Movie director's memoir'sblog
August 07, 2012
The next few minutes were an orange-and-white blur of men filing past me into the plane. They stood facing each other in two rows and as if by silent command, they sat. I expected to see Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power in the crowd.
The Caribou taxied to the end of the runway, revved its motors, zoomed down the airstrip and lifted into the sky.
No one had prepared me for the cold. The Sergeant next to me saw my discomfort and found an insulated jacket and overpants. By the time I was belted back into my seat the pilot announced they were approaching the drop zone. A red light started flashing. The men snapped to attention, hooked up in unison and turned to face the door.
The Sergeant leaned down and yelled in a thick, southern accent, “Ain’t never had a good flight picture for the little woman and kids. Be sure you git this‘n.” He unlocked my seat belt, the only thing between me and 8,000 feet of air, grabbed the back of my pants and faced me towards the open door. “You c’n git the best angle from here,” he shouted, then leaped over my head out the door, turned in mid-air saluting and flew off into space
I was perched on the lip of the doorway with no safety belt as the rest of the men sailed over my head into the clear blue sky – twisting, turning, holding hands, exchanging wristwatches in mid-air – and I kept filming.
It ended abruptly. I wanted more but the plane was empty. I knew then that I had something in common with all these guys. We were all crazy.
I made my way to the pilot’s cabin. The co-pilot handed me a cup of hot coffee and informed me that they had to make an unscheduled stop at the nearby football field. Some generals were putting on a demonstration for Army wives of what their husbands were doing in Vietnam.
The Caribou banked and descended quickly. I managed to catch a glimpse of a strange sight out the side window. There was a single bleacher set up on the fifty-yard line packed with women all dressed in their Sunday best. As the landing gear hit dirt I spotted a large yellow circle painted on the grass in front of the bleacher and three soldiers dressed in full battle gear addressing the women. They suddenly saluted the ladies, turned and marched towards the plane.
Before I knew it we were airborne again. The red light flashed and the men jumped to their feet and hooked up. The plane tilted and the three Generals sailed out into the wild blue yonder. I leaned as close to the opened door as I dared and watched as they landed one by one in the middle of the yellow circle to the thunderous applause of the patriotic housewives.
Patton once said war is not about dying for your country, it’s about making your enemy die for his. At that moment the realization of what I was doing hit me. I was selling death, glorifying war.
Who is more to blame? The soldiers doing the fighting or the artist doing the selling? Which is mightier, the pen or the sword?
I sat there in the empty plane feeling worthless as the wheels hit the runway with a ear-piercing screech. I stared at the camera in my lap, then whispered to myself, “The pen, of course.”
Epilogue: The Green Beret campaign was the most successful induction program in the history of the United States Army.
A few days after I returned to New York I was shooting a poster for the army draft. A still life of a large filled Duffle bag with the letters "ENLIST NOW" stenciled across the olive green bag. We were on a lunch break being served deli platters from the local "Hole in the wall Deli", playing 8 ball at the billiard table when Walter Cronkite interrupted the local TV program and cried out the terrible news that President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. We all stood there stunned and speechless. My world of illusion had been shattered by this dreadful reality. At first I couldn't relate to it but somewhere deep down inside I knew from this moment on nothing would be the same.