By Ben Kane, JWV Programs Assistant

Like its competitor Battlefield 1, the immersive video game Call of Duty: WWII takes a step back from the exoskeletons and drones of future warfare, and marks the first game since 2008s World At War to take place during World War II. The game is not without its flaws, but where it makes a misstep in one area, it makes up for it in others.

As American GI “PFC Daniels” of the 1st Infantry Division, you trek through the well-known battlefields of Europe, fighting alongside soldiers who, while occasionally interesting, are ruined somewhat by being generic, stereotypical depictions of American soldiers. The game begins just before the Normandy landings, and the naïve feelings of the soldiers who announce that everything is going to be just fine and everyone will be ok quickly dissipate once the horrors of war become apparent.

Call of Duty: WWII tries to act like Battlefield 1 in another way, and shares a poignant brutality in the early portions of the game. These moments are well done and necessary, but are frustratingly few and far between, as you then promptly continue fighting through Europe largely as a one man army. I say largely because, in a departure from previous games, health is only restored through “health packs” obtained on the battlefield and from teammates, which makes them slightly above completely useless. Of course there are many moments where it feels like you can take on Nazi Germany on your own, but the game does feature the occasionally difficult moment that forces you to rely on your squad to an extent. However, I couldn’t help but think of how strange it was that often the last act of a German soldier who has been shot is to throw a health pack onto the ground for his enemies to use.

Infrequently, one is put in the driver’s seats of a fighter plane and a tank. The tank section was far more interesting to play than the dogfight, as the destructible environments and need to fire at the weaker sections of the tank provided more interesting game play than the fairly bland aerial combat section

The graphics are as decent as other installments, and the artificial intelligence (AI) is definitely nothing to write home about, as computer-controlled enemies often just stood over the bodies of their comrades in one of the several forced stealth sections, not alerting their fellow soldiers that one of their own has been killed. It would have been the mark of an evolving studio to have taken steps to improve the graphics and the AI, and make the player feel like an actual part of the world and not an outsider solely in existence to kill. As I’m sprint-hopping from tent to tent at the command points between missions, a soldier making a passing quip about my strange behavior would have been a nice touch.

Call of Duty: WWII is, not unexpectedly, not very historically accurate. However, there are several instances of historical accuracy that makes me think at least one writer did some homework. The members of the French Forces of the Interior, the French resistance group led by General and future president of France Charles De Gaulle, had armbands featuring the actual insignia of the FFI. There is also a cut scene and a segment that takes place in the largely and sadly unknown Berga concentration camp, where several hundred G.I.s were imprisoned and many were worked to death or shot. The cut scene portrayed camp commandant Erwin Metz, as well as a brief dialogue exchange that is known to have occurred at the camp. There certainly could and should have been more poignant and historically accurate moments, but the few they have are much appreciated.

Multiplayer gaming is business as usual for the series, with maps that favor players who run around with machine guns blindly and without strategy. It’s not great multiplayer, especially when compared with the terrific multiplayer of Battlefield 1, but it’s not overly unpleasant to play. However, the dropping of loot boxes onto Omaha Beach so other players can see you opening them is in immensely poor taste, the idea definitely should have been shot down during development

Despite the clichés and issues that have been prevalent in the series since the beginning, Call of Duty: WWII is a solid installment in the series. The game isn’t revolutionary, and it largely fails to live up to the potential that the time period provides, but it’s worth checking out, especially if you can get it at a good price.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being best, I rate this game at a 7.75.

Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018

Fewer events in modern history have captured the public interest and imagination as utterly as the battles and machinations of the Second World War. The source of countless films, novels and other dramatic retellings, cultural depictions often focus on hard won victories and uphill struggles against the Axis powers. In Christopher Nolan’s newest film Dunkirk we see a rarer, yet incredibly powerful, glimpse into an event that holds more ambiguous ground in the annals of history.

Opening on Nazi pamphlets fluttering down from an overcast sky, the story of Dunkirk begins as Nolan slowly brings the viewer into a tension-wrought film that proves to be as harrowing as it is compelling. Alternating between the perspective of a rank-and-file British soldier, Royal Air Force pilots, the civilian rescue fleet and at brief intervals, the commanders present, the audience can palpably feel the terror from every perspective.

The Battle of Dunkirk, alternately referred to as Operation Dynamo or the Miracle of Dunkirk, unfolded in May and June of 1940 in the small coastal French town of the same name. Surrounded by quickly advancing German troops and an incoming Luftwaffe (the German air force) over 400,000 soldiers, primarily British, became stranded once the totality of the enveloping German army became clear. The aforementioned pamphlets informed soldiers on the beach “WE SURROUND YOU” with arrows indicating the German position. Dunkirk captures the following battle, evacuation and activation of the British civilian vessel fleet that was sent to assist in the effort.

Dunkirk’s greatest strength is its ability to successfully flaunt conventional war film tropes by focusing upon the visceral terror of the conflict rather than emotional and interpersonal drama. Throughout the film dialogue is sparse and direct, and we are given little insight into the personalities of the characters themselves. The film instead chooses to provide us with an anxiety inducing and brutal experience of survival in war. As the invasion proceeds we see the beaches of Dunkirk descend quickly into unrelenting chaos. Soldiers blindly trust and mistrust one another, rescue vessels are boarded only to be mercilessly bombed and abandoned while British command struggles to comprehend the calamity.

The tension escalates further as we follow a man captaining a small British fishing boat with his son and a boy from their hometown. The marked contrast between the calm of crossing of the Thames on the way to rescue and the frantic stranded soldiers comes to a heartbreaking crescendo as the vulnerable fishing boat slowly breaches the zone of combat. This pivotal intersection is captured by quick shots of the vast unforgiving sea and deliberately unsteady camerawork that serve to inextricably draw the audience in. It becomes difficult to imagine the true experience of events was much different.

The powerlessness and crippling fear omnipresent throughout is captured with a spine-tingling score that leaves the viewer on the edge of their seat. Coupled with contrasting panoramic shots of destruction at sea and claustrophobic vignettes of desperate and struggling soldiers, the camera takes us on an exhilarating ride. Calling to mind director Christopher Nolan’s Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy, Dunkirk delivers another sweeping and expansive epic that has proven to be just as successful at the box office.

A Nolan favorite, Tom Hardy stars as a stoic Royal Air Force captain executing precarious assaults to protect the beaches of Dunkirk from inside his miniscule cockpit. Harry Styles, making a surprisingly smooth leap from boy-band stardom to the silver screen, delivers an aggressive and yet undeniably talented performance as a low-level British soldier. Finally, British acting legends Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance round out the eclectic cast with characteristically complex performances. Branagh plays the hand wringing and desperate Commander Bolton who artfully exhibits a restrained compassion for the troops he desperately tries to rescue throughout the film. Rylance respectively showcases his skill portraying a fishing boat captain calmly eager to join the civilian rescue fleet that was deployed at the 11th hour.

Held aloft by its stunning cinematography, subtle and yet profound acting performances, and irresistibly tense score, Dunkirk has proven itself to quite possibly be the war film of the decade. Unique in its approach portraying the sober British military and the understated fear and panic of battle in the midst of overwhelming violence, we are treated to an unglamorous and gratingly tense masterpiece. Brutally honest and horrifyingly realistic, the film will leave you shaken and yet full of awe – and for this reason Dunkirk is undeniably worth the watch.

Author Lauren Hellendall has been the Membership Assistant at JWV since December 2016. She graduated from American University in 2014 with a BA in Environmental Studies and took many film studies courses while at university. Lauren loves working with veterans and is excited to have her first film review published in the Veteran.

Volume 71. Number 3. Fall 2017

Review by Cindy Chambers and Jordana Green Laurent

The National Portrait Gallery’s “The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now” examines the toils and tribulations of modern warfare in the lives of US service members. The six installations, ranging from photography to audio-visual, capture moments of pain, boredom, and camaraderie. Death, in all its oppressive forms, lingers through the entire collection.

The exhibit’s introduction reminds us “how military service has now become an integral part of advertising campaigns for everything from beer to trucks to real estate; the veteran as a product placement vehicle speaks of a business-as-usual mentality that puts us in danger of losing any sense of what it means to have been in combat.”

To combat this danger of sensory deprivation to combat, the exhibit brings the faces of war front and center by literally showing us the humanity- the good, bad, and ugly- of war.

Bedrooms of the Fallen by Ashley Gilbertson

At first glance, Ashley Gilbertson’s photos are almost inviting. Everything is familiar. The bedrooms of young adults in US working- to middle-class suburban homes. The bed with a nearby nightstand; paperbacks; computers; school awards; the US flag on the wall or sewn into a pillow. But then you begin to notice the age of the room. There are posters for movies that released six years ago; a class of 2013 high school letterman jacket; unopened Christmas presents in the corner. The bedrooms are unoccupied both in the photo and in the homes.

Reading the captions on each print, you learn the bedrooms housed US service members before they were killed in action. The human cost of war is never more apparent than when you recognize that the service member died two to six years ago, but their family has left the bedroom untouched. As if a personal museum exhibit, the room expresses the service member’s hobbies, religion, musical tastes, and all those habits that make up an individual’s personality. Gilbertson’s choice of black-and-white prints, over color, only further locks the room in time.

As much about grief as the ultimate sacrifice of war, Bedrooms of the Fallen reminds you of the importance of kindness. Crawling through traffic, waiting at the VA pharmacy, or listening to your Post member’s recitation of his day, all these moments are being lived by someone who might be grieving or trying to move forward.

Homage to 2nd Lt. John Holt Jr. by Vincent Valdez

The sole exhibit with a mixed media approach, Vincent Valdez’s work speaks through sight and sound. You are immediately drawn to a video projection of a flag draped-casket slowly floating across the screen with rotating images of an urban American neighborhood in the background. Speakers blast “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” an anti-war Irish punk song by The Pogues. It is jarring and upsetting, so you look away only to be transfixed by an oil painting that stretches across two-thirds of the wall. Appearing almost photo-like, the close-up of an army soldier’s battle-weary face conveys the trauma of war. When you see the display-case housing a tri-fold US flag devoid of color, you feel the exhibit’s message, not as a whisper, but as a blunt club to the face. War broke this soldier down and ultimately took his life.

Valdez explained that the featured soldier, John Holt Jr., was a good friend and dutiful citizen. After serving a tour in Iraq as a combat medic, 2nd Lt. Holt Jr. returned home suffering from PTSD. Before deploying for a second tour in 2009, he died by suicide. Duty and loss ring forth in this homage to John, friend of Vincent, attendant of the wounded, and one of our fallen heroes.

A Soldier’s Life by Stacey Pearsall

 Air Force photographer Stacey Pearsall noted, “I’ve often heard war described as perpetual boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. I’ve seen and documented both.” One of the few female combat photographers, she has worked in more than forty-two countries, including serving three tours in Iraq.

Pearsall’s lens captures the social moments and comradeship of life behind the front lines, as well as the pressure of soldiers as they wait for the inevitable patrol or mission. In “Apple Pie & Baseball,” a young soldier practices America’s national pastime. He swings a bat with a look of intense concentration, allowing you to momentarily forget that he is standing in front a tank and could be seconds from danger.

By living, eating, sleeping, and grieving with her subjects, Pearsall broke down the boundaries between soldier and photographer. What emerged were raw photos showing the humanity and emotions behind the helmet – reminding us that war is more than bullets. The gritty reality she reveals is one filled with emotional and physical tolls far removed from everyday US civilian life.

In 2014, Pearsall participated in JWV’s 119th Convention in Charleston, SC. JWV members posed for full portraits and headshots as part of her Veterans Portrait Project. Like her current exhibit, the compelling images project personality and drive you to ask, “what’s their story?” Visit her website to review her full collection.

Memorials in Pencil by Emily Prince

In the early years of the War on Terror, artist Emily Prince began reading obituaries of the deceased to put a name and a face on the losses that had become a montage on TV. She soon created pencil sketches of the fallen, on paper that corresponded to their skin tones. If she could find the information, she also included a few sentences about soldiers.

The archival project features chronological pieces from June 2009 to May 2012 displayed in a dizzying grid-like order; from a distance, the installation could be a scrabble board. The chaos of the layout is representative of the scale and depth of loss, grief, and memory.

It is eerie to see the painstaking detail Prince put into every portrait – over 2.500 hand-drawn sketches. Up close, you can see every line and read the words she has lovingly inscribed at the top. Each portrait lists the birth and death dates of the subject, a reminder that they are gone too young and too soon.

Volume 71. Number 2. Summer 2017

By Seth Meyerowitz with Peter F. Stevens

Book review by Sheldon A. Goldberg, Ph.D.
Docent/Historian, NMAJMH

One of the greatest fears of airmen during World War II – especially Jewish airmen – was to be shot down and captured by the Nazis.  Allied airmen, regardless of their religion, were labeled terrorflieger – terrorist airmen – by the Nazi hierarchy. Many of those downed over German territory were captured and sent to POW camps, the less fortunate were lynched by German civilians, shot on sight by German soldiers, or if captured by the Gestapo, tortured and then killed. Those shot down in France and not captured by the Nazis but rescued by French citizens and given over the Maquis – the French resistance fighters – were extremely lucky and smuggled out of France. Staff Sergeant Arthur Meyerowitz, a young Jewish B-24 flight engineer and top turret gunner who was shot down over France on his second mission on 31 December 1944 was one of the lucky ones. The Lost Airman is the amazing true story of his 6-month journey with the help of the French resistance to escape from Nazi-occupied France.

Injuring his back after cutting himself out of the tree in which he landed after bailing out of his burning B-24, Meyerowitz takes a chance and walks to a French farmhouse to seek help from its occupants. His luck holds out – the French family are in close contact with a French resistance group, the Morhange and its leader, Marcel Taillandier. Marcel takes Arthur and his journey through a number of safe houses begins. He is taught to be and act like a deaf mute to avoid possible capture by the Nazis, always on the lookout for downed airmen. The perilous journey takes him through France to Toulouse where he spent four months hiding in the open and finally over the Pyrenees into Spain and eventually to Gibraltar and Allied control.

Aside from the description of Arthur’s journey, there are a number of excellent reasons anyone interested in World War II history should read this well-written book. First, it tells the story of a young, Bronx-born Jew who, disqualified from the Aviation Cadet program due to an accident affecting his eyesight, opts to become a flight engineer rather than an administrative officer because he wanted to fight for his country. Second, it is the story of an individual with tremendous will power, fortitude and courage that enabled him to do what his French rescuers required of him in order to survive. Third, it provides an in-depth look at the French Maquis and how they operated, including infiltrating the German occupation authorities. Finally, it describes the heroism of those patriotic French men and women who faced torture and death rather than give up the names of their resistance colleagues.

The Lost Airman is based on Arthur Meyerowitz’s escape debrief, post-war letters from his French rescuers, and interviews with Arthur’s brother Seymour, and the narration reads easily like a novel. Whatever literary license that was taken, smoothly bridges gaps and is factually based and logical, portraying Arthur and the members of the Maquis as true heroes.

Volume 71. Number 1. Spring 2017