by Jeff Hohman on April 25, 2012
On occasion I get the opportunity to talk with a relative of one of the vets we interviewed for our films, or someone whose relative served with one of our interviewees. Recently, I spoke with the son of a B-17 crew member. He was inquiring about a particular piece of film used in our documentary, Pistol Packin’ Mama: the Missions of a B-17.
He had sought out Gus Mencow, the navigator of PPM, who, in his interview, movingly describes the loss of a plane and crew from their group as we see film of a plane filling with smoke, bursting into flame and falling towards the earth. The son is wondering if the doomed plane in the clip might have been his father’s. Gus thought it might have been. We are going to dig back into our film archives, try to locate the piece of film in question, and provide our source of the film to the son so that he can continue his research into his father’s WWII experience. By the way, the crewman in question safely bailed out, was taken prisoner, and returned home after the war to take up his life and raise a family.
On another note, we're working on a new documentary film project, titled No More Gallant a Deed. Its subject is the remarkable story of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Regiment during the U.S. Civil War. The 1st Minnesota was the first regiment pledged to the Union when Lincoln called for soldiers in April of 1861. It can be argued that, but for their actions during a fifteen minute battle late during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, that the Confederates would likely have won at Gettysburg and, thereby, perhaps the war itself.
During that brief scrap, which was ordered by General Winfield Scott Hancock in an effort to buy five minutes time enabling reinforcements to plug a threatening gap in the Union line, the 1st took, on that sultry July 2nd afternoon in 1863, the single highest percentage of casualties of any unit in a single action in the history of American warfare before or since – 262 men charged down a gentle slope and just 42 walked off the field, the rest were killed or wounded.
Like the WWII documentaries in our American Hero Series, which use the personal testimony of individuals soldiers framed against a backdrop of visual imagery to explore the experience of combat, No More Gallant a Deed will use the testimony of the men of the 1st, as found in their diaries and wonderful letters, as well as letters from the home front, to create a deeply personal story of the Civil War soldier’s experience.
The men of the 1st will be our talking heads; they will bear their own witness to their achievements. We hope that by successfully telling their story, we will, in effect, tell the story of all those who fought on both sides of our most uncivil conflict. Since, as we discovered by interviewing so many WWII vets, the experience of combat – the fear, the physical discomfort, the bonds between soldiers – is similar for soldiers everywhere, regardless of the uniform they wear, the causes for which they fight, and the technologies they use.
Go to our website, www.firstminnesotafilms.org, to learn more about the project and the history of this storied regiment.