Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of

Khalid Elhassan - July 31, 2023

Movie scripts for war films have to get approved by the Pentagon as a precondition for the US military’s assistance with those flicks. Such assistance can be valuable, so Hollywood executives have a strong incentive to tailor war films to please the US armed forces. Below are twenty five things about that, some famous movies that the Pentagon agreed to help, and others that the US military wanted nothing to do with.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Both Top Gun and Top Gun: Maverick received assistance from the US military. IMDb

The Military Entertainment Complex

Making a movie – especially an action film – is seldom cheap. That’s why Hollywood executives constantly keep an eye out for ways to cut costs. When it comes to any movie that involves the military, one of the best cost-cutting ways is to get help from the Pentagon. For more than a century, the US armed services have has been more than happy to help Hollywood by lending it military gear and letting it film on military installations. However, in order for the Pentagon to scratch the backs of Hollywood producers, it wants them to scratch its back in return.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
The Pentagon has a long-standing mutually beneficial relationship with Hollywood. Veteran Life

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) demands a say in every American made movie that wants to use US military resources that are not available on the open market. There is an office dedicated to that: the DoD’s Entertainment Media Unit. The resultant mutually beneficial relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon is known as the “military-entertainment complex“. Below are some of the hoops Hollywood films have to jump through in order to get production assistance from the US military.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
US Air Force airmen act as of extras on the set of 2007’s ‘Transformers’ during filming at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. US Air Force

To Qualify for US Military Assistance, a Movie Has to Meet the Pentagon’s Criterion

An action blockbuster’s production can get pretty expensive. Borrowing military gear from the US armed forces is one way to put cool stuff on the silver screen, at little to no cost. Do you want great shots of Apache attack helicopters nipping around a battlefield, a US carrier task force majestically slicing through the waves, or the newest US Air Force warplanes doing nifty things? The Pentagon is happy to help – provided you make it happy in return. To qualify for support from the DoD, a movie script has to get vetted in advance by its Entertainment Media Unit.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Uncle Sam’s and the US military’s links to the entertainment industry go back generations. YouTube

All will be well, and the Pentagon will offer assistance that can be worth millions of dollars, provided a movie meets some basic criterion. First, the movie has to present the US military in a positive way. Second, the movie has to depict the US military accurately and authentically – with the Pentagon getting to define what counts as “accurate” and “authentic”. Finally, the movie has to have a positive impact on US military recruitment and retention. Below are some movies that met those criterion and got help from the Pentagon, and others that did not and were told by the DoD to go kick rocks.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Midway (1976) movie poster. Original Film Art

Unsurprisingly, America’s Most Dramatic Naval Victory Was Great Movie Material

At 10:25AM, June 4th, 1942, Japan ruled the Pacific, and was dictating the terms of war. By 10:30AM, Japan had effectively lost World War II. That dramatic turnaround was depicted in not just one movie, but two, one released in 1976 and the other in 2019, both titled Midway. The US military cooperated in the production of both movies in exchange for the right to co-write the scripts. The lead up to that climactic showdown began after the attack on Pearl Harbor six months earlier, when Japan went on a rampage in which its armed forces won a series of stunning victories. The Japanese wanted to win a battle of annihilation, then negotiate a favorable peace.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Midway (2019) movie poster. Tallange

Pearl Harbor was a success, but not decisive. So the Japanese decided to invade Midway Island in order to lure what’s left of the US Navy to show up for a climactic showdown. Assuming that the US Navy had only 1 or 2 aircraft carriers in the Pacific, the Japanese launched an operation with 4 fleet carriers. However, American cryptanalysts had cracked Japanese codes and knew of the upcoming attack. Moreover, the US had more carriers in the Pacific than expected. One had been transferred from the Atlantic, and another that had been damaged in an earlier battle and was expected to take months to fix, was rushed back into service after 48 hours of repairs. Thus, the Japanese would meet 3 US carriers, and an alert enemy waiting in ambush, rather than one caught off guard. They launched their first carrier attack on the morning of June 4th.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
A Devastator dropping a torpedo. Aviation Online History Museum

A Dramatic Turnaround Worthy of a Movie

The Japanese inflicted significant damage, but a second strike was necessary. Japanese aircraft were recovered and readied. Amdist that, the Japanese learned that American carriers were present. Midway wasn’t going anywhere, and destroying carriers was more important. Accordingly, orders were given to switch from bombs intended for ground targets, to anti-ship bombs and torpedoes. In the meantime, US carriers launched their own aircraft against the Japanese. First to arrive were Devastator torpedo bombers – slow planes that had to fly low, steady, and straight, to launch their torpedoes. 41 Devastators attacked without fighter escort. 35 were shot down, without scoring a hit. The Japanese resumed refueling and rearming to strike the American carriers. While the American torpedo bombers were slaughtered, a flight of American Dauntless dive bombers was lost, trying to locate the Japanese.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Dauntless dive bombers target a Japanese aircraft carrier. Wallpaper Flare

They neared the point beyond which they would lack sufficient fuel to return to their carriers, but their commander pushed on. Eventually, he spotted a lone Japanese destroyer below. Guessing it was headed to rejoin its fleet, he used its wake as an arrow, which led him to the Japanese fleet. A Japanese fleet caught at the worst possible time for an attack from dive bombers. Rearming and refueling, the carrier decks and hangars were full of bombs, torpedoes, and gas. There was no air cover – Japanese fighters had gone down to destroy the torpedo bombers that had attacked at low level. They hadn’t yet regained altitude when the American dive bombers showed up high above and dove down. Within five minutes, three out of the four Japanese aircraft carriers were aflame. The fourth was sunk later that day.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Saving Private Ryan movie poster. Imgur

The Pentagon Was Happy to Help With Saving Private Ryan

The Pentagon helped with Saving Private Ryan, which depicts the travails of fictional GIs assigned a special task amidst WWII’s Normandy Campaign. Their mission: to find Private Ryan of the 101st Airborne Division – the missing but presumed still alive last of four brothers, the rest of whom were killed in combat. It is based upon a real tragedy: the Niland Brothers. In WWII, Edward, Preston, Robert, and Frederick “Fritz” Niland, four sons of Michael and Augusta Niland of Tonawanda, New York, served in uniform. Preston and Robert had joined the US Army before America’s entry into the war, and the other two joined in 1942. They could not serve together because of the Sullivan Brothers tragedy, five US Navy siblings who perished when the ship aboard which they served together was sunk in 1942.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Scene from Saving Private Ryan, and the Niland Brothers, left to right, Edward, Preston, Robert, and Frederick. Pinterest

New rules prevented immediate family members from serving together, so the Nilands ended up in different units. Three served in the US Army: Preston in the 4th Infantry Division, Robert in the 82nd Airborne Division, Frederick in the 101st Airborne Division. Edward joined the US Army Air Forces. Then came 1944, a horrible year for the Nilands. In May, Edward’s B-25 Mitchell medium bomber was shot down over Burma. His parents received a telegram that he was missing, presumed dead. A few weeks later, Mr. and Mrs. Niland learned that Robert had been killed in Normandy on D-Day, June 6th, 1944, and Preston was killed nearby a day later. When higher ups heard, they determined Mr. and Mrs. Niland would not lose their last son.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Frederick Niland, left, during training at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, in 1943. Knights of Columbus

1944 Was a Terrible Year for the Nilands

Orders were sent to find Fritz Niland of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, whose paratroopers had jumped into Normandy on June 5th. Nine days after D-Day, Fritz stopped by the 82nd Airborne Division to see his brother Robert, and discovered that he had been on killed on June 6th. The same morning that Robert was killed, his brother Preston, a 4th Infantry Division lieutenant, led his men ashore on Utah Beach. Preston Niland and his platoon were ordered to take out a troublesome artillery position. On June 7th, 1944, Lieutenant Niland led his men against that position, and fell, mortally wounded. Within three weeks, tragedy befell three Niland brothers, and their parents received the terrible news about three of their sons within a brief span of time.

Their only consolation was a letter from their son Frederick, sent before he had learned the fates of his siblings. In it, he wrote: “Dad’s Spanish-American war stories are going to have to take a backseat when I get home“. Orders were quickly dispatched from the War Department to Normandy, to find Frederick, and return him to his grief-stricken parents. The task fell to Father Francis Sampson, chaplain of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. He tracked down Fritz – albeit in less dramatic fashion than in the fictional Saving Private Ryan. By then, Fritz had learned that he had lost his brother Robert. His grief grew when the chaplain told him about his two other siblings.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
The two surviving Niland Brothers, Fritz, left, and Eddie. Brothers in Arms Project

The Real Quest to Return the Last Surviving Son to His Parents

Father Sampson began the paperwork necessary to get Fritz back to the US. To the relief of his parents, Frederick Niland made it home in 1944. Back in the US, he served out the rest of the war as an MP in New York. Then in May, 1945, Michael and Augusta Niland received unexpected good news. Their son, US Army Air Forces Technical Sergeant Edward Francis Niland, who had been shot down in Burma the preceding May and listed as missing, presumed dead, was not actually dead. Edward had parachuted safely from his stricken B-25. He wandered the Burmese jungle for days, before he was captured on May 16th, 1944, and made a prisoner of war.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
The Niland Brothers. 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry

Edward survived the miseries of a Japanese POW camp, until it was liberated by British forces on May 4th, 1945. He had lost a lot of weight in captivity, and returned to New York a skeletal 80 pounds. However, he returned, alive. He lived in Tonawanda until his death in 1984, aged 71. As to Fritz, he went on to earn a dentistry degree from Georgetown University after the war, and became a dentist. He died in San Francisco in 1983, at age 63. His and his brothers’ story was recounted in Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, and the fictional Private Ryan of Steven Spielberg’s movie is loosely based upon him. The Pentagon helped with that movie, but it does not cooperate with all flicks. Below are some movies that the US military wanted no part of.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Platoon movie poster. Pinterest

The Pentagon Wanted No Part of This Oliver Stone War Movie

Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War movie, Platoon, is bleak. Unsurprisingly, the Pentagon refused to assist in its production. A key objection was the rampant drug use. However, the movie, if anything, understated the military drug epidemic at the time. Until 1969, the only drug widely available to American troops in Vietnam was marijuana. But in 1969, heroin became widely available. It was cheap, and so pure that servicemen could get high smoking heroin mixed with tobacco. That made it less objectionable to those reluctant to inject the drug.

By 1971, almost half of US Army enlistees in Vietnam had tried heroin. Of those, about half exhibited signs of addiction. In May, 1971, US congressmen Morgan Murphy of Illinois and Robert Steele of Connecticut visited Vietnam on a fact-finding mission. They uncovered disturbing facts: 15% of American servicemen in Vietnam were heroin addicts. Even more were recreational users of heroin and other drugs. Worse, the addiction epidemic had spread from Vietnam to other US military installations around the world. The American garrison in West Germany was especially hard hit.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
GIs doing drugs in Vietnam. Imgur

The Pentagon Objected to Platoon’s Depiction of Drug Use in the Military

The US military tried to handle the heroin epidemic with a mixture of military discipline and penalties, combined with a limited amnesty. Military personnel who were caught using or possessing drugs were subject to court martial and dishonorable discharge. Those who voluntarily sought help were offered an “amnesty” and a brief stint of treatment. As statistics revealed, that approach was a dismal failure, and heroin use skyrocketed. The idea that so many servicemen were addicted to heroin horrified the American public.

Heroin was perceived as the most addictive narcotic ever produced, and one whose addiction was nearly impossible to escape. In response, President Nixon created the Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention. He also ordered further research on military personnel addiction. The results were worse than congressmen Murphy’s and Steele’s figures. Instead of 15%, the true figure for self-identifying addicts in Vietnam was actually 20%. This took place as the US tried to negotiate an exit from the war, while drawing down its troops.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Testing GIs for drugs prior to their return from Vietnam. NPR

The Impact of the Vietnam War’s Drug Epidemic Extended to the US as a Whole

In the early 1970s, about 1000 servicemen were sent home from Vietnam each day. Most were swiftly processed out of the military and discharged soon thereafter back into civilian life. In light of the 20% addiction figures, it meant that hundreds of active heroin addicts were released into the US each week. Such an influx of addicts was bound to create serious social problems. So psychologists drafted a plan that entailed radical changes in how the military dealt with addiction. Instead of courts martial, the emphasis shifted to treatment.

Rather than rely on addicts to self-report their drug use in the hope of “amnesty”, widespread urine tests were employed to detect heroin use. Under the new policy, servicemen in Vietnam who tested positive for heroin were kept in theater under treatment until they dried out, before they returned to America. There, they were subjected to further treatment in VA facilities. It was a vast improvement over what had gone before, and the relapse rate among those who underwent such treatment was a relatively low 5%. The problem was not finally contained until years later, after the US withdrew completely from Vietnam.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Mars Attacks! movie poster. Heritage Auctions

The US Military Refused to Assist Mars Attacks! Because It Showed Generals As Inept

Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! not only featured an ensemble cast, but special effects that caused production costs to skyrocket. The Pentagon loathed the script and refused to help. A key objection was just how incompetent American generals were depicted in the movie, plus general unrealism. In real life, the Pentagon does have contingency plans for how to respond to space invaders, be they from Mars or elsewhere in the cosmos. The US military constantly prepares for scenarios that might require its services.

The Pentagon has plans for nearly all imaginable contingencies. Whether humanitarian missions, or all varieties of the military’s core function of delivering warheads to foreheads, there is a contingency plan. Officials constantly imagine potential scenarios that might require a military response, and conjure up plans to deal with them. From the Red Army storming through the Fulda Gap, to a mass terrorist attack, to rescuing American hostages in some far off land, there is document on what should be done stashed away somewhere.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
The US military has a plan for a zombie outbreak. AMCI

The Pentagon Actually Does Have Contingency Plans for Alien Invasions From Outer Space

The goal of the US military’s various contingency is to be prepared for if or when the brown stuff hits the fan. If that happens, rather than run around like chickens with their heads cut off, the powers that be want a blueprint ready on the shelf to dust off and carry out. Or at least to use as a starting point for further plans, more narrowly tailored to a real world scenario that resembles the one for which a contingency plan exists.

The plans are sometimes farfetched – sometimes because somebody got carried away. Other times, because the goal is simply to train planners on the nuts and bolts of contingency planning. Some of them are pretty zany. As in far zanier than even alien invasions, as depicted in Mars Attacks! Of the farfetched plans, few are zanier than CONPLAN 8888. Also known as Counter-Zombie Dominance, it is a US Department of Defense Strategic Command plan to defend against a possible zombie apocalypse.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Cover of CONPLAN 8888, the US Department of Defense’s plan to fight off a zombie apocalypse. Pinterest

The Pentagon Even Has Plans for a Zombie Apocalypse

CONOP 8888’s summary states: “Because zombies pose a threat to all non-zombie human life, [Strategic Command] will be prepared to preserve the sanctity of human life and conduct operations in support of any human population — including traditional adversaries“. A disclaimer section states: “this plan was not actually designed as a joke“. The plan treats a zombie outbreak just like any other threat, and calls for phases to handle the contingency. First comes general awareness training. Then, deterrence – not of the zombies, who cannot be deterred, but of other countries that might want to deploy zombies.

Afterwards, the Pentagon plans to seize the initiative, recall all military personnel to service, establish defensive positions, and launch limited scale military operations to negate the zombie threat. Next is domination: lockdown all military installations for 30 days, don appropriate protective gear, issue orders to kill all non-human life on sight, and bomb zombie infection sources and support infrastructure. Then comes stabilization, ascertainment of the safety of the environment, and the identification and destruction of zombie holdout pockets. Finally, the military would shift its efforts to aid civilian authorities in the restoration of normal life.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
The Execution of Private Slovik movie poster. Rotten Tomatoes

The Military Rejected The Execution of Private Slovik

The Pentagon wanted nothing to do with the The Execution of Private Slovik, a 1974 movie that posthumously catapulted Eddie Slovik, a US Army private executed for desertion in WWII, to fame. It also made his fate, depicted in the movie as a miscarriage of justice, into a cause célèbre. To be fair, Slovik brought it upon himself. Edward Donald Slovik (1920 – 1945) was a habitual criminal. His rap sheet included assault, auto theft, and burglary, and when he tried to enlist in 1942, he was designated 4F on grounds of moral unfitness and rejected. A year later, the military felt a manpower crunch, had second thoughts, and drafted Slovik. He was sent to France in August, 1944, and assigned to the 28th Infantry Division. En route, he happened upon a Canadian military police unit, and stayed with them for six weeks.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Eddie Slovik. Wikimedia

Slovik finally reported to his unit on October 7th, 1944. He asked his company commander for reassignment to a rear echelon unit, and threatened to run away if assigned to a combat outfit. The request was denied, and he was assigned to a rifle platoon. The next day, Slovik deserted. He walked several miles towards the rear until he reached a headquarters detachment. There, he handed them a prepared note, which read: “I, Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik, 36896415, confess to the desertion of the United States Army. At the time of my desertion we were in Albuff in France. I came to Albuff as a replacement. They were shelling the town and we were told to dig in for the night. The following morning they were shelling us again. I was so scared, nerves and trembling, that at the time the other replacements moved out, I couldn’t move“.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Private Slovik’s confession. The Los Angeles Review of Books

A Movie About a Miscarriage of Justice That Was Anything But Unjust

Slovik’s confession added: “I stayed there in my fox hole till it was quiet and I was able to move. I then walked into town. Not seeing any of our troops, so I stayed over night at a French hospital. The next morning I turned myself over to the Canadian Provost Corp. After being with them six weeks I was turned over to American M.P. They turned me loose. I told my commanding officer my story. I said that if I had to go out there again I’d run away. He said there was nothing he could do for me so I ran away again AND I’LL RUN AWAY AGAIN IF I HAVE TO GO OUT THERE. —Signed Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik A.S.N. 36896415“. Slovik thought that confession would get him sent to jail. As a former jailbird, jail did not scare him.

Sure, desertion could be punished with death, but nobody had been executed for that offense. Slovik’s commander read his note, and told him to destroy it and avoid arrest. He declined. A higher ranking officer told Slovik that if he tore up the confession and returned to his unit, no further action would be taken. He refused. Slovik was then instructed to write another note on the back of his confession, stating that he understood the legal ramifications of deliberately incriminating himself, and that his note could be used against him in a court-martial. He did, and was taken into custody. A JAG (Judge Advocate General) officer offered to drop all charges if Slovik returned to his unit. He even offered a transfer to another infantry regiment, where no one knew what he had done, so he could start over with a clean slate. Slovik declined.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Private Slovik’s sentence. National Archives

A Scheme that Backfired

Slovik stated: “I’ve made up my mind. I’ll take my court-martial.” Unfortunately it a bad time to get cute with the Army. At the time, Allied casualties in France were soaring, morale was low, and desertions were at an all-time high. To restore discipline, the authorities needed to make an example of somebody. Along came Slovik: a jailbird openly defying the military and daring it to do its worst. So it did. Slovik was charged with desertion, and got his day in court on November 11th, 1944. His confession was presented to the tribunal, and he declined to testify. Slovik was not surprised when he was convicted. He was unpleasantly surprised, however, when the court did not sentence him to the relative safety and comfort of prison, as he had hoped. Instead, it handed him a death sentence.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Martin Sheen in The Execution of Private Slovik. Exec Privilege

Slovik’s sentence was approved by his division commander, who noted: “I thought it was my duty to this country to approve that sentence. If I hadn’t approved it—if I had let Slovik accomplish his purpose—I don’t know how I could have gone up to the line and looked a good soldier in the face.” A frightened Slovik, who knew that other deserters had been punished with prison and a dishonorable discharge, wrote General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, begging for clemency. Eisenhower rejected the plea. On the morning of January 31st, 1945, Slovik was strapped to a post near the French village of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. At 10:04 AM a firing squad of twelve soldiers from his regiment shot him with M1 Garand rifles, killing him instantly.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
The Pentagon was not happy with how the movie Forrest Gump depicted intellectually challenged soldiers in Vietnam. Art of the Movies

Forrest Gump Could Have Been a US Marine

The US Army wanted nothing to do with Forrest Gump. The original script had Forrest serve in Vietnam in a unit comprised entirely of intellectually challenged soldiers, and that part of the movie did not sit well with the Army. The Marines had no problem with being depicted as dimwits, and offered to help if the producers made Gump a Marine instead. The film’s creators declined, because they thought the Army was an integral part of the story. In real life, hundreds of thousands of intellectually challenged GIs had served in the US Army during the Vietnam War.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
The arrival of the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam, 1965. Pinterest

When President Lyndon B. Johnson assumed office in 1963, America had 16,000 troops in Vietnam. In 1964, the figure grew slightly to 23,000. In 1965, however, in response to requests from American commanders in Vietnam for ever more troops, the figure mushroomed to 185,000. By 1966 America had been sucked into a quagmire, and the troop count more than doubled from the preceding year to 385,000. That insatiable demand for more troops put LBJ’s administration in a bind: where to get them, without a public backlash? The answer was to cut corners, and send unfit soldiers to Vietnam.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Young recruits during the Vietnam War, circa 1967. History Network

The Use of Intellectually Challenged Soldiers in Vietnam

The way the draft system was set, college students got deferments. Ending student deferments would have furnished enough bodies to satisfy the military’s needs. However, college students were predominately the kids of the middle and upper classes, whose opinion counted the most with Congress and the media. Without their support, or at least acquiescence, American involvement in Vietnam could not continue. Such support or acquiescence would evaporate if their kids’ student deferments were cancelled, and they were drafted to fight and die in a far off country most Americans could not place on a map.

Mobilizing reservists could also furnish enough bodies, but it posed a similar dilemma. The reserves and National Guard were overwhelmingly filled with the children of the well off and connected. Sending them to Vietnam would produce a fierce backlash. To solve the military’s manpower shortfall without antagonizing middle and upper class Americans by sending their kids to Vietnam, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara came up with a shameful brainchild: Project 100,000. It was touted as a Great Society program that would take impoverished and disadvantaged youth, and break the cycle of poverty by teaching them valuable skills in the military.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara points to a map of Vietnam at a press conference in April, 1965. Library of Congress

“McNamara’s Morons”

In reality, the Pentagon’s key concern was not on how to help disadvantaged youth prepare for life. It just wanted warm bodies. Project 100,000 simply lowered or abandoned minimal military recruitment standards, to sign up those previously rejected by the draft as mentally or physically unfit. Recruiters swept through Southern backwaters and urban ghettoes, and signed up anybody with a pulse, including at least one recruit with an IQ of 62. In all, 354,000 were recruited. It goes without saying that the Project 100,000 recruits were not given any special skills or training.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
American soldiers on patrol in Vietnam. Task & Purpose

Once they signed on the dotted line, “the Moron Corps” or “McNamara’s Morons”, as other soldiers derisively called them, were rushed through training. They were then bundled off to Vietnam in disproportionate numbers. Once there, they were sent into combat en masse. In combat, the mental and physical limitations that had caused them to be rejected by the draft ensured that they were wounded and killed in disproportionate numbers. The toll fell particularly heavily on black youths: 41 percent of Project 100,000’s recruits were black, compared to 12 percent in the US military as a whole.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
13 Days movie poster. Past Posters

The Pentagon Disliked How 13 Days Depicted This General

The Pentagon disliked 13 Days, a movie about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. It particularly disliked the hawkish depiction of the chiefs-of-staff, and especially that of Curtis LeMay. However, US Air Force General Curtis LeMay (1906 – 1990) was even more hawkish in real life than he was depicted in that movie. In WWII, he had been a creative Eighth Air Force bomber group commander whose innovative tactics reduced losses and increased bombing efficiency. They soon became standard throughout the entire Eighth Air Force. That earned him recognition and promotion. In 1944, LeMay was given command of 20th Bomber Command in China, then of 21st Bomber Command in the Pacific. The bombing campaign against Japan had been in trouble. The B-29 Super Fortress heavy bombers deployed were designed for high altitude bombing, but a fast moving jet stream over Japan often scattered their bombs.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
General Curtis LeMay. K-Pics

LeMay changed tactics. By 1945, Japanese air power was negligible, so LeMay removed his B-29s’ defensive weapons in order to maximize bombload, and sent them on low-level raids. He also switched bombs. LeMay abandoned high explosives suitable for European cities of brick and concrete. Instead, his B-29s dropped incendiaries that were more effective against Japanese cities, whose buildings were mostly wooden. The result incinerated Japanese cities and devastated Japan, without a corresponding devastation of B-29s. After the war, LeMay again demonstrated his creativity by organizing the Berlin Airlift in 1948. Fresh off that success, he returned to the US to head the Strategic Air Command (SAC) – America’s nuclear bomb carrying bombers. He ran SAC from 1948 to 1957, and transformed it from a ragtag entity into a finely tuned machine on a sustained 24-hour-standby, capable of delivering Armageddon at a moment’s notice.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro. Defense Media Network

A Movie That Actually Understated How Tense the Cuban Missile Crisis Was

In his years at SAC, LeMay’s mind ossified. Used to playing with big hammers for so long, he came to see all problems as big nails. That became clear during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, by which time LeMay had risen to Air Force Chief of Staff. When the crisis erupted, LeMay pushed President Kennedy to adopt a course of action that would have guaranteed WWIII: bomb the Russian missile sites, then invade Cuba. LeMay and the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously agreed that a full-scale invasion was the only solution. They presented JFK with two versions: Oplan 316 for a full invasion, and Oplan 312 for aerial strikes to take out the missiles, followed by an invasion if necessary. The hawks, led by LeMay, preferred Oplan 316.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
President Kennedy and General LeMay. Politico

They argued that there was no guarantee that air strikes alone would take out all the missiles, or that some missiles would not be fired at the US. Planners expected 18,500 US casualties in the first ten days of the invasion, assuming no nukes. Unbeknownst to planners, Soviet forces in Cuba had tactical nuclear weapons. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had preauthorized the Soviet commander in Cuba to use tactical nukes at his discretion if he deemed it necessary. As the crisis intensified, Khrushchev withdrew release authority and forbade their use without his express permission. However, whether the modified orders would have been followed, is debatable. In practice, tactical nukes were dispersed throughout Cuba to various Soviet units, under the physical control of officers as low down the chain of command as captains.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Soviet forces in Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis. George Washington University National Archives

A General Who Would Have Started World War III

The Soviets incorporated nuclear weapons in their defensive plan. In the heat of battle the custodians of those weapons would have been under intense pressure as they were subjected to overwhelming US aerial strikes, naval bombardment, and ground attacks. A desperate local Soviet commander, perhaps cutoff from communications with higher authority, could easily have employed the tactical nukes at hand to save his command, or at least ensure that its demise did not come cheap. If the Soviets used nukes in Cuba, the US intended an overwhelming nuclear response. Things could easily have escalated from there to a full blown nuclear exchange that would have devastated both countries and Europe, irradiated the Northern Hemisphere, and set humanity back centuries. Luckily, President Kennedy resisted the pressure from his generals and admirals.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Editorial cartoon of Khrushchev and Kennedy during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Enciclopedia Historia

Instead, Kennedy relied on diplomacy, back channels, and blockade. LeMay likened Kennedy’s reluctance to trigger a nuclear holocaust to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement at Munich. Fortunately, JFK declined to follow LeMay’s advice, and negotiated a way out of the crisis instead. Even after the crisis was over, LeMay still urged that Cuba be invaded. After retiring from the Air Force, LeMay went into extreme far right politics, and joined segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace as running mate in his 1968 presidential bid. He was too extreme even for George Wallace, who came to see the former general as a liability after he made tone deaf comments about nuking rivals into the stone age. After the campaign, LeMay retired to California, where he died of a heart attack in 1990.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Patton movie poster. Militaria Zone

The US Army Initially Refused to Support the Movie Patton

The Oscar-winning Patton is probably the most recognized war biographical movie of all time. However, the US Army refused to help with its production at first. For a change, that refusal was not because it did not like the script or other censorship-related reasons. Instead, it was because when the idea for the movie was floated in 1951, only a few years after Patton’s death, his family wanted no part of it, and the Army honored their wishes. Fortunately, both Patton’s family and the Pentagon eventually got on board, and the film was released to great acclaim in 1970. Its subject, George S. Patton, is America’s most famous fighting general of WWII. He led the US Seventh Army in North Africa and Sicily, and commanded the Third Army as it stormed through France, across Germany, and into Czechoslovakia.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
General George S. Patton in North Africa. Pinterest

A man of contradictions, Patton was hard charging, profane, and often obnoxious. He also had a softer side, and liked to write poetry – although not very well. And then there was the crazy side: Patton believed he was an eternal soldier, who had been reincarnated numerous times over the millennia as a warrior. In short, Patton was a man of extremes. He also elicited extreme reactions: people loved or hated him. He gave the latter plenty to hate, as his wartime exploits were often marred by controversies stemming from his propensity to abuse his authority and those under his command.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
George S. Patton in Sicily. Library of Congress

A Controversial General

One incident from 1943, in which he slapped sick soldiers, almost cost Patton his career. It paled in comparison to another incident in 1945, hurriedly swept under the rug, in which Patton got hundreds of GIs killed, wounded, or captured, because of nepotism. Patton’s best-known controversy occurred during the 1943 Sicilian Campaign. On a hospital visit, he came across a PTSD-suffering soldier who was also burning up with malarial fever. Seeing no visible wounds on the soldier, Patton became enraged, accused the unfortunate man of cowardice, slapped him around, and threatened to shoot him. He repeated the disgraceful performance a few days later in another hospital, and physically assaulted another PTSD-suffering GI.

When the scandal broke, it nearly got Patton cashiered from the US Army. Fortunately, General Dwight D. Eisenhower protected Patton and gave him a chance to command another army in France. Patton did not learn the lesson about abuse of power. In 1945, he had a worse, but lesser-known scandal, in which he got hundreds of GIs killed, wounded, or captured. It happened in March, 1945, when Patton ordered Task Force Baum, comprised of 314 men, 16 tanks, and dozens of other vehicles, to penetrate 50 miles behind German lines. Their mission: to liberate Hammelburg POW camp, which housed Patton’s son-in-law, John K. Waters.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
Patton movie poster. Heritage Auctions

Patton’s Other Scandal Was Even Worse Than His Soldier-Slapping

Task Force Baum’s raid ended catastrophically. All tanks and vehicles were lost, and of 314 participants, 32 were killed, and most of the rest were wounded or captured. Only 35 men made it back. The worst part of it was that the mission was totally unnecessary. Patton’s beloved son-in-law, for whom the great general had gotten the beloved sons, brothers, and fathers of many Americans killed or injured, had never been in any danger. Hammelburg was liberated two weeks after the Task Force Baum fiasco.

Movies The US Military Assisted On & Movies They Refused To Be Apart Of
The liberation of Hammelburg POW Camp by the 14th Armored Division, two weeks after the Task Force Baum fiasco. National Archives

When Eisenhower found out, he was furious at Patton’s misuse of military personnel and assets for personal reasons, and reprimanded him. In light of his valuable services, however, Eisenhower declined to punish Patton beyond the reprimand. Shortly thereafter, a reporter got wind of the scandal. When the story first broke in a major publication on April 12th, 1945, it would have wrecked Patton under normal circumstances. However, FDR died that same day, and his demise eclipsed all other news. The scandal got little traction, and when Patton died a few months later, the affair was reduced to a mere historic footnote.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

American Heritage Magazine, September/ October 1987, Volume 38, Issue 6 – The Example of Private Slovik

Atkinson, Rick – The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (2007)

Atomic Heritage Foundation – Curtis LeMay

Canisius College – The Niland Brothers

Coffey, Thomas M. – Iron Eagle: The Turbulent Life of General Curtis LeMay (1986)

Council on Foreign Relations – TWE Remembers: Secret Soviet Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Cuba (Cuban Missile Crisis, a Coda)

Davidson, Phillip – Vietnam at War: The History, 1946-1975 (1988)

Encyclopedia.Com – Drugs and Vietnam

Foreign Policy – Exclusive: The Pentagon Has a Plan to Stop the Zombie Apocalypse. Seriously

History Collection – Historic Military Blunders that Will Make You Feel Better About Your Own Mistakes

History Net – How Gen. George Patton’s Legend Went From Real to Reel

Kamienski, Lucasz – Shooting Up: A Short History of Drugs and War (2016)

Lenoir, Tim, and Caldwell, Luke – The Military-Entertainment Complex (2018)

Los Angeles Times, August 21st, 2011 – The US Military’s Hollywood Connection

Military – These are the Real Brothers Behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

National WWII Museum – Battle of Midway

NPR, January 2nd, 2012 – What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits

Parshall, Jonathan, and Tully, Anthony – Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway (2005)

Ranker – The Oddly Specific Reasons the Military Refused Assistance to 12 Movies

Robb, David L. – Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies (2004)

Salon – McNamara’s “Moron Corps”

SOF Rep – On This Day in History: The Only Death Sentence For Desertion in WWII is Carried Out

Task Force Baum – The Hammelburg Raid

US Department of Defense – How and Why the DOD Works With Hollywood

Washington Post, June 20th, 2014 – What’s Wrong With the Pentagon’s Plan to Thwart the Zombie Apocalypse