam movies were out of the biggest of them all, of course, which I argue established an overall narrative about the experience of Vietnam and is completely distorted and not really factually accurate, but regardless of what I think about these movies, these movies had a quality of disenchantment and, and cynicism.
That you don’t see in the movie saving private Ryan. When I sat down in the theater before the credits, before the theater might STEM to that night, I was not expecting to go down the line of a movie that was going to be a little patriotic, a little triumphal. I didn’t expect it to be quite as reflective.
There are moments where it’s about as subtle as a barn door within. There are moments where it’s pretty subtle and emotional. I did not expect the Salem that Steven Spielberg gave me, and if anything, I still like the lasting popularity of saving private line is because Steven Steven Spielberg did not give us a Vietnam movie that was set in world war II.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:55:52] I wasn’t expecting it to be as emotional as it ended up being. I thought they did a great job of showing the human side
Marty Morgan: [01:56:01] it did. And. I struggle with this cause I like every other historian out there. We’re a dime a dozen and we all have added ideas, screenplays, that we’re going to right now and we’re going to make the next saving private Ryan, and we’re going to be responsible for it.
And I often argue that it is not possible to match that. Oh, that achievement. And here’s why I think it’s not possible. And I think it’s not possible because of Steven Silva. That movie happened because Steven Spielberg wanted to make that move. And people didn’t tell Steven Spielberg how to make us move.
He made a movie he wanted to. So the man who brought us eating brought us the waving American flag and from this, and I don’t mean mentioning ITI to be negative or cynical, I mentioned it because he clearly makes movies that pull at your heart strings and the movie saving private Ryan definitely did that.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:56:55] Definitely did.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:56:56] Well, thank you so much for coming on to chat about saving private Ryan. I think one of the biggest takeaways that I’ve heard from people after seeing the movie and after our discussion is just. How it visualizes, what it must have been like during D day. But that leads us right into an even better way to visualize D day with your book called D day, a photographic history of the Normandy invasion.
Can you share a little bit of information about your book and where someone can pick up a copy.
Marty Morgan: [01:57:26] Sure. Yeah. The book was released or just early mid last year, or just in talking to the 75th anniversary of DNA, it features 450 photographs of the Normandy invasion. There’s some never been published before.
What I sought to do in the book was to. Brain of greater level of specificity to captioning and explanation of where certain famous photographs were taken and what they depict. I also do a little bit of then and now photography the, I do a little bit of storytelling in the book as well, and it was a compilation of my experiences of having conducted interviews with.
Hundreds of DNA veterans and spent a lot of time around the subject and spent a lot of time in Normandy and I’m just glad that it was rereleased some time at the 75th anniversary. I think it is for the most part, the rereleases for the most part sold out now, but I see that copies are available on Amazon and can find it on their own.
The only Martin K a Morgan, but published books on amazon.com I’m proud of it. I liked the book a lot. I look back on it as a positive moment. It didn’t really burn the world down, and I’m in terms of reaching people and it wasn’t a best seller, but the economics of publishing in the 21st century are pretty complicated and I’m just glad to have a book out.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:58:43] Thank you again so much for your time, Marty.
Marty Morgan: [01:58:45] Well, my pleasure. Thank you for the honor of inviting me to be a part of the discussion.