Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Saw it before. Must have had the VHS at one time. Catching it now on Amazon Prime Video. It’s Sliver, staring that very hot (then) Sharon Stone. This came out in 1993, about the time Stone was still sizzling from Basic Instinct, to be reviewed later. It’s from Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s based on the book of the same name by Ira Levin, and I’m guessing the title comes from the apartment building that’s central to the plot. It’s a sliver of concrete, steel, and glass that shoots up in a tony neighborhood in Manhattan. It’s a thriller, with emphasis on eroticism and suspense. Lots of people die.

Opening scenes show a striking blond woman, Naomi Singer played by Allison Mackie, entering the building and taking the elevator to her apartment on the 20th floor. Closed circuit television (CCTV) follows her every move. She goes immediately to her balcony, overlooking the city, and takes in the view. Another person, not identified, enters her apartment using a key. He comes up behind her and caresses her. She responds at first. Then she is suddenly and violently thrown over the railing to her death. Thus begins the drama.

The next tenant of number 20B is Carly Norris (Stone), book editor for a New York publisher. She bears a resemblance to the late Ms. Singer.

Carly is newly divorced, having shucked off a seven-year, miserable marriage. She soon meets a number of other residents of the building, some of whom are about to die. One is Gus Hale (Keene Curtis), who first notices Carly’s strong resemblance to the former tenant. He aims to tell her some things he knows before he goes off to Japan for an extended stay. Later we observe his body in the shower, as seen on CCTV. Coverage throughout the building seems to be unlimited.

Unlimited includes Carly’s bathroom. Somebody watches her bathe erotically.

Nothing and nobody are missed. CCTV seems to cover every inch of the sliver building.

One of the downsides of Carly’s promising career is a morass of pressure exerted on her by people in power. She advertises herself as fiercely independent, a person who likes to be in control. Her boss, Alex Parsons (Martin Landau) wants her to review a book by Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger). She does not like Jack’s books, and she does not want to review his book. Alex wants Carly to work with Jack. Jack lives in the sliver building. He has already noticed Carly moving into the building. He is brash and pushy, just the kind of person Carly does not like.

Carly throws a party, and Jack crashes the party, uninvited. Another tenant is Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin), who also attends. Somebody has gifted Carly with a telescope, already set up on the balcony. Party goers take turns exercising some erotic voyeurism through the telescope. It remains a mystery how the telescope got delivered and installed.

It turns out Zeke was the donor. It also turns out he owns the building. Both Jack and Zeke put the move on Carly, but Zeke has more oil (as in oily), and his rude sexual overtures are successful. There is much steamy sex, as much as can be allowed without garnering an R (X?) rating. Here Zeke has left Carly the gift of sexy bra and panties. At dinner in a swanky restaurant he demands she demonstrate she is wearing them. That she does, to the alarm of an elderly couple sitting nearby. She has to demonstrate the panties by removing them and passing them over to Zeke.

But Zeke has wired his entire building so he can spy on everybody and everything. He invites Carly to participate. She is spellbound and cannot look away. Tragedy and depravity are played out in front of them. Zeke, from time to time, interferes with these dramas, in one case levying an anonymous threat against a child molester, forcing the creep to mend his ways. But there is no doubt who is creepier.

Carly’s friend Vida Warren (Polly Walker) has something to tell Carly about the late Naomi, but she doesn’t. She is shortly murdered in the stairwell, and Carly hears the commotion and spots Jack standing over the body. Jack is arrested, but released on bond. There is a confrontation. Jack has a gun. Jack accuses Zeke of setting him up to take the fall for Vida’s murder and wants Zeke to confess. Carly and Jack wrestle for the gun, and Jack is killed. Police stop looking for the root of the sliver building murders.

But Carly’s suspicions grow. She sends Zeke out on an errand and uses the interval to search for video tapes. She finds the one showing Naomi’s murder, a tape Zeke said did not exist. She also finds Zeke’s gun, and when Zeke returns early and sees she has the tape, Carly holds him off with the gun, from time to time shooting out one of the myriad TV screens. In a glimpse she catches the identity of Naomi’s murderer. It is not Zeke. He empties the pistol into various TV screens and leaves.

And that’s the end of the movie.

My first impression was that for a woman as Carly purports herself to be, having the need to be in charge, she allows Zeke to run all over her. I would consider Zeke’s sexual approach to be crude and doomed to failure had I not witnessed the same method work (not for me) on a number of occasions.

People, a hidden TV camera in every bathroom? Is there any reason the tenants have not already sued Zeke’s socks off and taken possession of the building for themselves? There is ample evidence that unauthorized entrance is being made to Carly’s and other apartments, and nobody calls the police to investigate, much less a lawyer.

Reality is not what this movie is about. Watch it for yourself, but beware your glasses are going to steam up.


Prime Suspect

That’s the title of episode five,  season one. It starts out looking like a kidnapping, but it turns into a high stakes caper involving some totally ruthless people and some classic math. I caught this on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia and IMDB. It’s NUMB3RS, and it’s ultimately about math.


Ethan (Neil Patrick Harrisand Becky (Susan Egan) Burdick are hosting a birthday party for their daughter Emily (Emma Prescott). As the party is winding down things turn sour when the clown tosses Emily into his van and drives off. The FBI will get involved.


Don Eppes (Rob Morrow) is the agent in charge of the case. His brother Charlie (David Krumholtz), is a math prof at a local college, who comes in to help the FBI where math is involved.


I’m not going to detail the plot. However, there is some Skeptical Analysis involved.

It’s a kidnapping for ransom, but for an unusual ransom. Ethan Burdick is a math genius who is working on a resolution of the Riemann Hypothesis, named after Bernhard Riemann who first posed it in 1859. Ethan is supposed to have a solution to the (then) 150-year-old problem. It’s the solution the crooks are after. They will trade the child for the answer.

Despite the clown makeup, Agent Terry Lake (Sabrina Lloyd) recognizes the clown as a criminal recently sprung from stir. Bad news, the family has been warned not to deal with the police, so the FBI has to go it alone.


Except that Charlie meets with Ethan, and the two of them go over Ethan’s resolution of Riemann. Charlie’s observation is heart-wrenching. Ethan is on the wrong track. He has no resolution for the Riemann Hypothesis. He has nothing to give the crooks.


Charlie and the agents also discover what the crooks are after. They will use the resolution of the Riemann Hypothesis to crack the encryption key used by the Federal Reserve. They will obtain the Prime Interest Rate hours in advance of its release and will bet heavily on related investments. And win.


What Charlie, Ethan, and the FBI do is to work with the Federal Reserve and concoct a fake key leading to a fake page. Ethan will give the crooks the method, the crooks will compute the key and use the key to access the fake page. The feds will be watching all this activity and will pinpoint the location of the cracking operation. They plan to move in before the crooks can scram.

Not known, but suspected, is that once the crooks have the Prime Rate, they won’t need Emily any longer nor the math prof working with them.

The trap is sprung, the feds move in like gangbusters, one of the miscreant’s takes a load to the chest from an agent, and Emily is snatched from the arms of the ring leader in exchange for his life.


Except that this is not exactly what the Riemann Hypothesis is about. Follow the link above and read all about it. In short, Riemann proposed to be able to identify limits to the population of prime numbers within a bounded domain. What does that have to do with cracking the key to the Federal Reserve server? Glad you asked:

An essential requirement of a public key system is that your everyday Edward Snowden should not be able to take E and derive D from it. The method described by RSA involves using pairs of very large prime numbers. Call a pair of these numbers p and q. Then

p x q = n.

The number n is not prime. It has only two factors, p and q. Now suppose each of p and q are 100 decimal digits long (or more). Then the length of n is 200 (or more). The RSA method uses p and q (and n) to produce e and d. Read the RSA paper, page 6. This involves some nice math, which I will not elaborate on here.

A user R can publish n and e, keeping d (and p and q) private. Somebody wanting to send R a message uses n and e to encrypt the message. R uses n and d to decrypt the message. Knowing n it is still very difficult to compute d, even if you know e. Computing d is tantamount to factoring n (into p and q). It is well known that the factoring problem is hard. Factoring n is only a bit less difficult than doing a search for p (or q), but it is not easy enough to make it feasible with present day computational facilities.

And there is more interesting stuff. You can go to my previous post and read up on it. The essential point is this. For a public key system, the person owning the key makes public his key for encryption. However, the decryption key, which the owner holds private, is required for reading the encrypted message. People use his encryption key to code messages, and they send messages to the key owner. He is the only one with the decryption key, and he is the only one who can read messages encrypted with his key.

The deal is this. The public key is a large integer, maybe hundreds of digits long. It’s a composite, the product of two prime numbers. If you can factor the encryption key and obtain the two prime factors, then you can compute the decryption key and read all the secret mail sent to the owner.

This is not to say the Fed uses this method, but if they did, they might do the following:

  1. Determine the new Prime Rate, a few days in advance. And keep it a secret.
  2. Pput the Prime Rate information on a secure server. A secret key would be required to access the server and read the new Prime Rate.
  3. The public key system is not used for sending lengthy messages. It’s only practical for sending short strings, such as the key to the Fed server.
  4. The gatekeeper of the Fed server would use the public keys of various parties (hopefully only Fed employees) to send them the pass code for the Prime Rate page.

Now, the crooks count on having one of the public keys in question. These keys really are public. If they can factor one of these public keys they can possibly eavesdrop on a communication link and obtain the encrypted pass code. The crooks compute the associated private key and read the pass code. Then they use the pass code to read the (unpublished) Prime Rate and get ready to make a lot of money in just a few hours.

Anyhow, that’s how it might work. Except that Riemann’s Hypothesis does not seem to be a key to factoring large prime numbers. For one thing, it’s a hypothesis. They conclusion is stated in the hypothesis. Everybody already knows what the conclusion is. The big deal about the Riemann Hypothesis is to prove that it’s true.

As a side note, the Riemann zeta function was an object of Alan Turing’s interest in constructing a computing machine. A good book about this episode is by Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: The Enigma. The link is to my review of the book. A first rate movie, The Imitation Game, is based on the book, and a review is scheduled to be out next month.

For those who like to dabble in the arcane field of cryptology, you might be interested in reading a piece on The One Time-Pad and also The Codebreakers.

The Math Solution

I watched this the first couple of seasons when it came out in 2005, before I became averse to TV drama shows. I’m reviewing this episode because of something in the plot that piqued my interest. It’s NUMB3RS, by Nicolas Falacci and Cheryl Heuton, and it’s about math genius Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz) and his brother Don (Rob Morrow), who is an FBI agent working in Los Angeles. Charlie, who is a math prof, helps his brother solve crimes by the application of arcane math principles. This is about the second episode of season one.

The plot revolves around tracking a bank robbery gang, and the opening shots show some statistics. Here, 16 banks were robbed, two robbers, average take is $2700, and no weapons employed. These two are called the Charm School Gang, because they are so polite. They even open the door for other customers when entering the bank, and they smile throughout the operation.


Charlie has applied some statistical analyses and has determined an underlying pattern to the sequence of crimes. He has predicted the robbers will strike on a particular day at one of two banks in L.A. The title sequence overlays security video shots from the robberies with math symbols.


The FBI is waiting on the appropriate day, and the robbers strike one of the two banks. Agents rush in to make the arrest, but there is a dramatic turn. Unknown before, the robbers have always had a backup of four well armed henchmen, who never made an appearance before, because they never needed to. In a hail of gunfire an agent is killed, along with one of the bandits. The others make their escape.


The failure of the FBI operation and the death of the agent sends Charlie into a deep funk, and he takes himself off the case, immersing himself at his home in the solution of one of the so-called NP-complete math problems. It’s a class of problems still defying resolution.


The crooks pull off another robbery, this time killing a bank manager. Charlie’s friend on campus, physics professor Larry Fleinhardt (Peter MacNicol) reminds Charlie of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. It applies to sub atomic particles (and even to atomic particles), and it makes us aware that measurement, observation, of an entity requires some interaction with it, thus affecting the thing being observed. This is critically true of sub atomic particles, but Charlie is reminded that macro objects, such as bank robbers, are also affected when they are observed, particularly when they are made aware they have been observed, such as the FBI presence at the previous robbery.

And Charlie has more. This is a world-class operation, armed to the hilt, military coordination, with six skilled operators involved. For an average of $2700 a whack? Something is wrong. Charlie figures out with it is. They are not robbing banks. They are using the robberies as a cover for another crime. The crooks are stealing bank transaction data. While everybody else is preoccupied with the heist, somebody is slipping over to one of their computer terminals.

The robbers are after bigger stakes. They are tracking the schedule for the delivery for destruction of millions of dollars in unfit currency by the Federal Reserve Bank. They are going to hold up the cash transfer.

Don and the FBI team prepare to intercept the heist. Charlie is there. He reminds Don of the Heisenberg Uncertainty. The gang is likely aware the feds are on to the scheme. Don tells Charlie to not worry. They are well prepared for the Heisenberg Principle.


Sure enough. The bandits intercept the shipment. Sure enough, they get the drop on the FBI agents.


But Don and the other agents are one step ahead. They know the bandits know, and they have anticipated the getaway plan, killing one of the bandits and capturing the others. Here Don says hello to the ring leader as he attempts, unsuccessfully, to start the getaway car.


And here is my Skeptical Analysis—it’s something I picked up on in my working life. Since I never had a real career, just a succession of jobs, I ended up working with a wide range of technologies. My first patent involved the Federal Reserve Bank. They wanted a machine that would automatically put a strap around a bundle of 100 bills. In the course of this project, I visited the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas and got a look at their operation. And I saw what they do with unfit currency. They do not, as the TV plot would have it, take bundles of currency to a secret location for destruction. They destroy it right on the spot.

In the basement of the Dallas branch were hand carts loaded with tremendous stacks of currency. Particularly, there were some carts loaded with unfit currency. You could tell. Each bundle of 100 had been drilled through, leaving two 1/2-inch diameter holes in each bill. These bills were worthless. Further destruction of the bills was rendered by a hammer mill, and the chaff was sold off for planters mulch and such.

The project I worked on went a step further. It eliminated the need to drill the two holes. My company sold the Federal Reserve a system that accepted stacks of bills into a feed hopper and peeled them off at high speed, feeding them into a document transport. As each bill passed down the length of the machine various readers detected counterfeit, which was routed to a special bin. Other stations recorded denomination, serial number, and such. Another station detected unfit currency. Unfit currency went all the way to the end of the machine, about ten feet, and entered a high-speed shredder.

And that’s what I found screwy about this plot. The writers could have patched this up a bit and made it true to life. But then, this is fiction, and it’s OK to give the imagination free rein.

Jack Webb Live

I’m sure I won’t make this review a series. Here’s an episode of Adam-12, to give Millennials a peek at what they missed.


It’s really all about producer, director, actor Jack Webb:

John Randolph “Jack” Webb (April 2, 1920 – December 23, 1982), also known by the pen name John Randolph, was an American actor, television producer,director, and screenwriter, who is most famous for his role as Sgt. Joe Friday in the Dragnet franchise (which he also created). He was also the founder of his own production company, Mark VII Limited.

I became familiar with Jack Webb before we had television. He had a radio program centered on police drama. The first thing to come out of the box was, “Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” The show moved to television, and we got to see Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday.

Dragnet ran on TV from 1951 to 1959 and returned in 1967 for four seasons. Webb introduced Adam-12 in 1968, and it ran for seven seasons. Webb tended to load his productions with people he was accustomed to working with, and he brought in character actor turned TV star Martin Milner to portray Officer Pete Malloy. Co-star was Kent McCord as Pete’s partner, Jim Reed. Adam-12 is their police cruiser and also their radio call sign.

The show opens in what appears to be a police dispatch room. Millennials are going to get a kick out of this. Everything is done using paper. These were the days before 911, and if you wanted the police you called them on the telephone, and the officer who took the call would write the details on a piece of paper and drop it onto a conveyor. As the opening announcement, always the same (“… One Adam-12, fight group, with chains and knives.”) drones on, a dispatcher picks up the slip and puts the assignment out on the police frequency.


I picked this episode to review, because it has abundant police action (many do not), and it illustrates a point of critique. Screen shots are from Hulu.

Gary Crosby plays Rambo cop Ed Wells, notorious around the station for telling and retelling accounts of his heroic exploits. Pete looks at Wells and sees a cop out of control. Jim, inexperienced and overly impressionable, sees a cop who gets things done. We get to see how this plays out.

Adam-12 gets the call about a man with a gun. They roll on it, and Wells and his partner arrive smartly to back them up. The kid tells the cops his mother’s boyfriend is in the apartment with a gun. It’s a pistol the previous husband brought back from the war.

While Pete sets out to handle the matter in a professional way, Ed barges in, takes charge, breaks down the door, and cuffs the man. During the commotion a bullet has lodged in the door jam above Ed’s head. Pete does not approve. Jim is again impressed.


Also not impressed is watch commander Sergeant McDonald (William Boyett). He chews Pete out for not staying on top and handling the arrest. Pete does not unload about Ed’s cowboy tactics. A woman and a young boy were in the apartment, and a weapon was discharged, which did not need to happen. Ed could have been hit, also the boy or his mother.

Pete continues to have concerns regarding Jim’s infatuation with Ed’s tactics. Since Adam-12, as with all of Jack Webb’s productions, draws on moralization, there has to be a moral. There has to be comeuppance. Here it comes.

There’s another call. It involves a man with a gun. Sound familiar? Ed and his partner are assigned the call. Pete and Jim arrive as backup. Ed does not wait for hell or high water. He goes charging at the front door of the house, pistol drawn. A shotgun blast from the window puts him on the lawn.


Oops! The chickens have come home to roost. With Ed on the grass, Pete takes charge of the operation. Multiple police units arrive. Pete directs officers to block traffic on the street and to cover back exits. Pete and Jim use their police cruiser as a shield and rescue Ed from the lawn, seeing him into an ambulance. Then the man with the shotgun is coaxed into throwing out his weapon and surrendering peaceably. It’s a demonstration of how good police work gets done. It’s another Jack Webb moral conclusion.

The problem with this one is the problem with most of Jack Webb’s work. Nothing is already so apparent it can’t be overemphasized. Ed is a Rambo. We can see that, but it is way overdone. The only thing left to stretch this character additionally would be to have Ed come swinging in on a vine.

Then there’s Pete’s reaction. A cop with a whiff of maturity would have dropped the hammer on Ed forthwith. His actions in the first episode put lives in danger. He should not be strutting around with a gun on his hip. He should be sent back to the police academy or off the force. And it was Pete’s job to see that was done. Pete risked additional lives by not taking care of the matter when it counted. This plot has a significant absence of reality.

In the end we see Ed recovering in the hospital ward but unreformed. Yes, that is also something that should not be happening. At this point in the game it must be apparent to the police command structure that there was a problem that needs fixing. None of this comes out in Season 1, Episode 22.

It is jarring to watch this and compare police work from 50 years ago. A few years ago I took a ride on patrol with a San Antonio police officer. Adam-12 it is not. The cop car of today is likely an SUV, and it has a place to mount a laptop computer. Details don’t just come over the radio, 911 calls go to the computer screen, and everything is there. And the cop wears everything possible to automate police work. These days we may be just a few sessions in surgery away from Robocop.

And that’s the rundown on Adam-12. The action mostly takes place in Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, North Hollywood and thereabouts. Shooting took place on location.  This is a more convenient place to film than in most other parts of Los Angeles. Additionally the facilities of Universal Studios were close by. I became familiar with the area a few years back when I was there on a contract job along with another engineer from Texas. We got to know the area, and I can recognize some of the locations, still around after 50 years.

I first saw Martin Milner in the movies before I knew who he was. He was one of the Day children standing on the stairs in Life with Father. That came out in 1947.  I do not recall his part in Sands of Iwo Jima (Pvt. Mike McHugh), but I recently posted on his role in Halls of Montezuma. I first remember him from his hit TV show Route 66, which ran from 1960 to 1964. He died last September at 83.

Adam-12 may have been the peak of Kent McCord’s on-screen career. He was later elected to the National Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild.

Gary Crosby was the son of the famous Bing and singer-actress Dixie Lee. Adam-12 may have been his peak, as well.

There’s no finishing without touching on the production company’s trademark sign-off. With variations through the years, it shows working-class hands holding a stamping die and a massive hammer and pounding the Mark VII Limited logo into a steel plate. It’s what I would expect from Jack Webb.



I have the complete first season of Dragnet 1967 on DVD and will review one or more of those episodes for the edification of the Millennial crowd.

The Day After



December 7 is the anniversary of the Japanese Empire’s attack on United States. On the anniversary The History Channel ran again its production depicting the first 24 hours after the attack.

It’s principally about President Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the time in his third term. Roosevelt had been first elected during the depths of the Great Depression with a promise to restore the American economy and to help citizens affected by the economic debacle. During the darkest hours of the 1930s he brought inspiration to American citizens with weekly radio broadcasts and strategic polemic, such as “We have nothing to fear but fear, itself.” His election for a third term was a first for this country.

The two-hour episode tells the story of how the President and the American public came to learn of the Japanese attack and how the United States responded during the first 24 hours. It’s the story of Roosevelt’s greatest challenge and his finest hour.


People need to remember what the world was like in 1941. CNN did not cover the attack live. Unfortunately in those days there was no direct line from the White House and important military bases, such as Pearl Harbor. Following the initial flash, word filtered to the President in snatches of conversation. The History Channel dramatizes this factor using actors, such as below, showing word coming in over the phone. Commanders at Pearl Harbor had to communicate with the War Department, and the word had to be relayed to the President. Information was suppressed initially, because people were not sure whether the Japanese were tapping the phone lines.


Cabinet members were called in from far flung locations, and members of Congress were ordered to return to Washington, D.C. An important session was scheduled for the day after, 8 December. And the President needed to make a speech. It was going to be the most important speech in his career.

A problem was the President was a cripple. Twenty years before he had been afflicted with polio and told he would never walk again. This almost turned out to be true. He campaigned and served with his disability concealed from the public. News photographers were requested not to photograph Roosevelt in his wheel chair.

This, the President had to overcome. A man barely able to stand needed to stand and to project an image of strength. He needed to impress the Japanese and ultimately the Germans.


Pearl Harbor was not the only story of the day. Hours after the initial attack the Japanese launched an attack on American forces in the Philippine Islands, at the time an American colony. Trouble had been brewing with Japan for months as America reacted to Japanese aggression against its Asian neighbors by applying economic sanctions. Earlier in 1941 the United States imposed an embargo on oil to the Empire, an action that immediately set in motion a countdown to the Pearl Harbor attack. Lacking petroleum resources of its own, the Empire would run out of oil in a few months and would have to cease its military aggression. The attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines were intended to knock the United States out of action, leaving Japan free to seize petroleum sources in Southeast Asia.

With this in mind, Roosevelt brought General Douglas MacArthur out of retirement and sent him to command American forces in the Philippines. MacArthur was a commander with sterling credentials, but Roosevelt personally disliked him. MacArthur was a prima donna, politically ambitious and overly sure of his own capabilities. The effect was that MacArthur was warned to expect a Japanese attack, and he failed to make adequate precautions. The result the following year was the worst defeat of arms in the history of the American military.


A prominent feature of the time was a collection of organizations opposed to American involvement in the war in Europe. America First was one of the most prominent of these. On 7 December North Dakota Senator  Gerald P. Nye was giving a speech in Pittsburgh, unaware of the attack. A news reporter learned of the attack and rushed to the meeting, where he informed the senator. Senator Nye went on to give his speech, a fiery denunciation of Roosevelt the war monger. During the speech the reporter passed a note to the senator updating him on details of the attack. Nye looked at the note, stuck it in his pocket, and finished his speech. Then he passed the news of the attack to his audience and left the meeting. Members filed out of the hall, and America First dissolved three days later.


British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had been urging Roosevelt to get into the European war since the start. He and Roosevelt were on extremely friendly terms and were on the same page about the matter. However, the United States Constitution required congressional approval, which approval was not forthcoming.

Churchill learned of the attack while having dinner with American Ambassador Averell Harriman.

It was Sunday evening, December 7, 1941. Winant and Averell Harriman were alone with me at the table at Chequers. I turned on my small wireless set shortly after the nine o’clock news had started. There were a number of items about the fighting on the Russian front and on the British front in Libya, at the end of which some few sentences were spoken regarding an attack by the Japanese on American shipping at Hawaii, and also Japanese attacks on British vessels in the Dutch East Indies. There followed a statement that after the news Mr. Somebody would make a commentary, and that the Brains Trust programme would then begin, or something like this. I did not personally sustain any direct impression, but Averell said there was something about the Japanese attacking the Americans, and, in spite of being tired and resting, we all sat up. By now the butler, Sawyers, who had heard what had passed, came into the room, saying, “It’s quite true. We heard it ourselves outside. The Japanese have attacked the Americans.” There was a silence. At the Mansion House luncheon on November 11 I had said that if Japan attacked the United States a British declaration of war would follow “within the hour”. I got up from the table and walked through the hall to the office, which was always at work. I asked for a call to the President. The Ambassador followed me out, and, imagining I was about to take some irrevocable step, said, “Don’t you think you’d better get confirmation first?”

In two or three minutes Mr. Roosevelt came through. “Mr. President, what’s this about Japan?” “It’s quite true,” he replied. “They have attacked us at Pearl Harbour. We are all in the same boat now.” I put Winant on to the line and some interchanges took place, the Ambassador at first saying, “Good,” “Good”— and then, apparently graver, “Ah!” I got on again and said, “This certainly simplifies things. God be with you,” or words to that effect. We then went back into the hall and tried to adjust our thoughts to the supreme world event which had occurred, which was of so startling a nature as to make even those who were near the centre gasp. My two American friends took the shock with admirable fortitude. We had no idea that any serious losses had been inflicted on the United States Navy. They did not wail or lament that their country was at war. They wasted no words in reproach or sorrow. In fact, one might almost have thought they had been delivered from a long pain.

Churchill, Winston (2010-06-30). The Grand Alliance: The Second World War, Volume 3 (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (Kindle Locations 9374-9392). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.


Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Roosevelt were at odds regarding the speech the president was to give on the 8th. Hull urged a monument to oration. Roosevelt saw the best effect would be something forceful and to the point. Roosevelt pressed his son James, an officer in the United States Navy, into duty steadying him in his walk to the front of the congressional chamber. It was a critical move. Roosevelt slowly worked his way to the front of the assembly, all the way fearful of falling. An incident such as that would have sent a dismal message to our country’s enemies.


His walk to the podium was slow and likely painful, but once there Roosevelt delivered a speech for the history books:

It was a most dramatic spectacle there in the chamber of the House of Representatives. On most of the President’s personal appearances before Congress, we found applause coming largely from one side—the Democratic side. But this day was different. The applause, the spirit of cooperation, came equally from both sides. … The new feeling of unity which suddenly welled up in the chamber on December 8, the common purpose behind the leadership of the President, the joint determination to see things through, were typical of what was taking place throughout the country.


With one dissenting vote Congress approved a declaration of war against the Japanese Empire. Significantly, Nazi Germany had not been included in the declaration. No German forces had attacked the United States. That matter resolved itself a few days later when German Chancellor Adolf Hitler did us all a favor and declared war on the United States.

Within 100 days the United States bombed the Japanese mainland, and six months after the Pearl Harbor raid four of the Japanese aircraft carriers involved were sunk at the Battle of Midway. Territory held by the Japanese Empire continued to shrink following that battle, and nuclear weapons exploded on the Japanese mainland in August 1945 forced the Empire to capitulate. American and British forces landed in North Africa less than a year after Pearl Harbor and began the job of shrinking the western front. German forces met disaster at Stalingrad in late 1942, and the Soviet Army pushed the Germans back relentlessly until western and eastern powers converged in Germany in May 1945.

By then Roosevelt was dead. Elected to another unprecedented term, he died of a stroke about two weeks before Hitler shot himself in his Berlin bunker.


This is the tenth and last in a series of posts on the story of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Brigade during World War Two. I’m posting this on the anniversary of the surrender of the Third Reich, 70 years ago. I have the book Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose, but it’s easiest for me to follow the narrative through the HBO mini series of the same name. The images are screen shots from the History Channel’s syndication release.

When Episode 10 opens the war in Europe is over, and the men of Easy Company are enjoying the easy life in scenic Austria. It’s July 1945, and men of are counting the “points” they need to be released from duty.


Episode 10 is a series of flash backs to the closing days of the war and the weeks following.

They were off to Bavaria and the Alps. Bradley had assigned the 101st to U.S. Seventh Army. Its objectives were Munich, Innsbruck, and the Brenner Pass. The purpose was to get American troops into the Alps before the Germans could create a redoubt there from which to continue the war. Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden was the presumed HQ for this combination last stand and the beginning of a guerrilla war against the occupiers.

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 417). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

To Easy Company fell the task of taking the last refuge of the Nazis. French General Leclerc had announced his intentions to take possession of Berchtesgaden for the French, but Richard Winters’ commander, Colonel Sink, had other ideas. He ordered Winters to out maneuver the French and take the town.

Winters led the battalion on a backtrack to the autobahn, then east to Bad Reichenhall, where another blown bridge stopped the Americans for the night. The following morning, May 5, with Easy Company leading the way, the 2d Battalion drove unopposed to Berchtesgaden and took the town without having to fire a shot.

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 429). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.


Berchtesgaden was a looter’s paradise. Nobody could live there who was not a Nazi. Ich bin Keine Nazi did not fly in Berchtesgaden. Everything there belonged to Nazis and was free to the taking. Including the best hotel lodgings for the colonel and the finest silver tableware for the first to grab.


It was here Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest was located, atop a mountain with a spectacular view. It was at Eagle’s Nest that the Nazi elite hobnobbed. It was here before the war that foreign dignitaries came to appease the Nazis and to be schooled by Hitler in how to conquer Europe.

 An occasion for finding out what England would pay arose in November when Lord Halifax, with Mr. Chamberlain’s enthusiastic approval, made the pilgrimage to Berchtesgaden to see Hitler. On November 19 they held a long conversation, and in the lengthy secret German memorandum on it drawn up by the German Foreign Office46 three points emerge: Chamberlain was most anxious for a settlement with Germany and proposed talks between the two countries on a cabinet level; Britain wanted a general European settlement, in return for which she was prepared to make concessions to Hitler as regards colonies and Eastern Europe; Hitler was not greatly interested at the moment in an Anglo–German accord.

Shirer, William (2011-10-23). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (p. 302). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Hitler, Göring und v. Schirach auf Obersalzberg

It was also here when the men of Easy Company came to sit on Hitler’s balcony, drinking Hitler’s champagne, enjoying Hitler’s magnificent view, that Major Winters gave them the news that the German Army had surrendered, and their fighting days were over.


It was left to Winters, and from time to time even lowly enlisted men, to accept the surrender of entire cadres of German troops. Winters must have had a sense of history, for this view shows him telling a German colonel he will be allowed to keep his side arm.


The killing was not over, however. Sergeants Lynch and Sisk and privates Don Moore and Joe Liebgott were assigned to hunt down and kill a man who had been the head of a Nazi slave labor camp. The video is only an abbreviated version of the episode.

They got to the farm and without a struggle took the Nazi prisoner. Liebgott interrogated him for thirty minutes, then declared there could be no doubt, this was the man they wanted, and he was guilty as charged. The Americans pushed the man at gunpoint to the weapons carrier, then drove off. Lynch stopped beside a ravine. They prodded the man out of the vehicle. Liebgott drew his pistol and shot him twice.

The prisoner began screaming. He turned and ran up the hill. Lynch ordered Moone to shoot him.

“You shoot him,” Moone replied. “The war is over.” Skinny Sisk stepped forward, leveled his M-1 at the fleeing man, and shot him dead.

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 448). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.


The men who had just a year before jumped into combat in France in the early morning darkness now found themselves doing occupation duty. The video shows, with hostilities over, American and German soldiers working to maintain order. Here a German veteran relates he has just completed his second war.


American troops had empathy for defeated soldiers. We see an Easy Company soldier manning a check point on a road. A German veteran on crutches and with one leg is passed through. Then the American stops a civilian car and discards the luggage to make room for the veteran. The civilians, for whom the veteran has made such a sacrifice, are not pleased at being treated in this manner.


People keep dying. Men of Easy Company encounter a drunk American soldier stopped on the road at night. He has just murdered two Germans who refused to give him gasoline. He then shoots the soldier who tries to take his gun. We see a German doctor saving the soldier’s life and the men of Easy Company inflicting front line justice to the shooter.


Finally it’s all over for Easy Company. Concerns about being shipped to the Pacific Theater to continue the war against the Japanese evaporate in the middle of a baseball game in the closing days of summer 1945. Major Winters gathers them around to tell them the Japanese Empire has surrendered. There will be no more war, for the time being.


The series starts with men of Easy Company preparing to jump into France and reflecting back on the time they first got together at Camp Taccoa in Georgia two years before. It follows them into the night of horror as they land in Normandy in the dark and face their first combat.

There follows the routine of camp life back in England for a few weeks before the jump into Holland in September 1944 to participate in the disastrous Market-Garden campaign. Then follows the bitter winter defense of the Belgian town of Bastogne and the push to the north to Germany. Their last combat is shown in Haguenau, where men are lost to German shelling and a daring last patrol to obtain German prisoners. Secretly Major Winters cancels an order for yet another patrol and submits a fake report. For Easy Company the shooting has stopped.

Following the end of the war most of the men left the service, including Major Winters and Captain Nixon. Nixon went back to his family’s business, and he hired Winters as human resources manager. Winters worked there until he retired, and then he did as he promised he would do. He purchased a farm in Pennsylvania and finished out his life there. During the Korean War Winters was called back to duty and trained combat infantry units, but he did not return to combat. He died in January 2011.

When the series first aired in 2001 many of the men of Easy Company were still alive, but that is no longer true. Age is taking from us the voices of those who served during that time 70 years ago, and eventually those voices will be silent forever. Only news clippings, combat film, newsreel footage and books and re-enactments of these events will remain. There will come a time when the only remaining physical evidence of the horror will be fragments of war machines rusting on ancient battlefields or gathering dust in museums.

Dr. Quack


I’ve been slow picking up on this. “Alternative medicine” is an intrusive social problem and can stand some bandwidth. I posted on it back in January in an item titled “Stupidity Writ Large.” That was related to the measles outbreak facilitated by America’s pernicious anti-vaccine movement. Now comes the matter of Dr. Mehmet Cengiz Öz.

Mehmet Cengiz Öz (Turkish: [mehˈmet dʒenˈɟiz øz]; born June 11, 1960), better known as Dr. Oz, is a Turkish-Americancardiothoracic surgeon, author, and television personality. Oz is supportive of alternative medicine, and has been criticized by publications including Popular Science and The New Yorker for giving “non-scientific” advice.

Oz first appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2004, and later on Larry King Live and other TV programs. In 2009, The Dr. Oz Show, a daily television program focusing on medical issues and personal health, was launched by Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and Sony Pictures.


Dr. Oz’s alternative medicine connection is manifest in, among others:

Lest readers think any of these to be a reasonable practice of medicine, consider the following:


The existence of the proposed mechanism for reiki – qi or “life force” energy – has not been established. Most research on Reiki is poorly designed and prone to bias and there is no good evidence that Reiki is helpful for treating any medical condition, although some physicians have said it might help promote general wellbeing.[5] In 2011, William T. Jarvis of The National Council Against Health Fraud stated that there “is no evidence that clinical reiki’s effects are due to anything other than suggestion” or the placebo effect.

Reiki’s teachings and adherents claim that qi is physiological and can be manipulated to treat a disease or condition. The existence of qi has not been established by medical research. As a result, some consider Reiki to be a pseudoscientific theory based on metaphysical concepts.

Faith healing:

A study in the British Medical Journal investigated spiritual healing, therapeutic touch and faith healing. In a hundred cases that were investigated, no single case revealed that the healer’s intervention alone resulted in any improvement or cure of a measurable organic disability.

Psychic communication with the dead:

Scientists who study anomalistic psychology consider mediumship to be the result of fraud and psychological factors. Research from psychology for over a hundred years has revealed that where there is not fraud, mediumship and Spiritualist practices can be explained by hypnotism, magical thinking and suggestion. Trance mediumship which is claimed by the Spiritualists to be caused by discarnate spirits speaking through the medium have been proven in cases to be alternate personalities from the medium’s subconscious mind.


No individual preparation has been unambiguously shown by research to be different from placebo. The methodological quality of the primary research was generally low, with such problems as weaknesses in study design and reporting, small sample size, and selection bias. Since better quality trials have become available, the evidence for efficacy of homeopathy preparations has diminished; the highest-quality trials indicate that the remedies themselves exert no intrinsic effect. A review conducted in 2010 of all the pertinent studies of “best evidence” produced by the Cochrane Collaboration concluded that “the most reliable evidence – that produced by Cochrane reviews – fails to demonstrate that homeopathic medicines have effects beyond placebo.”

I’m taking inspiration for this from today’s CNN report on the Columbia University controversy surrounding Dr. Oz. Images are screen shots from the broadcast.


One of the ten to sign the Oz protest was Dr. Joel Tepper:

The doctors who sent the letter were led by Dr. Henry Miller of California’s Stanford University. The nine other doctors from across the country included Dr. Joel Tepper, a cancer researcher from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and Dr. Gilbert Ross of the American Council on Science and Health — based on the Upper West Side.

From the CNN report:

Dr. Joel Tepper signed the letter. “He has touted many drugs as miracle drugs for weight loss, which causes people to spend huge amounts of money for treatments which have no benefit whatsoever.” He said at most universities if someone who did this, “That is grounds for dismissal.”


CNN aired clips from a Senate committee roasting of Dr. Oz:

During a Senate hearing on consumer protection, Senator Claire McCaskill stated that by airing segments on weight loss products that are later cited in advertisements, Oz plays a role, intentional or not, in perpetuating these scams, and that she is “concerned that you are melding medical advice, news, and entertainment in a way that harms consumers.”[41] Mary Engle of the Federal Trade Commission criticized Oz for calling green coffee extract “magic” and a “miracle”, stating that it is difficult for consumers to listen to their inner voices when products are praised by hosts they trust.

One of the products Oz was promoting, Green Coffee Bean Extract, was found to have no weight loss benefits. Two of the researchers who were paid to write the study admitted that they could not back their data so they retracted their paper. The FTC filed a complaint that the Texas-based company Applied Food Sciences (the promoters of the study) had falsely advertised. The FTC alleged that the study was “so hopelessly flawed that no reliable conclusions could be drawn from it” so Applied Food Sciences agreed to pay a $3.5 million settlement.



Dr. Oz is firing back.

“I bring the public information that will help them on their path to be their best selves,” Oz said in a statement, according to USA Today. The newspaper reported that the statement was released by a “Dr. Oz Show” representative. “We provide multiple points of view, including mine, which is offered without conflict of interest,” the statement continued. “That doesn’t sit well with certain agendas which distort the facts.”


His rebuttal echoes the position of the counter-science site Natural News:

A letter signed by ten doctors — all of whom have financial ties to industry — calls for Columbia University to force Dr. Oz to resign from the university’s Department of Surgery. This letter is a tremendously educational exhibit of the mafia tactics used by the biotech industry, as it essentially claims Dr. Oz has lost his mind and is now endangering the public. “Whatever the nature of his pathology, members of the public are being misled and endangered, which makes Dr. Oz’s presence on the faculty of a prestigious medical institution unacceptable,” the letter reads.

Of course, all the people who signed this letter have no qualms whatsoever with farmers spraying thousands of tons of cancer-causing glyphosate herbicide chemicals on all the foods we eat. That’s perfectly acceptable to them and poses “no danger,” they claim. It is Dr. Oz and his crazy, wild, irresponsible advice that people should eat wholesome foods and take charge of their own health that’s now deemed a threat in this society… a society dominated by the financial interests of biotech and pharmaceutical corporations that profit from sickness and disease.

His profile shows Dr. Oz to be a “professor at the Department of Surgery at Columbia University since 2001.” I have no knowledge as to whether this is a position with academic tenure. If Oz has tenure, there may be nothing Columbia can easily do to disentangle itself. As long has he cleans his boots before stepping onto the campus he has academic immunity.

There is something I can do and you can do. Watch the Dr. Oz show and note what products get pushed. That can be an indication of scant worth. Form your buying habits accordingly. And keep your friends informed. Praise for Oz needs to be met with a retelling of the facts. Misinformation left adrift can eventually come ashore on your own beach.

Follow the saga of Dr. Oz and conduct your own research. The truth really is out there for those who desire it. And keep reading. I am not finished with this topic.

Institutional Advertising


I believe this has come around before:

So now I’m watching the news on cable TV, and I see a lot of ads by Norfolk Southern. And these are really glitzy productions. There’s a cute jingle playing over the video (“Helping this here country move ahead as one”), and there are beautifully choreographed sequences of products being moved and trains and powerful locomotives moving in perfect harmony. Steven Spielberg, you need to watch this.

I considered it so odd that Norfolk Southern, a railroad company that doesn’t provide service into the region where I live, would be advertising themselves to me. Again this morning, as they have been for weeks, Norfolk Southern is showing all the stuff they haul. It’s impressive.

Cargo containers filled with manufactured goodies from across the Pacific.


Train loads of coal to fire my power plant. And steel products. New automobiles.


Would that I had that much stuff to ship.

But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the company is trying to build brand loyalty. If it wasn’t shipped by Norfolk Southern, then you don’t want it.

I’m telling you, it’s an impressive ad. There are these two train engineers talking over things in the yard, discussing what they’ve been hauling. They seem like earnest, committed railroad men. I’m sold. From here on out it’s Norfolk Southern for me and my family. Before Barbara Jean and I make the next purchase at the H-E-B store we’re going to ask, “Can you verify these carrots were shipped on Norfolk Southern?


Keep reading.

Air Ambush


When I was in the Navy Reserve I was in a fighter squadron. As a kid I always had a fascination with fighter airplanes. Movies about World War Two were playing in the local theater, and the specter of two high-performance fighters dueling to the death in the sky had an enormous appeal on my young self. When the Korean war came alone there were now jet fighters, and these were even more cool. We lived on a bluff overlooking the Brazos River, and one day I heard the screech of jets in the sky over the flat lands beyond. I went out and saw two jets engaged in a mock fight just a few hundred feet up and across the river. They had their fun for a minute or so and then were gone.

All that is past me, but starting in 2005 The History Channel produced two seasons of Dogfights, consisting of recreations of combat using computer generated imagery (CGI) and created by Cynthia Harrison, Jason McKinley and Brooks Wachtel.

This episode relates the events surrounding Operation Bolo and the background behind the mission. Operation Bolo was the product of veteran combat pilot Robin Olds. He had become a fighter ace (5+ victories) in World War Two, flying P-38 Lightning fighters over Europe. By the time the Vietnam conflict came around his services were sorely needed.

The American military had become overly reliant on missiles. Fighters were being designed to attack multi-engine bombers, and fighting skills had been neglected. While our forces had enjoyed a victory ratio in excess of 7 to 1 in Korea, at the outset of hostilities in Vietnam this advantage had shrunk to around 3 to 1. Robin Olds was set to straighten things out at his base in Thailand. He placed emphasis on combat skills and tasked junior officers to come up with an aggressive program. One thing they came up with was Operation Bolo.


This was 2 January 1967, and about this time American forces were bombing the stuffings out of North Vietnamese facilities. What we used a lot at the time were F-105 Thunderchief jet fighter-bombers. You might think looking at an F-105—with its sleek, rakish profile—that this was one daunting foe to go up against in the air. It was not. This was no fighter, especially when it was carrying an external load of bombs. Instead of “Thunderchief” it was typically call the “Thud.” Anyhow, the Thuds needed fighter protection. MiG-21 fighters of the North Vietnamese Air Force were having Thuds for lunch. The United States Air Force was determined to do something about the MiG problem.

The scheme was this: Lure the MiGs into an aerial fight with somebody who could take them on. What Olds did was to set up a flight of F-4 fighters to look like a flight of Thuds. They flew the same schedule typical of a Thud attack, following the same routes and duplicating standard Thud formations. They even equipped the F-4s with the QRC-160 jamming pods used by F-105s. The F-4s flew in multiple flights, arriving over the designated area above a cloud cover. The cloud cover was an advantage. The North Vietnamese could only track the incoming F-4s by radar, making the deception that much easier.

After a few minutes over the target area the MiGs began to pop up above the clouds (the cloud cover had delayed their take-off), only to discover F-4s instead of F-105s. The North Vietnamese pilots were distressed to no end. The news reports at the time described their distress. Intercepted radio traffic was telling: “They are F-4s, not 105s. I repeat, F-4s.” And, “I would like to come down now.” North Vietnamese pilots were trained to strictly follow orders, and by the time their ground control got a handle on the situation seven of the MiG-21s had been downed. The Americans lost none of the F-4s. Seven might not seem like a big bag for a combat mission, but at the time the North Vietnamese had only about 12 to 15 MiG-21s. The MiGs were not such a big problem after that, with North Vietnam being reluctant to risk its remaining fleet.

The Dogfights production features interviews with actual pilots involved in the combat, including Robin Olds in this case. They were fortunate to get the interviews, as the retired Air Force General died in 2007. There is some available footage of the actual events, but even better are the CGI sequences, which are remarkable in their realism. Contributing to the educational nature of the series are illustrations of the air tactics employed and comparisons of the opposing weaponry. Here is a graphic depicting an F-4 making an attack on a MiG-21. In this case the MiG is drawing a bead on an American fighter when the F-4 executes a hard right turn from above to get behind the MiG. Hint: The MiG did not go home that day.


At the time the Air Force employed AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. We still use them, but new and improved models. Both are currently developed and manufactured at Raytheon’s facility in Tucson. The Sparrow is radar controlled. The Sidewinder uses passive infra-red tracking.

One thing brought out in recounts of the Vietnam combat was the unreliability of the Sparrow. Apparently primitive maintenance facilities in Thailand resulted in a high failure rate. A Sparrow shot was about 10% likely to score a hit on the target. A high percentage of the Sparrows, when launched, simply fell off the rail and dropped to the ground.

Sidewinders were mechanically more reliable. They typically launched successfully, but the model used at the time was adapted for taking down multi-engine bombers. A highly maneuverable fighter could dodge an oncoming Sidewinder by making a last-second maneuver. The Sidewinder, going several times the speed of sound, could not correct fast enough.


A comparison of the F-4 and the MiG illustrates the relative advantages of each. The MiG-21 was famous for being able to “turn on a single molecule of air.” F-4s defeated this ability by taking the fight into three dimensions, using its tremendous thrust advantage to climb rapidly and maneuver over the MiG.


I’ve since talked to some fighter pilots, and one thing they are aware of is the physics involved. For one thing, you can’t shoot at an enemy plane unless you can get him in front of you. If you are along side the enemy, or if you are too close behind for a missile shot, you have to somehow back off and get behind. If you just cut power your airplane will become less maneuverable as you lose speed. One tactic to get behind an enemy, if you have the power, is to keep the throttle wide open, but pitch up. You lose some speed, but you don’t lose any energy (physics again). You trade speed for altitude. If you execute what amounts to a high barrel roll you come back down to the enemy’s altitude, but now you’re behind him, and you are back up to, or above, your original speed.


The CGI recreations of combat are stunning. There’s is better detail than you could have obtained from gun camera video. Here is shown an F-4 letting loose with two Sparrows. Pilots often fired these expensive assets in salvos to increase the possibility that one of them will hit a target.


Some reality is sacrificed for viewer appeal. Here an F-4 is about to take down a MiG. The F-4 in this case was supposed to be nearly a mile behind the MiG.


Again, great detail. The F-4 is executing a rolling maneuver, exposing all its external stores. Lighting and shadows are meticulously rendered in what was surely the expenditure of billions of computer processor cycles.


The end of the day for a MiG-21. A Sparrow missile is coming up from behind.


Camera footage from 2 January 1967. F-4s return from Operation Bolo after a victorious day.







The Last Patrol

Richard Winters

Richard Winters

This is the eighth in a series of posts on the story of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Brigade during World War Two. I’m posting this on the anniversary of Easy Company’s last combat action of the war, 70 years ago. I have the book Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose, but it’s easiest to follow the narrative through the HBO mini series of the same name. The images are from the History Channel’s syndication release. The seventh episode depicted Easy Company’s action in taking the Belgian town of Foy, just north of Bastogne. It also shows some men of Easy reaching the breaking point after months in combat.

Lieutenant Lynn “Buck” Compton was particularly close to the men under him, and these loses took all the fight out of him. An iconic image from this episode show’s Compton’s breaking point. He takes off his helmet and drops it onto the snow-covered ground.

After becoming world famous for its historic defense of Bastogne, the 101st Airborne Division pulled back from Belgium, replaced by the 17th airborne. German Chancellor Adolph Hitler gambled on his offensive through the Ardennes in December 1944, and he lost heavily.

IN MID-JANUARY, desperate to save what they could of their men and equipment in the Bulge, the Germans launched a diversionary operation in Alsace, code name Nordwind (Northwind), in an attempt to draw American troops from the Ardennes area. As in the mid-December attack in the Ardennes, they struck a thinly held sector of the front. (When Patton’s Third Army left Alsace to go to the Ardennes, U.S. Seventh Army had slid to its left to take over his position, as well as holding its own.) When Nordwind began, Eisenhower sent the 101st to Alsace to bolster the line.

When word reached the paratroopers that they were to be taken by truck to Alsace, it was accompanied by a rumor that turned out to be exaggerated: the Germans had broken through. Winters’s thought was, My God, don’t they have anybody else in this army to plug these gaps?

It was a long trip. Alsace was 160 miles south and slightly east of Bastogne. The weather was cold and miserable, with falling snow. The roads were slippery and dangerous. The trucks proceeded at a walking pace; men could jump off, relieve themselves, and catch up to reboard without difficulty. Watching the process was often comical , however, because from outside to inside the men were wearing baggy pants, OD pants, long underwear, and OD-colored undershorts. All had buttons— no zippers. Men tried to get everything open while still wearing their gloves. Sometimes it seemed to take forever.

The convoy went from Bastogne to Bellefontaine, Virton , Etain, Toul, Nancy, Drulingen, arriving on January 20. The 506th PIR went into regimental reserve.

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (pp 357-358). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Haguenau, France, from Google Maps

Haguenau, France, from Google Maps

On 7 December 1944 the 314th Infantry Regiment initiated action to take the French town of Haguenau from the Germans. By February the following year the town had changed hands multiple times. On 5 February the 516th Parachute Infantry Regiment relieved the 313th Infantry Regiment, which is where this episode of the HBO series picks up.

Easy Company arrives in Haguenau

Easy Company arrives in Haguenau

Americans take up positions in the town, overlooking the river. The Germans are on the other side. Replacements arrive. One of them is Private David Webster, who has been twice wounded and is returning from the hospital. He narrates this episode, and much of the personal action of this story is taken from his diary.

There are no protracted battles, but people still get killed. It’s a dangerous place, with the Germans inclined to send over a large artillery round whenever they spot a worthy target.

Easy company men take cover in Haguenau

Easy company men take cover in Haguenau

Haguenau is to be Easy Company’s last combat. It’s an unwelcome order from Colonel Sink. He wants a patrol to cross the river and bring back two German prisoners. We see Captains Winters and Nixon studying the German positions across the river. It’s 12 February 1945.


The men selected for the patrol spent two days outside Haguenau practicing the handling of the rubber boats. On February 14, Winters and Speirs visited OP 2, much to the dismay of the 1st squad, because they stood in front of the OP studying the German position with binoculars, gesturing with their hands, waving a map. “We inside cursed heartily,” Webster recalled, “fearing that a German observer would spot them and call down artillery fire on our cozy home.”

The plan Winters and Speirs worked out would call on Easy to display many of its hard-earned skills. The lead scout would be Cpl. Earl McClung, a part Indian who had a reputation for being able to “smell Krauts .” The patrol would rendezvous at a D Company OP, where the men would drink coffee and eat sandwiches until 2200. They would come to the river under cover of darkness and launch the first rubber boat. It would carry a rope across the river to fasten to a telephone pole on the north side so that the others could pull their boats across. Once in the German lines the patrol would split into two sections, the one under Lieutenant Jones going into town , the other under Sergeant Mercier to a house on the bank of the river suspected of being a German outpost.

Whether or not the patrol succeeded in capturing prisoners, it would have plenty of support for its retreat back across the river. If either section ran into trouble, or got its hands on prisoners, the section leader would blow a whistle to indicate that the withdrawal was under way. That would be the signal for both sections to gather at the boats, and for Lieutenant Speirs and Sergeant Malarkey to start the covering fire.

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (pp. 368-369). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The dramatization is actually less intense than the actual events described the book. The TV script does not include the hazards of the initial river crossing.

The first boat got across successfully. Two others made it. The fourth boat, with McCreary and Cobb in it, capsized. They drifted a hundred meters or so downstream, managed to get out, tried again, only to capsize once more. They gave it up as a bad job and returned to OP 2.

Ambrose, Stephen E. (2001-10-26). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 370). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Once across the river the plot again deviates from events, but the essence is captured. A rifle grenade fired through a window kicks off the attack on the target building. A grenade is thrown through a window, and an inexperienced replacement charges through the door before the grenade goes off. He is injured fatally, and two Germans are captured. The Americans evacuate back across the river, where the injured American succumbs to his wounds, and American soldiers attempt to kill the two prisoners in reprisal.


Sergeant Ken Mercier readies a rifle grenade


Americans pull back to the river


Americans retreat back across the river

And that was Easy Company’s last patrol of the war. What happens next is astounding.

Colonel Sink orders another patrol to get additional prisoners, and Captain Winters organizes a patrol. He addresses the men and tells them to get a good night’s sleep. There will be no patrol. Captain Winters will disobey Colonel Sink’s order and will file a false report about a patrol that never took place.

During this episode Sergeant Lipton is given an honorable discharge from the enlisted Army and receives a battle field commission as a lieutenant. As Easy Company prepares to pull out of Haguenau, Captain Nixon notices that Captain Winters is out of uniform. He hands him major’s oak leaves to replace his captain’s bars.

The war is not over for Easy Company. They won’t be fighting Germans, but as they penetrate deeply into Germany they will shortly witness horrors never before seen in the 2oth century.