January 16, 2014
Making Of Lone Survivor
Challenging & Controversial
By JAKE COYLE
AP Film Writer
New York (AP) Marcus Luttrell, the former Navy SEAL whose deadly mission in Afghanistan has been turned into the film ``Lone Survivor,’’ strides into a hotel room for an interview, trailed by his service dog, Mr. Rigby.
The tall, hulking, goateed Navy Cross recipient greets a journalist with a rock-hard grip, and nods to director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg, who plays him in the film. This is clearly not what he wants to be doing.
Based on Luttrell’s best-selling 2007 memoir, ``Lone Survivor’’ is about a 2005 four-man operation in northeastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province that fell apart when a trio of goat herders stumbled upon the staked-out SEALs.
After releasing the civilians and aborting the mission, the SEALs were quickly ambushed by the Taliban in a firefight that tumbled down a rocky gulch, killed Luttrell’s three fellow SEALs, left Luttrell badly injured and, in an attempted rescue, killed 16 more men.
``Lone Survivor,’’ which opens like a recruitment video with documentary footage of intense SEAL training, is the latest in a series of films that pays tribute to the Navy’s special forces: In messy, uncertain wars, they’re elite practitioners of precision. In the era of the superhero film, the Navy SEALs have inspired filmmakers as the genuine article.
Luttrell would rather not talk about any of it. He went along with ``Lone Survivor’’ and wrote the book at the urging of his superiors. Compared to the actual events, the movie is no traumatic experience for Luttrell.
``I went through it in real life, so a movie about it isn’t going to affect me in any way,’’ says the 38-year-old Texan.
Hollywood and the American military are worlds apart. But ``Lone Survivor’’ is a uniquely close collaboration, one in which Berg and Wahlberg (both producers) worked under significant pressure from the families of those who died and active-duty SEALs to faithfully render the soldiers’ lives, in battle and in brotherhood.
``I was at the screening when there were a hundred moms and dads of dead soldiers,’’ says Berg. ``And I was at a screening where there were 500 active members of special operations, including Admiral (William) McRaven. And those are different. Because when those lights come up, those people are going to look you in the eye.’’
Over the years, SEALs have been played by the likes of Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal and Demi Moore, and been a mainstay in video games (“Call of Duty,’’ ``Metal Gear Solid’’). But the movies, often in close consultation with the military, have come a long way since 1990’s ``Navy SEALs,’’ with Charlie Sheen.
2012’s ``Act of Valor’’ was acted out by active-duty SEALs and used live-ammo sequences to portray a fictional covert mission. Kathryn Bigelow’s ``Zero Dark Thirty’’ dramatized the most famous SEAL mission, the raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden. The recent docudrama ``Captain Phillips’’ recreated the rescue of the kidnapped mariner by SEAL snipers, with Tom Hanks’ most-moving scene improvised with a real-life Naval officer.
Such productions, though, have given rise to questions of accuracy and charges of propaganda. U.S. senators, including Dianne Feinstein and John McCain, claimed that too much information was shared with the filmmakers of ``Zero Dark Thirty,’’ and many criticized the film for suggesting torture aided the hunt for bin Laden. ``Captain Phillips’’ showed only a handful of the 19 shots that were fired on the three Somali pirates, and didn’t mention the $30,000 that went missing in the aftermath. Retired Army lieutenant general James B. Vaught argued that ``Act of Valor’’ revealed too much about tactics: ``Get the hell out of the media!’’ he implored.
But the military sees in the movies a chance to shape its image and insure some degree of authenticity in depictions of its service men and women. ``Lone Survivor’’ has largely drawn praise as a brutal ode to Navy SEALs and a faithful depiction of the moral confusion of combat.
``For films like `Black Hawk Down’ and `Lone Survivor,’ the commonality is the notion that this is an important opportunity to set the record straight or at least to portray things as they believe they happened,’’ says Philip Strub, head of the Defense Department’s Film and Television Liaison Office.
It can make for a thorny mix of fictionalization, artist license and classification issues. Berg consulted frequently with military liaisons and the Navy Office of Information while writing the script.
``I read the after-action reports,’’ says Berg. ``I looked at the autopsies. I went to Iraq. I met all these guys. We just followed the blue print that Luttrell laid out in his book. We never set out to do something non-Hollywood or Hollywood. We just literally told the story.’’
Says Wahlberg: ``Everybody fell in line with what the goals were, what the agenda was and how high the standard was set by not only the SEAL team guys but their families. It was a lot of pressure, but everybody took a lot of pride in the fact that we were taking part in this thing.’’
When the film, which expands nationally in theaters Friday, premiered at the AFI Festival in November, Wahlberg made emotional comments about actors who brag about military training for a movie.
``I was really talking about myself, because I’ve been guilty of it many times, talking about how hard I had to work,’’ says Wahlberg. ``It’s nothing compared to what they do.’’
But Luttrell emerged from ``Lone Survivor’’ with admiration for Berg and Wahlberg: ``It’s all relative,’’ he says. ``What I do for a living and what he does for a living is exactly the same. We both wake up in the morning, put out as hard as we can and then go to bed at night, hoping to see the next day.’’
``They took this under their wing and they worked with it and brought it to life from the pages in the book, from the blood on the mountain.’’
Marcus Luttrell & Director Peter Berg
This Week In The Civil War:
Fighting In Tennessee
This Week in the Civil War - This series marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws primarily from wartime dispatches credited to The Associated Press or other accounts distributed through the AP and other historical sources.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 19: Fighting in Tennessee.
Union forces intent on better securing eastern Tennessee for the federal government march in mid-January 1864 on Dandridge, Tenn., not far from a vital rail supply line linking eastern Tennessee and Virginia. The Union advance forced Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet to fall back. But on Jan. 17, 1864, fighting erupted between the opposing forces. Confederates backed by artillery and Cavalry forced the Union fighters under Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis into retreat by nightfall. But for lack of more shoes, supplies and ammunition the Confederates were unable to destroy the federal forces outright.
Archaeologist Seeks WWII DNA
From Pacific Graveyards
By Dean Kahn
The Bellingham Herald
Bellingham, WA (AP) Garth Baldwin recently spent three weeks on a small island in the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean, but it was no vacation in paradise.
An archaeologist based in Bellingham, he was sifting coral sand for the remains of U.S. Marines and sailors killed during a bloody World War II battle on Tarawa atoll.
The work left Baldwin drenched in sweat, his hands gritty and calloused. The tropical beaches nearby are littered with trash and fouled by latrines.
``It’s uncomfortable and challenging,’’ he said.
Baldwin, 43, is familiar with military matters, having served in the Marines for four and a half years before earning a master’s degree in anthropology at Western Washington University.
Searching for human remains is a regular part of his job at Drayton Archaeology, but his work at Tarawa was his first time searching for soldiers’ remains. It also was his first time working for History Flight, a nonprofit Florida organization.
The Japanese captured the Gilbert Islands, a British protectorate that included Tarawa atoll, in 1941. Today, the Gilberts are independent and carry a new name, the Republic of Kiribati.
Located midway between Hawaii and Australia, Kirabati straddles both the equator and the International Date Line, making it the only country to occupy all four hemispheres, northern, southern, eastern and western.
Marine graveyard on Tarawa, 1944
``It’s almost the end of the world,’’ Baldwin said, ``but not quite.’’
During the war, U.S. military leaders realized the Gilberts were a crucial link in their plan to island-hop across the central Pacific toward Japan. Their immediate focus was Betio, a small island with an airfield on the west side of Tarawa.
The Japanese also recognized the atoll’s importance and heavily fortified it with trenches and bunkers, tanks, artillery and coastal defense guns, plus 3,000 soldiers and 2,200 Japanese and Korean laborers.
With a coral reef offshore, shallow waters and no terrain to provide shelter, the Japanese held a natural tactical advantage. To offset that, the U.S. assembled some 35,000 troops and more than 100 warships, the largest American fleet at the time.
It was the first amphibious U.S. assault against a heavily fortified coral atoll, a harbinger of future fights against the Japanese.
The battle, launched Nov. 20, 1943, lasted just 76 hours, but carried a fearful price.
About 1,100 Americans were killed, maybe more, and more than 2,200 were wounded. All but 145 on the Japanese side were killed.
The fighting left some 6,000 people dead in the equatorial heat, so quick burial was a necessity.
``I can’t imagine how horrifying that must have been,’’ Baldwin said.
The Japanese were usually buried where they were found.
The Americans were buried in more than three dozen cemeteries, from a few bodies, to dozens laid side-by-side and wrapped in ponchos in trenches. The graves were shallow because the water table on the atoll is high.
At the same time, military construction crews busily expanded the airfield and built roads and offices on Tarawa.
After the war, in 1946, American excavation teams returned to find and identify the dead. But the cemeteries’ boundaries didn’t always correspond to where the soldiers were buried, so hundreds of the dead were not retrieved, and some burial sites had been covered with pavement or buildings, Baldwin said.
In addition, remains taken to Hawaii for burial were treated with a preservative that destroyed their DNA, which, with later technology, could have been used to identify the fallen soldiers.
``We need bones that haven’t been DNA-ruined,’’ Baldwin said.
That’s why he and a half-dozen other workers, including Clayton Swansen of Blaine, a former Navy diver and an ordinance expert, combed five sites in search of remains.
They found bone fragments, ammo, ID bracelets, a canteen, a pocket knife and dog tags, among other artifacts.
Dog tags, alone, aren’t considered sufficient to identify a soldier. For that, remains with DNA, say, an intact tooth or a large bone, is needed. Possible remains of several Marines were found, Baldwin said.
They also recovered Japanese remains, which are relayed to the Japanese government for cremation.
According to the History Flight website, nearly 500 Marines and sailors killed at Tarawa remain missing.
History Flight was started by Mark Noah, a commercial pilot intent on locating the remains of missing WW II service members.
``He’s made a commitment,’’ Baldwin said. ``What he’s doing is really selfless.’’
For information about Drayton Archaeology, see www.draytonarchaeology.com. For information about History Flight, go to www.historyflight.com
Handyman Program’s ‘Angels’ Help Keep Seniors At Home
By Nancy Hicks
Lincoln Journal Star
Lincoln, NE (AP) A handyman program that helps seniors stay in their own homes has not changed a great deal since it began as a pilot 42 years ago.
The handymen and handywomen go to homes of senior citizens to fix window frames, paint doors, put light bulbs in high fixtures, pour concrete, replace rotted-out boards, mow lawns, trim bushes and unplug toilets.
They often stay for a cup of coffee and some conversation, a cheerful interlude for older people who don’t have many visitors, just like they did when the program started in 1971 as one of the first in the country.
And quite often, the seniors send thank yous to the program director, just like they did four decades ago, before computers and email and tweeting.
People were very appreciative, Tim Howell, now retired, who managed the Home Handyman program soon after it began in the early 1970s, told the Lincoln Journal Star.
They still are. ``Thank you for a very nice service. You sent us a very, very good plumber,’’ said one handwritten note sent with a recent payment.
The private contractors make their own appointments and use their own tools. They get paid $12 an hour, but with the price of gas and running around town to get to jobs, most don’t do it for the money, said Paul Dietz, retired from management at Goodyear.
The Friday before Christmas, Dietz, whose hobby of restoring antique furniture doesn’t fill up enough hours, repaired and adjusted some doors for an older Lincoln man.
It’s important to have someone they can trust to do little jobs, he said.
Called to paint a garage door, he discovered it had not been installed or adjusted correctly. Eventually — likely after the warranty expired — it would have required maintenance, Dietz said. With his coaching, the woman called the installer, who came back and did the job correctly.
``People like that, who take advantage of older people, just irritate me,’’ said Dietz.
The handyman pilot started under a five-year federal grant to help seniors stay in their own homes, said Howell.
It also gave retired men an opportunity to put their skills and knowledge to work.
It was so successful the city took it over after the grant ended. Today, more than 40 percent of its $158,900 annual budget comes from client payments and donations; federal, local and state tax dollars make up the rest.
Today, about 3,000 people are signed up; some use it just once a year, while others depend on it for a wide variety of tasks, said Carol Meyerhoff, who manages the program for Aging Partners, the local aging agency.
``I’ve used them a lot, honey. And I think they are wonderful,’’ said Emma George.
They’ve cleaned her windows, painted her garage door, caulked her driveway cracks, trimmed some bushes near the front porch.
She still does most of her own inside work, but she doesn’t get on ladders anymore, said George, who will be 93 in February. Her son mows her lawn, a friend scoops her snow and she calls the handyman program for the rest of the outside work.
There are a few rules: People who use the program must be at least 60 and own their home or are required as renters to do mowing. But the program does not fix up rental property and it doesn’t paint entire homes. If a job is the kind a person would hire a subcontractor for, it’s probably outside the program’s scope, said Meyerhoff.
The handyman program also manages a snow removal program once operated by the Salvation Army. It is handled with donated dollars only.
Some older people can do light housekeeping but can’t move heavy furniture or take blinds down to clean them. Or they may need railings put along hallways or grab bars in the bathroom.
``We add those types of safety features, too,’’ Meyerhoff said.
Last year, 30 to 35 handymen or handy couples did more than 3,200 hours of work, about half the normal volume because the drought meant far less mowing, said Meyerhoff.
Handymen are typically retired, but not always, she said. And sometimes they are angels.
One woman called after she noticed a little water on her bathroom floor and thought her toilet was leaking. But a pipe had burst under the home and the water had filled the crawl space and was running onto the driveway as the handyman arrived.
He ran in, shut off the water and called a plumber friend. The two rented a sump pump and cleaned up the water in the winter cold, said Meyerhoff.
The woman was sure God had sent her an angel, and that pretty much was the truth, she said.