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Film Review: Heroes of Old Hickory

Discussion in 'Western Europe 1943 - 1945' started by KodiakBeer, Dec 4, 2017.

  1. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    30th Infantry Division, Old Hickory, The Workhorse of the Western Front, Roosevelt's SS.

    The documentary film on this splendid division has been in production for ten years, dogged by endless funding problems and kept alive by the herculean efforts of the director, one Lew Adams. Somehow, Mr. Adams has finally pulled it off and the American version is out on DVD. A European version will be available in the correct format in the next few weeks.

    As some of you will know, I'm intimately tied to this division by my father, Francis J. Rogan, PFC, D Company, 117th. And so I've followed the twists and turns of this film for some years, and was pleased to order a copy on the first day the DVD was released. I was able to watch it tonight and took some notes which I will go into presently, but first I must say that while the film is better than I could have hoped, it also has a flaw. The flaw is simply that the events of the Battle of the Bulge and the months that followed are covered in far less detail than everything prior to that. I assume this is because of the funding issues - Adams must have filmed this in a linear fashion from Normandy onward, and you can see the breakdown in depth, CGI, reenactments that were very good up until Aachen in September/October when it becomes... less good. You still get a good picture of those events and engagements, but it becomes more cursory.

    Still, this is a fine film and worth having for anyone interested in WWII in Europe. He does some things that nobody else has attempted, most importantly he gets stories not only from the GIs who lived it, but from many French, Belgian and Dutch civilians who were there to greet Old Hickory when they came in as liberators. Some of those stories will bring a tear to your eye. One GI says "We gave them chewing gum and they gave us their hearts." There are some tender reunions between elderly GIs and people they had befriended during the war. And those reunions will also bring tears to your eye.

    The film opens with a very in-depth look at the slog through Normandy, aided with some light CGI and volunteer French 30th Division reenactors. All scenes are shot where they happened and with commentary from soldiers who were there - all very well done. The hedgerow fighting along the Vire River, Operation Cobra (where US heavy bombers hit the Division twice), the brutal fighting to take St. Lo. Then finally, bloody Mortain where they first met the 1st SS Panzer Division, backed by the 2nd SS, the 17th SS and the 2nd (Wehrmacht) Panzer Division. This segment alone is worth the price of admission. To watch this is to realize that this was the US Army's finest moment in WWII.

    From there they follow Old Hickory to Belgium (they are the first allied troops in that country), on to Holland (Where they are again the first allied troops) to The German border opposite Aachen. The Dutch segment is particularly also very well done. The commentary points out that the Dutch were particularly brutalized during the occupation. They were supposed to be Germanic and so very grateful for the German presence. The Dutch didn't see it that way, and were subject to more punitive demands (less food) because of their cold ingratitude. The Dutch of course, were ecstatic when Old Hickory chased the Germans out which is covered well in the film, and reflects something I've come across very often in my own research. The Old Hickory hillbillies and the Dutch began a love affair that lasts to this day.

    Elements of the 30th crossed the border into Germany (the first allied troops to do so), but were pulled back to Kerkrade (on the border), for the next big battle to take Aachen. The film moves on to this battle which was the bloodiest of the war for Old Hickory. Up to this point they had always had the advantage in artillery and you hear quite a bit of commentary on this. The rifle companies loved the artillery. At Aachen, the Siegfried Line, the German artillery was well prepared and made this battle a horror. It went forward anyway, step by bloody step until Aachen was encircled and the invasion of Germany underway.

    This is where events in the film begin to falter. They cover Stavelot and Malmedy (BoB) and then the engagements leading to the Elbe and the end of the war, but these are sort of glossed over, which is a shame. The engagements in the Ardennes are every bit as dramatic as Mortain and deserved better, but the money dried up and the rest of the film is patched together as well as they could.

    I'll give it four out of five stars. The first three quarters of the film is easily five stars. The last quarter three stars.

    Here's a link: Heroes Of Old Hickory - Heroes of Old Hickory
     
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  2. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Patron  

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    Thanks for the review Keith. I know you are dedicated to the history of Old Hickory, and your comments are worthwhile. I suspect Jeff will be interested in this as well. His book on the 30th and Marion Sandford indicate his interest. I know he traveled to some of these sites a few years ago. Again, thanks for your comments.
     
  3. Ruud

    Ruud Member

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    Thanks for the review Keith, i am looking forward to order my copy of the film as a part of the film is about my homeland, "Zuid Limburg"
     
  4. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    I should mention that the famous Marshal study designating the 30th as the top division in the ETO is only touched on here, though made prominent in the teasers for the film. The infamy being that once Eisenhower was given the recommendation, he then failed to act on it by awarding the Presidential Unit Citation, supposedly because the 30th was National Guard rather than regular army. That may not have been the case - he may have decided that choosing one division over the others would be bad for morale.

    More interestingly (to the Rogues here) the other two divisions in the top tier are revealed to be the 1st and 5th Infantry Divisions. The 1st is obviously a deservedly famous division, but I never hear much about the 5th. What do you guys know about the ETO combat histories of these other two divisions, particularly the 5th which doesn't get much notice?

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