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Facts Behind the Story
Thoughts on the Production
Director Bob Singer was a TV veteran and great admirer of our work on Saving Pvt. Ryan (SPR). He wanted to make a TV version of that film following a single rifle squad through combat in the European Theater of Operations. He also wanted his cast of five regular actors to have the same grit and military flair we were able to train into the cast of SPR. He agreed readily to give us a full week prior to shooting to train the unit in field conditions, weapons and infantry tactics.
Since training was to take place in England where the pilot was to be shot, I immediately alerted Staff Sergeant Billy Budd, our European Liaison NCO, to serve as my assistant and senior Training NCO. We selected an isolated forest on the east coast of central England as our training site and began to gear up for the mission. Weapons were no great problem since the unit was a basic infantry squad. We did not employ supporting arms heavier than the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). The remainder of the weapons were one M1A1 Thompson submachinegun carried by the squad leader, an M-1 carbine carried by the Medic and three M-1 Garand rifles. We also trained with three M1911A1 .45 caliber pistols since pistols played a role in the pilot script.
The script also called for employment of an M-7 portable flamethrower, so we had to teach the actors to carry and employ this weapon. Due to environmental and safety restrictions, we were not able to actually fire the flamethrower until the day it was used in the production.
Typically rotten, misty, muddy English weather and terrain played an important role in this training evolution. We were mostly wet, cold and miserable for the entire week but that added to the value of the experience. Our cast got a good feel for what a WW II Infantryman had to put up with most of the time he spent on combat operations in the field. As enemy forces during this production, I ordered SSgt. Budd to recruit production Armory personnel and they attacked the unit regularly or defended fortified positions to add a note of reality in attack and defense training.
Since we had only a short time to train, the schedule was intense and involved both day and night operations. The soldiers did not sleep much and that was also intentional. I wanted them to have that weary, over-stressed look when we began shooting for camera.